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«A Case Method Approach to Teaching Cost-Volume-Profit Analysis Susan Machuga University of Hartford This paper presents a Multi-Disciplinary ...»

A Case Method Approach to Teaching Cost-Volume-Profit Analysis

Susan Machuga

University of Hartford

This paper presents a Multi-Disciplinary Case-Method approach to teaching Cost-Volume-Profit (CVP)

Analysis allowing students to use their own assumptions to simulate a real-life business startup analysis.

The proposed business venture is one of starting a milkshake shack in the island of Hawaii. Students will

learn to distinguish between fixed and variable costs, apply some of their own assumptions, and determine whether it would be profitable to open up a new business.


I present an alternative, more comprehensive teaching approach, for Cost-Volume-Profit (CVP) analysis from the commonly used approach which simply teaches students how to use a series of equations to solve various questions related to CVP analysis, in which unit selling price, total fixed costs, and unit variable costs are assumed to remain constant (Garrison et al. 2010; Choo and Tan, 2010). I use a multi-disciplinary approach in the context of a realistic case-analysis. I believe this approach offers useful insights and provides a useful learning tool for students pursuing an advanced Master’s Degree. The case at hand requires students to: (a) make assumptions about costs in a dynamic and interactive way, and (b) research a variety of marketing issues for the proposed business that simulates a real life business situation. This paper’s approach also helps students see the interrelationships between several concepts learned in basic graduate courses taken in their Master Degree program, and how CVP analysis can be an extremely useful tool for determining the potential success of a business they might consider opening one day. Particular attention is given to important concepts such as break-even analysis and the effect of changing working assumptions on final results.

Students are assumed to come into this course with a basic understanding of concepts learned in core courses such as Finance, Financial Accounting, Marketing and Management. In addition to being familiar with concepts of fixed versus variable costs, students are assumed to be familiar with how changes in these costs interact with changes in sales revenue to determine net income; concepts which should have already been covered in their Managerial Accounting course. An additional benefit of this case is that students can treat it as a simulation exercise in which they vary assumptions about different variables such as: sales price, direct materials’ quality, total fixed costs, depreciation lives, and sales mix, etc. to see how all variables, individually and collectively, affect their break-even points. This point is often overlooked in textbooks that focus more on an equation approach in a static rather than a dynamic analytical approach.

104 Journal of Accounting and Finance vol. 12(5) 2012


The case assumes students will open a milkshake shack on the beach of a resort on the “big Island” of Hawaii. I have studied existing restaurants, read industry reports, and have done some research on expected minimum costs to be incurred in operating the business. A unique feature of my milkshakes is that I will serve them with flavored straws that match the flavor of the chosen milkshakes by customers.

My research embeds the following assumptions:

Sales prices of milkshakes ($7.00 for small, and $10.00 for large)

–  –  –

Fixed costs:

 Shack rental: $500 a month  Cleaning and other miscellaneous supplies: $100 a month  Equipment: Industrial Milk Shake Maker: $72 per machine x 10 machines=$720  Equipment: Industrial Refrigerator/freezer: $480  Countertops: $1,200  Tables and benches for customers to sit outside: $108 per bench-set x 10=$1,080  Annual insurance: $600 a year  Sign: use your marketing knowledge to think of a good name= $100 Total Fixed Costs = $4,780 for which students are assumed to take out a non-owner loan. A selfamortizing loan is assumed to be obtained from a bank, and carries an annual interest rate of 6% payable over 2 years with monthly payments (each monthly payment consists of both principal and interest).


Two part-time employees: with each receiving a monthly salary of $800 per month (including taxes and benefits).

Other costs:

10% of gross sales must be given to resort where shack will be located on its premises.

Owner’s capital will be used to cover direct materials’ costs.


In order to answer the questions below, you will need to make assumptions, and add/change fixed and variable costs (please clearly indicate all assumptions made).

1) Using the above information, determine the number of milkshakes you will need to sell to break even. In order to do this, you will need to set a sales price as well as classify the above costs into fixed or variable. (Hint: keep all costs on either a weekly, monthly or yearly basis throughout your analysis).

