The Month End provides emerging inventory based brands real life knowledge in the accounting, finance, and operational world. Our guests are not only similar brand founders and owners, but key stakeholders and contributors to the industry. Each episode provides a glimpse into the vast experience and insight from its guest’s unique background in a casual, conversational tone.
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In episode thirteen, Accountfully's Managing Partner, Brad Ebenhoeh sits down with Founder of ForecastEasy, Marc Levit. Our first of two in depth interviews with Marc focuses on defining forecasting and why it is essential for a business to incorporate into their practices from day one. As the name implies, ForecastEasy is a tool designed specifically to make forecasting easy for consumer brands. Marc not only gives us great actionable financial advice, he provides us insight into real brand examples of wins and successes. This is a must watch for CPG brands aiming to develop a profitable, long term product.
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The ForecastEasy Website: http://www.forecasteasy.com
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Brad Ebenhoeh / Intro 0:00
Welcome to the month and CPG community chat, The Month End will provide emerging CPG brands real life knowledge into the accounting, finance and operational worlds. Our guests will be key stakeholders from those same brands, as well as other key contributors to the industry; all of which have vast experiences and insights that will be shared with the audience.
Welcome to The Month End, episode number 13. Today's chat is with Marc Levit, who is the founder and CEO of ForecastEasy.
This is a little bit different of an agenda and topic versus having an actual CPG founder. We're having somebody that's going to help us chat through the fun topic of forecasting. And really, what does that mean at a high level? how, you know, emerging CPG brand founders can understand it, implement it, and really try to get the best ROI on implementing a forecast. So we're very excited for the conversation.
How are you doing today, Marc?
Marc Levit 1:02
Brad, it's good to talk to you - I'm in a hotel room in Kansas City. So it's great to be traveling again and taking these calls and podcasts from a bedroom suite.
Brad Ebenhoeh 1:13
Awesome. Awesome. Yeah, I'm looking forward to it as well. So just a little background on Marc; Marc is a career consumer investment banker who's developed strategic and financial plans that have aided in transactions to the world's most admirable strategic acquirers including Moet, Hennessy, Constellation Brands, Gallo and Chanel. Earlier this year in 2021, Mark has founded ForecastEasy, as I said, which is a cloud based forecasting tool that mirrors the forecasting process using these transactions, but it's simplified it into a framework that can be completed by founders in a matter of hours versus days or weeks.
So, which is exciting from a guy like me, in dealing with accounting and finance for a lot of small businesses as much as we can template and simplify the process, the better So, so yeah, Marc, is there anything else you want to add about your background? And maybe you know, what you're doing within the ForecastEasy or the CPG space? Maybe expand upon that?
Marc Levit 2:08
Sure. Well, thanks, Brad. I think you gave me a promotion there with the CEO title as well, but
Brad Ebenhoeh 2:13
Oh, perfect. Someone's gotta be the CEO. So...
Marc Levit 2:16
Right, exactly. No, I think the CPG industry has always been exciting, but really, in the last couple of years it is showing unbelievable signs of innovation. And with new channels that allow founders and small teams to begin selling quickly, and, frankly, profitably, you know, it's really exciting to bring new flavors and innovation out there. And my point of view, as you'd imagine, as I think is aligned with yours is, "let's talk about a plan, let's talk about a five year vision for where we want our company to be one day."
Because we know, to control our steps today, we need to know where we're going. And, you know, quantifying that, can often be seen as scary and difficult to do. But there's actually some pretty easy ways to do so. So - helpful for all founders to have a plan of action and to march toward that.
Brad Ebenhoeh 3:09
Awesome, awesome. All right, well, let's get into it. So let's start at the high level. What is a forecast?
Marc Levit 3:19
Fair enough, you know, a forecast, really, I'm not gonna answer it the way you perhaps expected. But founders have in their heads, really the plan of where they want to go and how they want to get there. And in their brains, they often know exactly what the steps are. A forecast is really taking that putting it on a piece of paper, a scratchpad, an Excel document, and really just trying to quantify what it means, you know, what the units look like? What is the pricing, what the revenues, and from there, what type of organization can be built to support it?
Brad Ebenhoeh 3:52
So when we say - that makes 100% sense - Is there a specific, you know, we hear the words forecast, budget, model, like how do you differentiate those? Or are they synonymous? Or what do they specifically mean to somebody like you?
