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Cost Volume Profit (CVP) Consideration in Choosing a Cost Structure:

Definition and Explanation of Cost Structure:

The relative proportion of fixed and variable costs in an organization is referred to as cost structure. An organization often has some latitude in trading off between these two types of costs. For example labor costs can be reduced by investments in automated equipments.

Different blends of variable and fixed costs produce different profit. The purpose of management is to reduce the cost by choosing a blend of fixed and variable costs that maximizes the ultimate objective i.e.; profit. In this article, the choice of a cost structure is discussed.

Cost Structure and Profit Stability:

Which cost structure is better - high variable costs and low fixed costs, or the opposite? No single answer to the question is possible. It depends on specific circumstances that whichever is the ideal structure. For a detailed study about cost structure and profitability consider the example below.


Given below is the data for companies A and B:


Company A

Company B

  Amount Percent Amount Percent
Sales $100,000 100% $100,000 100%
Less variable expenses 60,000 60% 30,000 30%

Contribution margin 40,000 40% 70,000 70%
Less fixed expenses 30,000   60,000  
Net operating income $10,000   $10,000  

Companies A and B  undertake agricultural activities. Company A is heavily depending on workers, where as company B is highly mechanized. Company A has high variable costs and company B has high fixed costs. The question that which company has the best cost structure depends on many factors including the long run trend in sales, year to year fluctuations in the level of sales, and the attitude of the owners toward risk. If the sales are expected to be above $100,000 in future, then company B probably has the better cost structure. The reason is that its contribution margin (CM) ratio is higher, and its profit will increase more rapidly as sales increase. Assume that each company experiences a 10% increase in total sales and the new income statement would be as follows:


Company A

Company B




Sales $110,000 100% $110,000 100%
Less variable expenses 66,000 60% 33,000 30%

Contribution margin 44,000 40% 77,000 70%
Less fixed expenses 30,000   60,000  
Net operating income $14,000 $17,000

Company B has experienced a greater operating income due to its higher CM ratio. Even though the increase in sales was the same for both companies. What if sales drop below $100,000 from time to time? What are the break even points of two forms? What are their margin of safety. The computations needed to answer these questions are carried out below using the contribution margin method:

Company A:

Fixed cost = $30,000
Contribution margin = 40%
Break even in total sales dollars = $30,000 40% = $75,000
Margin of safety = Total current sales − Break even sales
Margin of safety = $100,000 − $75,000 = $25000

Company B:

Fixed cost = $60,000
Contribution margin = 70%
Break even in total sales dollars = $60,000 70% = $85,714
Margin of safety = Total current sales − Break even sales
Margin of safety = $100,000 − $85,714 = $14286

This cost analysis makes it clear that company A is less vulnerable to downturns than company B. We can identify two reasons why it is less vulnerable. First, due to its lower fixed expenses, company A has a lower break even point and a higher margin of safety, as shown by the computations above. Therefore it will not incur losses as quickly as company B in periods of sharply declining sales. Second due to its lower contribution margin (CM) ratio, company A will not lose contribution margin as rapidly as company B when sales fall off. We can see a protection when sales decrease but a drawback when sales increase.

Without knowing the future, it is not obvious which cost structure is better. Both have advantages and disadvantages. Company B, with its higher fixed costs, will have wider swing in operating income as changes take place in sales with greater profits in good years and greater losses in bad years. Company A, with its lower fixed and higher variable costs, will enjoy greater stability in net operating income and will be more protected from losses during bad years, but at the cost of lower net operating income in good years.

Real Business Example - A Case Study:

Career Central (renamed Cruel World) is an employment agency located in Palo Alto, California, on the outskirts of Silicon Valley. The company was founded in June 1996 by Jeffrey Hyman, an MBA from Northwestern University, who was dissatisfied with his own job search in the San Francisco Bay area.

Jobseekers pay nothing to register on the company's website. They provide detailed information about their experience, salary expectations, willingness to travel, geographic preferences, and so on. Employers pay. For a fee of $2,995 per search, employers submit their specification to a Career Central Staffer who searches the data base for possible matches. When a possible candidate for the job is found, he or she is sent an e-mail describing the job opening. If the job seeker is interested, Career Central promises to deliver the names of at least 10 qualified, interested candidates within five business days of a search request.

Note that the potential employers does not directly search the database of jobseekers. Hyman feels that this is a critical aspect of the business plan. He wants to encourage professionals who are already employed, but who might be interested in a better job, to register at the Career Central website. If potential employers could directly access the database, confidentiality would be compromised. For example, the human resources department of a jobseeker's own company might tap into the database and discover that the jobseeker is looking for another job. At best, this would be embarrassing. By having a Career Central staffer handle all database searches, confidentiality for job seekers is assured. However, this confidentiality comes at a high price. More calls from potential employers require more staffers to handle the calls. Hence, career Central has added a layer of variable costs to its cost structure, which has decreased the contribution margin per search and increased the level of sales at which the break even point will occur.

Source: Jerry Useem, Inc., December 1998, pp. 71 - 80.

Relevant Articles:

Contribution Margin
Contribution Margin Ratio (CM Ratio)
Contribution Margin Income Statement
Break-even Point Analysis
Target Profit Analysis
Margin of Safety (MOS)
Operating Leverage
Break even Analysis with Multiple Products
CVP Consideration in Cost Structure
Importance of Cost Volume Profit (CVP) Analysis




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