In all businesses, the canary in the hole is deterioration in the cash position, and it is particularly important for small businesses to be sensitive to changes in their cash position as they have less “fat” to fall back on when things head for the bin.
The largest variable item in most non service industry businesses is inventory. The usual accounting view of inventory is that it is a current asset, as liquid as cash, and there is little incentive to actively manage inventory to the lowest possible level, as there would be if it was seen as a “partial liability”.
How much better to see inventory as a brick tied to the legs of a swimmer, until such time as it is actually sold. A metaphor like this may encourage a lessening of the weight, rather than accommodating a buildup greater than the immediate demand, usually in the name of manufacturing efficiency, that can lead to drowning.