Marc Levit 4:07
Yeah, no, they're very close. And there are definitely nuances. They're very similar, I'd say forecasts, think of, you know, a three, five, 10 year plan: Where are we going? How are we getting there? What's going to bring us along the way a little more strategic of how much money might this cost? Questions about where we get it from, all stem through these forecasts.
Budgets are a little more factual. You know, here is the next 12 months what we expect to do, and we're starting to measure against that. So that we can just see if we're doing exactly what we think we'd be doing.
An analogy I often use I think we've all been in our homes and we've watched a little too much HGTV ... forecasting is like, you know, blueprinting: where are we going to put the house, how many rooms is it going to be? Is it going to be an open concept how many bathrooms etc.
Budgeting is a little more of the tactical of - when does the plumber get here? How about the electrician? How many hours is it going to take? What order should we do it? Both are important. You know, budgeting is more about how do I get to tomorrow and get the day to day done. We often call this, you know, Maslow's hierarchy of needs. So, you know, if you've got an issue with your production partner, you gotta fix that before you do anything. So budgeting is often the first thing small consumer brands will look for. But forecasting, in my opinion, is where they should spend at least a couple hours every few months to figure out - is our plan still the right plan on a long term basis?
Brad Ebenhoeh 5:42
I think that information is fantastic and how you broke out the difference between the two because in my world and even like our team at calculate, or a client's budget versus forecasts just gets thrown around in a synonymous manner. But I think, you know, discussing or defining those mechanisms, I think really helps out.
When you're saying forecasts, are you forecasting - you know -what financials are you forecast? Are you looking at the p&l? The revenues/ expenses, you look at the balance sheet, cash, like what do you what, specifically? Or what's your highest priority, when you're looking at a forecast?
Marc Levit 6:17
That's a great question. And I hope to simplify this down for people, because balance sheets are really difficult. Cash flow statements are even more difficult. And to back up a second, the first thing I usually say is "the only thing we know about forecasts are we're going to get them wrong", you know, but at least it helps to tell us the direction of if we go somewhere what it may look like. So cash flow is just. It is so difficult, the balance sheet is so difficult. And what's good, is that the most strategic statement is the income statement. And that's all about: what are our products, what are our channels? What are our different margin profiles? And so if I'm the founder of a 5 million in revenue, or under a company, and probably a 10 million and under company, I would spend 95 to 100% of my time on the income statement. And from there, honestly, we can answer a lot of the most important questions that a balance sheet or a cash flow statement should say. If you're trying to project the exact month that your company may run out of money, the strategic implications are the same as if you needed to start raising money yesterday. And a lot of it. If we spend a lot of time and money and resources figuring out we're going to run out of money on September 15, or on October 12. You know, it's probably too late already. So income statement, income statement, income statement.
Brad Ebenhoeh 7:43
I'm in agreement with you on that. All right, so at what phase in my business, or what revenue top line revenue? Or like when do I need to forecast?
Marc Levit 7:56
Yeah, it's funny, I've talked to a few founders who say, "Oh, you know, let me just raise my round of financing first, and then I'll start to forecast." You know, I don't have a good response to this. Otherwise, it's sort of a chicken in the egg situation. But I think the way I've been thinking about this is, you know, if you're a founder, you decided that you're going to create a business where you think the revenues and the dollars in are going to exceed the dollars out in almost all circumstances. And so you've already done that forecasting, and it's in your head, it just may not be written down. So I'd say you're already doing it, you should be doing it, and that it should be done. Now, you know, whether you're day one, day zero, or day 1,000, now is the time to start. And, you know, it's about turning your vision into numbers and seeing if it'll work out. And frankly, most of these plans don't work. And so you either gotta figure out a way to get them to work. Or, you know, I hope your company succeeds, but if it doesn't, and I've been told this a million times, as well as an entrepreneur, much better to you know, not succeed quickly and fail and try something new than to, you know, have a 10 year cash burn cycle. So to repeat: income statement, income statement, income statement, and you know, now, now, now,
Brad Ebenhoeh 9:21
In relation to kinda like, I guess one question is like, how far out, like how long? One year, three year five year like, Is there a starting point? Like, are there specific milestones, or specific tasks such as I need to raise my series A so that I have a five year forecast versus a one year? Can you kind of walk through that kind of mindset and decision making process for the founders out there?
