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A Seller’s Guide to a Successful Mergers & Acquisitions Process

The Mergers and Acquisitions (M&A) process is exhausting. For most sellers, it’s a one-time experience like no other and a marathon business event. When done well, the process begins far in advance of the daunting “due diligence” phase and ends well beyond deal completion. This Seller’s guide summarizes key, and often overlooked, steps in a successful M&A process.

Phase I: Preparation – Tidy Up and Create Your Dream Team.

Of course, our own kids are the best and brightest, and bring us great pride and joy. Business owners tend to be just as proud of the company they’ve built, the success of their creation, and the uniqueness of their offering. Sometimes this can cloud an objective view of opportunities for improvement that will drive incremental value in a M&A transaction.

For starters, sellers must ensure that company financial statements are in order. Few things scare off buyers or devalue a business more than sloppy financials. A buyer’s Quality of Earnings review during due diligence is the wrong time to identify common issues such as inconsistent application of the matching principle, classifying costs as capital vs. expense, improper accrual accounting, or unsubstantiated entries. In addition, the ability to quickly produce detailed reports – income statement; balance sheet; supplier, customer, product, and service line details; aging reports; certificates and licenses; and cost details – will not only drive up buyer confidence and valuations, but also streamline the overall process.

Key in accomplishing the items above as well as a successful transaction is having the right team in place. Customarily, this doesn’t involve a seller’s internal team as much as his or her outside trusted advisors and subject matter experts. These include a great CFO or accountant, a sell-side M&A broker, a M&A attorney, and a tax and wealth manager. There are countless stories of disappointed sellers who regretted consummating a less-than-favorable transaction after “doing it on their own.” The fees paid to these outside subject matter experts is generally a small part of the overall transaction value and pays for itself in transaction efficiency and improved deal economics.

Phase II: On Market – Sell It!

At this stage, sellers that have enlisted the help of a good M&A broker have few concerns. The best M&A advisors are very hands on and will manage a robust process that includes the creation of world class marketing materials, outreach breadth and depth, access to effective buyers, client preparation, and ongoing education and updates. The seller’s focus is, well, selling! With their advisor’s guidance, a ready seller has prepared in advance for calls and site visits. This includes thinking through the tough questions from buyers, rehearsing their pitch, articulating simple and clear messages regarding the company’s unique value propositions, tailoring growth ideas to suit different types of buyers, and readying the property to be “shown.”

Most importantly, sellers need to ensure their business delivers excellent financial performance during this time, another certain make-or-break criterion for a strong valuation and deal completion. In fact, many purchase price values are tied directly to the company’s trailing 12-month (TTM) performance at or near the time of close. For a seller, it can feel like having two full time jobs, simultaneously managing record company results and the M&A process, which is precisely why sellers should have a quality M&A broker by their side. During the sale process, which usually takes at least several months, valuations are directly impacted, up or down, based on the company’s TTM performance. And, given that valuations are typically based on a multiple of earnings, each dollar change in company earnings can have a 5 or 10 dollar change in valuation. At a minimum, sellers should run their business in the “normal course”, as if they weren’t contemplating a sale. The best outcomes are achieved when company performance is strong and sellers sprint through the finish line.

Phase III: Due Diligence – Time Kills Deals!

Once an offer is received, successfully negotiated with the help of an advisor, and accepted, due diligence begins. While the bulk of the cost for this phase is borne by the buyer, the effort is equally shared by both sides. It’s best to think of this phase as a series of sprints and remember the all-important M&A adage, “time kills deals!” Time kills deals because it introduces risk: business performance risk, buyer financing, budget, or portfolio risk, market risk, customer demand and supplier performance risks, litigation risk, employee retention risk, and so on. Once an offer is received and both sides wish to consummate a transaction, it especially behooves the seller to speed through this process as quickly as possible and avoid becoming a statistic in failed M&A deals.