–  –  –


Presented below are two possible answers to this case. The first answer uses only information provided in the case with the following assumptions: 1) the milkshakes’ sales-mix will be 60% large and 40% small, 2) the suggested sales prices are used to be competitive with other vendors, and 3) the milkshake makers, tables and benches are assumed to last for 3 years, but the refrigerator/freezer and counter tops are assumed to last for 10 years. Since this is a simulation exercise, the case allows students to see how the break-even sales volume changes depending upon different assumptions about product sales-mix, sale prices, depreciable lives of long-term assets as well as variable costs, and allows them to add other necessary fixed costs to the cost structure of the business conditional on their own unique business strategy. Accordingly, I present a second solution after changing some of the assumptions to show the effect that different assumptions have on break-even sales volume.

–  –  –

106 Journal of Accounting and Finance vol. 12(5) 2012 Variable Cost Income Statement: using a 40% (small) and 60% (large) sales-mix in determining the

break-even sales volume:

–  –  –

Variable Cost Income Statement: using 40% (small) and 60% (large) sales-mix in determining the

break-even sales volume (no salary allowance for owner):

–  –  –

Variable Cost Income Statement: using 40% (small) and 60% (large) sales-mix in determining the

break-even sales volume (with a salary allowance of $5,000 salary per month for owner):

–  –  –

In the second set of answers, sensitivity of break-even sales volume to changes in inputs to CVP Analysis is demonstrated. Here, the sales mix is changed to 20% small and 80% large milkshakes (instead of 40/60), and the sales price is changed to $6 for a small milkshake and $9 for a large milkshake

–  –  –

Variable Cost Income Statement: using 20% (small) and 80% (large) sales-mix in determining the

break-even sales volume (no salary allowance for owner):

–  –  –

Variable Cost Income Statement: using 20% (small) and 80% (large) sales-mix in determining breakeven sales volume (with a salary allowance of $6,000 per month for owner):

–  –  –

108 Journal of Accounting and Finance vol. 12(5) 2012 Note: The break even amount is 1,792.49 milkshakes. The Variable Cost Income Statement uses 1,793 milkshakes as the breakeven quantity. The Income Statement will show a small profit since you cannot sell fractional milkshakes.


I believe that this case adds to students’ understanding of CVP Analysis beyond traditional approaches to teaching that concept. The multi-disciplinary approach used adds breadth to the analysis since it is important for students to realize how basic courses taken in their Master’s Degree Program are interrelated, and how knowledge gained from these courses can be used to: (a) set sales prices and buildin advertising costs into the analysis (concepts learned in a marketing class), (b) choose quality of direct materials and labor, both of which affect variable costs (concepts learned in a management class), (c) make assumptions about depreciation lives (concepts learned in a financial accounting class), and (d) last but not least, prepare amortization schedules for monthly payments, and breaking down each payment into its two components interest and principle (concepts learned in a finance class). The case also gives students flexibility to make different assumptions about necessary business start-up costs, and immediately see the impact of varying assumptions on break-even points. It is important for students to understand how CVP analysis can be an extremely useful tool for determining potential success of a business venture they may start one day. Moreover, the case provides them with experience in conducting dynamic simulations, and understanding how changing assumptions affect estimated break-even points.

This latter point is often overlooked in textbooks which usually focus on an equation-based approach to solving for breakeven points in a static analytical framework which may not mimic real-life situations that embed changing business conditions.

In closing, I would like to present a couple of selected comments from students who have, in the past, analyzed a similar case in an online class I teach at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst’s Professional MBA (PMBA) Program: “…Last week I had a unique business opportunity fall into my lap, and have actually started a small business. In just 4 days, I've already sold products on-line from NY, to CA. I've been able to use several items learned in your course to help me with this rapid and kind of overwhelming process. In particular, I'm finding the Break Even Analysis, to be VERY helpful--for setting prices and goals.” Also: “…I just wanted to say thank you. I am a program manager for a manufacturing company and I have been able to put this all to use immediately, especially CVP analysis”.

REFERENCES Choo, F. & Tan K.B. (2011). An Income Statement Approach for Cost-Volume-Profit (CVP) Analysis by Using a Company’s CVP Model. Journal of Accounting and Finance, 11(4), 23-36.

Garrison, R.H, Noreen E., & Brewer P.C. (2010). Managerial Accounting, 12th edition. New York:


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