Marc Levit 9:45
Yeah, it's a great question. I see two year forecasts, I see 10 year forecasts, and I'm going to give you what sounds like a very simple answer, but I promise you it's been distilled with a lot of thinking. Five years, five years is the right answer. Three is too few. 10's too many, five is the right amount for I'd say 98% of businesses.
Brad Ebenhoeh 10:04
And when a prospective investor is looking at the forecast, what specific things are they looking at?
Marc Levit 10:13
That's a great question. And it probably breaks down into what the investor profile is. If it's a friend or family member, to be honest, they probably don't care that much, it's more about their relationship to you. If it's more of an Angel, they probably want to see it go from a few dollars to many dollars. And if it's a strategic investor, who understands the industry, that's where you're gonna start to get into a lot more detail about gross margin profile, product mix, channel mix. And ultimately, that's the story they're gonna want to hear: Okay, well, not from 1 million bucks to 5 million bucks of revenue. How do we get there? Well, we've got these three skews, and they're gonna account for 60% of the growth, and then we get into this new channel, and that's going to be 20% of the growth. And so you know, these more sophisticated investors are going to care about your product strategy and your channel strategy. More than anything, they're gonna say, you know, look, your operating expenses. Yeah, okay, half a million bucks that looks about right. We can either upgrade that or downgrade that depending how you go. But what's going to make this team and this brand different, is where we're selling our product, what our products are, and give me as much detail about that as possible. Because that's what the magic is that an entrepreneur brings to this. So I'm all about and I think Brad and you share this, its products and channels in as much detail as you possibly can give me but not too much. So that we can really strategically talk about why our brand is unique in the industry.
Brad Ebenhoeh 11:54
Good. And then the last high level question here. How often do I need to review the forecast after I've implemented and or reassess and change it?
Marc Levit 12:03
Right, and great question. And this is more of a personality fit question. I'd say, you know, you could do it once at the beginning of the year, and really just see how it's, you know, skating toward that most founders, I know, aren't like this. And they're actually you know, every few days, every week, they're taking in new information about who likes their product: how much it's selling, you know, when and what numbers may change from this.
I would not update your forecast weekly, I would say don't do it less than quarterly. That's probably about the right amount for most people, you know, you lock it in, in December. And then you update it in March, June, September sort of thing. With that said, I might add an extra one or two if you get a big retailer, or there's a new kind of interesting tweak to your business. We're talking about a five year plan here. And you know, if Costco hits in June, versus December, you know, that's gonna affect your day to day and your cash. But in terms of the overall vision, hey, we're in Costco in 2021. And that's what matters.
Brad Ebenhoeh 13:06
Awesome. Great information so far. Love it, alright - now on to the next steps, building out a forecast. So all forecasts, all Excel spreadsheets, calculations, all the models that are created need to have some key drivers, key inputs. So what would you consider the key inputs or drivers of the overall forecast?
Marc Levit 13:30
Yeah, great question. And to step backward if you're doing any forecasting, that's a great start. So you know, the most basic way to do this, is you look at your sales last year, and you apply a percentage growth rate. And if you're doing that, you know, it's step one, and that's great. And that's great. And that's fine. To go on the exact opposite side of that, sometimes for 3 million in revenue brands I'll see week by week, breakdowns of velocity builds - by channel, by product. And it's, you know, what I would call a Ferrari of a forecast, that's probably 100 different tabs all feeding into something. You know, for $3 million in revenue company where you're really trying to double/ triple the business in the next two or three years, you're not going to have that good of data, you're not going to have that good of insights. Your time is much better spent selling marketing, product development, etc. So I think there's a really happy medium, and it's about your products, and your channels. And I would really focus - less is more in this case to begin - on channels that you have a different price point in. So, if I'm a food brand, and I'm selling online for my website, I'm going to get a certain dollars-received from selling on that website. But if I sell on Amazon, it's a very different price point that I receive as the brand. It might be the same to the consumer, but Amazon pays me or I receive from Amazon, a different amount which is different. If I go to a farmers market with different advice, sell into UNFI, and so on... So, I would find each channel where you have a different price point. And I would kind of set them up as the top of a grid. And then I would list out each of your product lines or SKUs, you know, on the other side of the grid, and you sort of create a matrix of "here are all my products", and "here are all my channels."