The first sprint involves populating a virtual data room with the requested data, reports, and files that a buyer needs in order to conduct due diligence. The data request can seem daunting and may include over 100 items. Preparation in the first phase will come in handy here, as will assistance from the seller’s support team. The M&A broker is especially key in supporting, managing, and prioritizing items for the data room – based on the buyer’s due diligence sequence – and keeping all parties aligned and on track.

The second sprint requires excellent responsiveness by the seller. As the buyer reviews data and conducts analysis, questions will arise. Immediately addressing these questions keeps the process on track and avoids raising concerns. This phase likely also includes site visits by the buyer and third parties for on-site financial and environmental reviews, and property appraisals. They should be scheduled and completed without delay.

The third and final due diligence sprint involves negotiating the final purchase contract and supporting schedules, exhibits, and agreements; also known as “turning documents.” The seller’s M&A attorney is key in this phase. This is not the time for a generalist attorney or one that specializes in litigation, patent law, family law, or corporate law, or happens to be a friend of the family. Skilled M&A attorneys, like medical specialists, specialize in successfully completing M&A transactions on behalf of their clients. Their familiarity with M&A contracts and supporting documents, market norms, and skill in selecting and negotiating the right deal points, is the best insurance for a seller seeking a clean transaction with lasting success.

Phase IV: Post Sale – You’ve Got One Shot.

Whether a seller’s passion post-sale is continuing to grow the business, retire, travel, support charity, or a combination of these, once again, preparation is key. Unfortunately, many sellers don’t think about wealth management soon enough. A wealth advisor can and should provide input throughout the M&A process. Up front, they can assist in determining valuations needed to achieve the seller’s long-term goals. When negotiating offers and during due diligence, they encourage deal structures that optimize the seller’s cash flow and tax position. And post-close, sellers will greatly benefit from wealth management strategies, cash flow optimization, wealth transfer, investment strategies, and strategic philanthropy. Proper planning for post-sale success must start early and it takes time; and, it’s critical to have the right team of experienced professionals in place.

The M&A process is complex, it usually has huge implications for a seller and his or her company and family, and most sellers will only experience it once in a lifetime. Preparing in advance, building and leveraging the expertise of a dream team, and acting with a sense of urgency throughout the process will minimize risk, maximize the probability of a successful M&A transaction, and contribute to the seller’s success and satisfaction long after the
deal closes.

Author:
Leo VanderSchuur
Transaction Director
Benchmark International

T:   +1 (813) 387 6044
E: VanderSchuur@benchmarkcorporate.com

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What is included in the M&A due diligence?

The due diligence process is one of the final steps in an M&A transaction where the potential buyer does its obligation to best confirm and verify the seller's company data and relevant information. This information typically includes but not limited to: financials, IT, operations, legal & compliance, insurance, corporate bylaws, contracts, customers, among other important information. Typically, the due diligence process follows the execution of a letter of intent (LOI), a non-binding document outlining the intent of both parties to commit to the transaction.

Once the LOI has been executed, the buyer will request a list of items to be shared by the seller with the intention of disclosing the selling company’s key details that could uncover risk buyer. As mentioned before, items can range all the way from financials to operations to insurance to contracts, among others. In cases where the seller owns the real estate, additional documents pertaining to the real estate, such as: deeds, mortgages, tax documents, owners’ insurance, etc. will need to be provided. Given today’s advancements in technology, once the due diligence request list has been sent to the seller, the team leading the deal will proceed to open what we call in the M&A world a “virtual data room” or a “data room.” These two terms are referred to as online portals that hold and store the information requested by the buyer with high levels of security only available for certain parties, including: buyer, seller, M&A attorneys, CPAs, advisors, among others. The data room allows activity within the room to be tracked and archived so there is a file of the information exchange after closing should any issues arise.

Once the due diligence starts, it is highly recommended for the buyer to hold, at the very least, weekly meetings or calls with the seller to discuss outstanding items or any questions that may have arisen from the process. As the due diligence process progresses, the buyer will become more familiar with the seller’s company. For an instance, should the buyer find any items that may play against the seller in the due diligence process, the buyer may use this to lower the valuation of the business which may ultimately result in a lower offer price.