From a channel standpoint, Brad, I, I'd say three to five is really the sweet spot to concentrate on. And from a SKU standpoint, I would say, you know, some, some brands have three SKUs. And that's it, and that's perfect. Others I work with a lot of wineries, they'll have 50 different SKUs. That's way too many, you know, I'd say five to 12 is really the sweet spot of get, you know, 75 to 90% of your overall sales and those five to 12 SKUs, but then add a final SKU that says "all other", and that's probably going to take care of it. So, that's the setup I typically do. It's detailed and allows you to talk about your business from a very strategic standpoint. But it's not all that complicated for founders to speak to, because more than anything, they know their products, and they know their channels.
Brad Ebenhoeh 16:14
That's great. So when you're setting that up, what you're saying is having like expected sales quantities each month entered into those cells, right?
Marc Levit 16:24
Yeah, exactly. So within that grid breakdown, I'd concentrate on three things. It's volume, it's price, and it's cost. And because of this, you know, we know our volumes hopefully go up each year, and they'll go up at different rates for different products, and at different rates and each channel and our price, like we might want to build in a price increase two years from now, five years from now and see what it does to the overall gross margin. And the same thing from the COGs point of view, which is we might have $100 worth of COGs now. You know, what, what do we need to get that $100 per unit down to so that we can get our 52% margin or whatever we're looking for. And this type of forecast isn't going to tell you, hey, we're gonna lower the bottle cost by this and the liquid cost by that but it'll say, "Brad, I need you to talk with your suppliers. I don't know what you can do, but get from 100 to 72 any way you can, so save us that 28 bucks."
Brad Ebenhoeh 17:20
Awesome. So basically, we take the products, the sales channels, and then we look at the volume price and COGs or costs of each, within those specific products and sales channels where they meet. Then from there, once we're able to kind of go and calculate that then what is the key kind of metrics, or the key information we should be looking at? You know, after we calculate all that information?
Marc Levit 17:47
And that's exactly where we're going as the most important number on any income statement. A forecast for me for looking to invest in brands looking to ... cash flow, looking to be acquired one day is gross margin. And if we can break this gross margin down as detailed as we can, so we understand what channels and what products are our most profitable. That's where the founders can have really strong power of where we want to push the extra effort here. You know, I work with a lot of beverage alcohol companies, and they're starting to sell online. But they're shipping, you know, two or three bottles at a time to a customer, and they have to subsidize the shipping. So they might get $100 of revenue. But it costs $50 for the vodka, let's say and another $50 to ship it and we're actually breaking even or losing money. And so focusing on gross margin per channel or per product in these channels, talks about the brand's health and lifeblood and where we want to allocate resources.
Brad Ebenhoeh 18:53
Nice nice I, I have about always clearly I think gross profit gross margin percentage, you know, like looking at that number and it's super key especially a lot of our clients and, you know, startup kind of CPG space with especially those in the distribution world where you're getting slotting fees and free fill start, it's really hard to look at, but it's really if you're focusing on that, and then you're identifying a target percentage, and then that helps you, you know, calculate volume price and COGs, right and really back back into that aspect. From an aspect of like, you know, target gross margins, you know, for a zero to $5 million company or do you segment it even further, like zero to $2 million, two to five to ten. How do you like clearly it varies by, you know, sales channel, by industry, but how do you think through that process from your background in the investment space?
Marc Levit 19:50
Yeah, that's a great question. And they there's a lot of categories in CPG. But believe it or not, they all kind of mean you know, that they fall out in a similar space. Most brands starting up, you know, if they're selling through wholesale or going to be in the high 20s 30s, low 40s, somewhere in that range. It's difficult to run a full business on a 30% gross margin company. Just to back into this, we typically think of SG&A at maturity, being about 25% of net sales. And marketing depends on the channel being between five and 20%. So if we take the midpoint and we say, "Okay, you've got 30 to 40% of your net revenue is cost. You know, our gross margins have to be above that if we're going to ever make any money." So the numbers that kind of come out are you don't need to be at 50% - today in some of those wholesale channels, but a path to get to the high 40s, low 50s is going to be really important. Online tends to be you know, right away in the mid 50s to 60s. That's good, that's great. We can keep them there and kind of boost them to the 65 to 75% range that's going to help to fund other aspects of the business. But the online component what's going to be really interesting and we see more and more by the day, Brad, is if you are a light good that can ship very cheaply, you can have some amazing margins on those online channels. If you are a heavy goods company or a regulated goods company, I mean half of the beverage alcohol clients I work with are losing money on every bottle they sell online.
Brad Ebenhoeh 21:39
It's so interesting to look at the specifics of sometimes people just you know lock into success and it's like I just "my product weighed very little", you know, you don't like those are the things that think of of of the world we're getting in with eComm and shipping like; shipping cost, freight costs ... what 3PL provider, where should my products be? Clearly, like the Amazon world, where we live now, it's super hard to be a small business and absorb high shipping costs, which is what you're saying, which is a lot. A lot of people sometimes don't focus on all that.
Marc Levit 22:09
It's a good time to be a spice company.
Brad Ebenhoeh 22:11
Yes. Yes, good stuff. So um, so basically kind of backup here: the key drivers want to look at are segmenting by your product, your SKU listing, and then if it's too big or extensive list, you know, group them by your major SKUs that you sell and or kind of, I guess product groupings. If you're able to do that, sales channels - look at segmenting sales channels based upon the price point or sale price that you're selling. And then three to five range is a good target. And then within there, then you kind of extrapolate volume to be sold, the price you're selling at and the cost of the product you're selling at. So once you're able to kind of get those inputs, then you're able to kind of create a full forecast a full p&l model that shows you gross margin percentage, gross profit, top line revenue, etc, the amount of money that can help absorb those S,G and A costs and kind of, you know what you were saying about target gross margins, you know, getting towards that 50 or above that percent at the wholesale level. That's the whole point of forecasts, right? You don't need to be there today, but you need to tell the story of how you're going to get there. That story's the most important for you, as the business owner, to help make decisions as well as, identify key relationships from suppliers and negotiation tactics, wherever you want to do, as you move from, you know, year one, year two, year three, year four, but also it's very key when you're raising money to show the prospective investors, "Hey, I've thought this through this is what my goal is to get there. And hopefully I can, you know, follow that process. It clearly won't happen exactly, probably. But I have thought it through. And as we move forward, I have good data that I can always, you know, be agile and make different decisions." Is that a thought process? Does that make sense from your perspective?
Marc Levit 23:55
That's 100% correct. And to give an example with it as well is if we've got a 20% gross margin product right now, you know, that's okay if we've got the path to get to 40,45, 50%. But if I show you a five year plan and my 20% of gross margin gets to 26% in our rosiest scenario, we got to be done with that - we got to we something's got to change, lower the price, sorry, raise the price, lower the cost, or just get out of that business completely. Because you know, when you add in the cost below that to sell that you're losing money, on everything you sell.
Brad Ebenhoeh 24:33
Yes, in terms of you know, looking at gross margin dollars and gross margin percentages here. Is there specifics like on the side of growing my business selling my business within the you know, CPG, alcoholic industry/ product based industry. Are there specific kinds of metrics, or valuation tactics based upon gross margin, like that you can start thinking of how much your brand's worth from a valuation perspective?
Marc Levit 25:00
Yeah, that's a great question. And I'd say that there's a lot of nuance in industry within CPG on those metrics that - we can dig into some specifics.
Typically, we'll see net revenue multiples as the easiest way to populate, you know, valuations. But you're exactly right. These are often deducted from gross profit numbers, because a multiple- oh, and just to backup - a multiple is sort of a valuation metric, you're going to put on one of your company's financial metrics to turn into what your company might be worth at this point in time. There's a high end of the range and a low end of the range.
And that's very much determined by two things:
If either of those is low, you know, you're going to be in the middle and below. So when we think about, you know, you often hear two to four times for a lot of food and beverage companies as to what a net sales multiple maybe, well, high volume, high velocity, high margin, that's going to be on the four plus side, sometimes you see fives and eights and 10s. And what those are almost, you know, category creators, where they've just taken the category by storm, they're growing at a velocity we haven't seen before, and a really high margin. So that answer is kind of two to 10 times net revenue, we can deduct the gross profit multiples from that, but really determine from what the overall profitability of this company is, from a product standpoint.