In addition, this process can result as a discovery of potential opportunity to better structure the deal, find real synergies among parties, review any benefits and challenges for potential system integrations, and any associated risks that may arise from the result of this potential acquisition. 

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Benchmark International has Facilitated the Acquisition of Paragon Plastics, Inc. by Ashley Industrial Molding, Inc.

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of Paragon Plastics, Inc. (“Paragon”) by Ashley Industrial Molding, Inc. (“AIM”). Paragon is an original equipment manufacturing company using thermoforming technology to produce custom plastic products for marine, industrial, busing, and aerospace industries.

Paragon was founded in 1993 by David Trout. The company produces high quality OEM components and offers a full range of services including CAD design, pattern milling, plastic forming, assembly, and finishing. The company’s proven track record, commitment to high-quality, professional work, combined with its advanced technology has enabled Paragon to establish a stellar reputation and build long-lasting client relationships.

AIM, headquartered in Ashley Indiana, is a leading manufacturer of quality custom molded and painted plastic products and assemblies. AIM has manufacturing processes which encompasses capabilities in SMC Compression Molding, Reaction Injection Molding and Thermoforming. The primary marketplaces it services are the agricultural, industrial, construction, forestry and military markets. The company continues to expand its product capability and nationwide footprint through acquisitions. The Paragon opportunity became a good strategic fit for AIM’s growth.

David Trout, president and owner of Paragon stated, “The Benchmark team, with their knowledge and experience in M&A transactions far surpassed my expectations. After owning my business for 25 years, Benchmark found the perfect buyer to continue the Legacy. Thanks for all your help through this transaction.”

Regarding the deal, Transaction Director Leo VanderSchuur at Benchmark International stated, “It was a pleasure to represent Paragon in this strategic transaction. On behalf of Benchmark International, we wish both companies continued success.” Senior Associate, Sunny Garten, added, “David and his team were wonderful to work with. They were engaging and always responsive to diligence requests. We’re excited to see that their legacy will be preserved and enhanced through this transaction with AIM.”

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Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of Plastic Revolutions, Inc. to Industrial Container Services

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of Plastic Revolutions, Inc. to Industrial Container Services. Plastic Revolutions, Inc. is a plastic recycling company that diverts post-consumer and post-industrial waste from landfills. The company receives plastic material in various forms from manufacturers, material recovery facilities, and brokers.

The acquirer, Industrial Container Services, is the largest provider of reusable container solutions in North America. The company offers the most complete container management systems available including reconditioning, manufacturing, distribution, used container collection and recycling services for all major industrial packaging types.

Given the current market standards, the Benchmark International team decided to focus on synergistic buyers for the client. This allowed Plastic Revolutions to obtain the best possible value in a transaction as both parties would benefit from the acquisition. The acquirer can now bring plastic recycling in house.

Regarding the deal, Transaction Director Leo Vanderschuur stated “It was a pleasure to represent Plastic Revolutions in this transaction, and on behalf of Benchmark International, we are extremely pleased with the outcome. Allowing both the seller and acquirer to prosper and benefit is always an ideal end result.”

The President of Plastic Revolutions, John Hagan, stated that his experience with Benchmark International was top notch. "Benchmark was unbelievably helpful in assisting in the sale of my company. They explained the process and were in front of the pack the entire way to the finish line," he said. "I would highly recommend Benchmark to anyone wanting to sell their company."

WE ARE READY WHEN YOU ARE.

Call Benchmark International today if you are interested in an exit or growth strategy or if you are interested in acquiring.

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Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of Central Window of Vero Beach, Inc. by Florida Window and Door.

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the acquisition of Central Window of Vero Beach, Inc. by Florida Window and Door. Central Window of Vero Beach is a supplier and installer of windows, doors, and specialty screens for contractors and end-users.

Florida Window and Door and its affiliates have been in the replacement window business since 1983, and have successfully serviced over 80,000 residential and commercial properties throughout the Midwest, East Coast, and Florida. The company continues to expand its footprint through acquisition. Central Window fits well strategically with Florida Window and Door’s growth plan.