Brad Ebenhoeh 27:15
Love it. The key term so far:
Marc Levit 27:23
We can add a glossary at the end of this.
Brad Ebenhoeh 27:27
Exactly. Awesome. Awesome, awesome, awesome. All right. Well, I think, you know, that was a very good kind of in depth detailed conversation on building out a forecast; what we should focus on, and what the outputs are. Or the focused outputs or the priority outputs, right? You know, kind of moving forward now. So for the folks listening in here, I don't have a model, or maybe I do have a forecast in place. So as we move forward to action items, for our listeners out there. What are, you know, one or two or three do's that they should start focusing on right now?
Marc Levit 28:01
Yeah, I hope this doesn't sound a little tongue in cheek here.
But do forecast, I don't care if it's a cocktail napkin, or a highly complex financial model or anything in between simply writing down on a piece of paper, you know, here's what's in my head. And here's what it turns into with numbers. It's going to help you so much I mean, it's plan, plan, plan, measure twice, cut once sort of things. And I just really hope that getting this long term plan helps you to figure out the best places to play in your industry - where, how to get there, and if what you're building is something that's worth building in that direction. So - do forecast is my multiple answer to your "how many do's" question.
Brad Ebenhoeh 28:50
All right, and then what is a don't? What should the CPG founder not worry about, or not focus on?
Marc Levit 28:58
I think it's, don't be intimidated.
I mean, I know we've talked about a lot of terms here. And all the founders I know are their salespeople, their marketing people, or their product people, not one of them is a finance or accounting person. That's, you know, I got into the CPG industry as a founder of a brand. So sometimes people like numbers or get numbers and other times they want to run away from them as quickly as possible.
But the most effective founders I know, they're not finance experts, but they know how the numbers work with their overall vision. So I encourage you to, you know, work with the folks on your team or your outsourced advisors to really understand how your sales and marketing and product development build ties into the numbers.
And then there's tools and resources out there. I know we spoke of, now, you've got all your channels and your margins, and your products and - that's a really big spreadsheet. There are tools out there to help you with this. To really break it down into a granular fashion - where it's quick, it's easy. And you know, the numbers are pretty close to right. So we can help you find those solutions, but don't be intimidated. You don't need to know finance to be able to develop, you know, your p&l down to gross margin, it's just answering questions over and over again; what are volumes? What are our prices? What are our COGs?
Brad Ebenhoeh 30:26
That's great. So again, do forecast, and don't be intimidated. And just so you know, kind of just resources that can help the audience out here, you know, as we discussed earlier, Marc's the founder of ForecastEasy, a great forecasting tool for a startup or somebody without any finance or accounting background, go check it out. Even if you don't use it, he's got great content, and just information to follow that can help you kind of think through this process. Additionally, there's a ton of great accounting, accountants, finance people, and support people in the world that can help you with this. So I think that goes along with the don't be intimidated aspect. One final question where we go, what is the longest or the most complex, so longest in time frame and most complex? You don't need to be specific here, just give us a ballpark range of forecasts you've ever seen, from any company?
Marc Levit 31:22
That's a great question. And I'll tell you, it's not detailed at all, but a couple of the acquirers that you mentioned at the beginning of the call their legacy brands, legacy houses and what they talk a lot about is we're not doing this for five years, or 10 years, we've got 100 year vision. So that's what they're looking at. It's a little tongue in cheek, and they're not telling me, you know, what the sales are gonna look like in 2073. But I love the concept, which is, you know, if you're building a brand that you want to last for generations, thinking through what decisions you can make now to support a brand in 2073 the, you know, pillars a foundation would be you know, it's never too early to start looking 100 years out, right?
Brad Ebenhoeh 32:09
Yeah. I love it, man. It's interesting looking at 100 years out when your lifespan isn't expected to be that but uh, but this has been great information. I think from here, you know, Marc, really appreciate the time, super tangible information, next steps, action items, you know, tangible drivers inputs, etc. Like, I think this is very worthwhile for the audience. And I'd imagine some audience folks listening will probably listen to this a couple times as they're taking notes. So again, Marc Levit from ForecastEasy. Thank you so much, Marc, and really appreciate the insight. Have a good one.
Marc Levit 32:49
All right. Thanks, Brad. Talk soon.