Wendy Labadie at Central Window stated that "Benchmark was very aggressive, in a professional way. The time is of the essencemindset proved to be beneficial to us. We would not have been able to find a qualified buyer without their vetting process.

Scott Berman, President of Florida Window and Door commented, “Central Window provides us the opportunity to acquire a business that has been in business for over 38 years with a stellar reputation and qualified staff. The company allows us to further expand our geographic footprint in the State of Florida. We look forward to the opportunity of growing this business and welcome the employees of Central Window to our company.” Mr. Berman also added, “Benchmark was extremely helpful in the process and allowed us to complete the deal on schedule as a result of their guidance.”

Regarding the deal, Transaction Director Leo VanderSchuur stated “It was a pleasure to represent Central Window of Vero Beach in this transaction and, on behalf of Benchmark International, we are extremely pleased with the outcome. Allowingboth the seller and acquirer to prosper and benefit is always an ideal end result.”

WE ARE READY WHEN YOU ARE.

Call Benchmark International today if you are interested in an exit or growth strategy or if you are interested in acquiring.

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

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Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the merger between Network Technologies, Inc. and Automated Systems Design.

Benchmark International has successfully facilitated the merger between Network Technologies, Inc. and Automated Systems Design. Network Technologies, Inc. (NTI) is an IT infrastructure design and planning firm, specializing in technology cabling, audio/visual design and control systems, security systems and wireless networks. Automated Systems Design (ASD), is a nationwide provider of design, engineering, installation, and project management for workplace technologies for customers in a variety of industries. 

Jeff Cook, President and majority owner of NTI said “The Benchmark team was very professional, responsive and provided great guidance during our entire transaction process. Having Benchmark on our side, focusing on the details of the transaction process, allowed our management team to continue to focus on the day to day running of our business. I would highly recommend partnering with Benchmark for any small to mid-size business owner that is considering the sale or merger of their firm. We are excited to be part of the ASD team and look forward to providing expanded services and capabilities to our clients through the synergies of the combined companies.” 

We are very pleased to welcome NTI, led by Jeff Cook and Scott Dupuis, to the ASD family. The combined companies of ASD and NTI is a strong strategic fit that will provide our customers a fully integrated design/build organization. NTI's experienced management team and operational staff will be a strong addition to our organization and we look forward to integrating the team over the next few months. We believe the merged companies further our goal to expand our service offerings to both NTI and ASD customers throughout the US. We look forward to building on the success of both organizations and to continue to grow our customer base through the strong reputation of delivering projects on time and budget.said Kevin Kiziah, President and CEO of ASD. 

WE ARE READY WHEN YOU ARE.

Call Benchmark International today if you are interested in an exit or growth strategy or if you are interested in acquiring.

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

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Benchmark International Facilitates the Sale of GPL Landscaping to Rotolo Consultants

Benchmark International is delighted to announce the acquisition of GPL Landscaping to Rotolo Consultants, Inc. Benchmark International acted as the representative for GPL Landscaping throughout this transaction. This represents Benchmark International’s fourth successful deal closing in the Landscaping industry over the last two years. Benchmark International maintained a close relationship with the client to obtain a good value for both parties. “The landscaping industry has become a hot sector for lower middle market M&A,” said Benchmark International Managing Director Clinton Johnston. “The volumes and multiples we are seeing now, as well as the sheer number of repeat buyers and closed transactions, especially below the Mason-Dixon Line, could never have been predicted even as recently as five years ago. While there is an exciting quantity of well-funded potential acquirers, each is looking for very specific criteria and will only pay the value sellers are demanding in cases where an exact match can be found for their criteria.”

GPL Landscaping provides landscape maintenance and installation services to commercial and high-end residential accounts located in Florida. Approximately 80% of revenue is based on recurring maintenance programs. An established bank of customers made them a positive prospect for potential buyers.

Rotolo Consultants (RCI) Is a well-established regional landscaping company. RCI has designed, constructed, and maintained many of the most innovative and beautiful landscapes in the southeastern US. Through the years, they have evolved from a small family nursery business to one of the largest, most respected firms in the industry. “We are very excited about the acquisition of GPL Landscaping. (The company) comes with an experienced management team that has been at the core of its success,” said Keith Rotolo, president and CEO of RCI. “RCI will now be able to offer our extensive landscape and construction scopes of work to a new client base while aggressively growing the existing landscape maintenance presence that GPL had established. We will continue to explore acquisition opportunities in northwest Florida as well as in our core markets.”

Benchmark International Transaction Director, John Deeks, stated, “This transaction was not without its bumps and delays. However, as we knew that this client represented a perfect fit for the buyer in terms of geography, commercial to residential mix, level of recurring business, and management practices; we knew this was the right deal for our client and the valuation offered by RCI would be difficult to replicate. As a result, we fought hard to keep this deal on track, reminding the buyer of this compatibility at every opportunity and fighting through some unusually lengthy roadblocks.”

WE ARE READY WHEN YOU ARE.

Call Benchmark International today if you are interested in an exit or growth strategy or if you are interested in acquiring.

Schedule a call to speak to an Analyst

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Giving in Order to Receive

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review made a perhaps surprising conjecture: that as far as mergers and acquisitions are concerned, those companies that focus on what they’re going to get from an acquisition are less likely to succeed, in terms of the deal outcomes, than those companies that focus on what they can give to the process.

Acquiring companies being in ‘take’ mode was a dangerous place to be, it claimed. Indeed, corporate giants are not immune from this conundrum either, if we think about, for example, Microsoft and Google wanting to get into smartphone hardware in ‘taking’ from Nokia and Motorola respectively.

A buyer in ‘take’ mode means that the fortunate seller can increase price, especially if there is more than one potential buyer in the picture, and effectively remove the future value of the transaction. Buyers on the take, really knowing what they want, are also more prepared to pay top dollar – which, in and of itself, poses a problem in eventually getting a good return. But companies with a ‘getting’ focus also tend to lack adequate understanding of their new markets, making failure even more likely.

Having something to give to the deal, however, really benefits outcomes. This could mean anything that makes the acquired company more competitive in its market, and especially if the buyer is the only partner who can offer this new competitive edge.

The much-talked-about Harvard Business Review article listed four main ways that the ‘giving mode’ buyer can increase the competitiveness of the bought company and ultimately secure better outcomes on the deal:

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I’ve Been Approached by a Buyer, What Do I Do?

You’re sitting at your desk eating your lunch and reviewing the emails in your inbox when your phone rings. You pick up, on the other end of the phone is an inquirer looking to purchase your company. You haven’t given much thought to whether or not you’re open to selling your business, and here is someone who is ready to purchase it right now. What do you do?

Engage the Right Support Team

First things first, congrats! You might not be thinking to sell right now, and that’s okay, but now you know there is interest in your enterprise. If this inquiry has sparked curiosity in you to explore the possibilities of a sale, you need to be prepared. How do you approach an offer for your business out of the blue? Well, you don’t go into it alone, that’s for sure. You need to have the appropriate team in place to assist you should you decide to explore your options. You will need a sell-side mergers and acquisitions specialist to help you navigate the waters of a sale and break down your options for you.

When it comes to selling your business, it’s okay to acknowledge that you don’t know what you don’t know. Having a mergers and acquisitions firm on your side can help you determine what the approximate value of your business is against others in the same market. Furthermore, you can discuss what your aspirations are for your business and what you hope to achieve from a sale.

What Do You Want?

A call that catches you off guard might have you thinking what the buyer’s intentions are, but you need to think about your intentions. If you consider selling your business seriously, what do you want from a sale?

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The Five Most Common Seller Mistakes in M&A Deals

‘To err is human’, it’s said … but for sellers and buyers alike, the M&A process is surely not a good time to make mistakes.

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Timing: A Critical Factor in M&A

Timing is, without doubt, one of the most critical factors in mergers and acquisitions; a recent report found that it is, in fact, the single most reliable predictor in terms of creating real shareholder value.

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