The lower middle market encompasses some of the most diverse selection of companies available to buyers, from “Mom & Pop” service shops to highly innovative technology firms paving the way for disruptive change at the highest levels. For this reason, lower middle-market companies have been the backbone of the U.S. economy from the very beginning—and remain so to this day. The value that these companies bring does not go unnoticed by the broader market, making this segment a high-activity space for engaged buyers and sellers. And motivated buyers are adept at spotting value, providing opportunities for well-informed sellers to maximize value on their exit.
Many companies at this end of the market operate in highly fragmented industries. From HVAC equipment providers and servicers to pool maintenance and other small businesses, you can see this fragmentation simply by driving around any local geography. When an industry is highly fragmented—and also highly profitable—it creates a “sweet spot” for both strategic and financial buyers. Private equity strategies, for example, will often follow a formula of buying a larger “platform company” then searching the lower middle market for smaller “bolt-on” acquisitions to grow the company from there. The strategy is often referred to as a “roll-up.” If done correctly, it can bring large returns for both the acquired company and the buyer. Strategic buyers (firms already operating in the same industry as the acquisition target) often regard M&A in this end of the market as a better way to grow market share versus slow and costly organic expansion.
Business owners and managers in the lower middle market are often looking to exit for retirement purposes. This reality can be advantageous for both buyers and sellers. Oftentimes, there is no succession plan in place heading into the retirement/exit decision and process. Many small businesses do not have a large chain of top executives that make a transition easy, and handing the business over to their children is often not a realistic option either. In other circumstances, the notion of selling the business comes up suddenly as a response to situations like health problems or other personal “black swan” events. In all circumstances, the right buyer—be they financial (private equity) or strategic—presents lucrative solutions that provide for the off-ramp and transition that ownership is seeking.
As such, there has been a large increase in demand for companies at this end of the market, as well as a corresponding awakening of ownership to recognize and test the benefits of a sale process. Investors are sitting on an ever-growing pool of capital that they are looking to deploy, seeking returns they cannot get elsewhere. The lower middle market allows investors of all stripes to purchase assets with relatively low debt (and, therefore, risk) compared to much larger companies. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic impact cannot be ignored when selling your business. COVID has hurt and even crippled a lot of businesses at the smaller end of the market. It also put an elongated pause in the mergers and acquisitions process. These two factors have led to pumped-up demand and lower supply, driving to significant increases in activity and deal volumes as the economy begins to pick up again.
When the time comes, business owners need to be ready to act quickly on sale opportunities. There are a lot of factors that go into selling your business. There will be different types of individuals and entities that come through to inquire about the potential acquisition of your company. While it might be tempting to jump at the first offer that comes, it is better to get a sound understanding of the wider market, and where the highest synergies/motivations (and therefore, the best valuations) can be found. There are always more opportunities to transact than one might think, and there are potential buyers out there for any type of company. The process of finding the right buyer always takes some “travel time”—with some speed bumps along the way—but a sound process that is run correctly can bring windfalls that will certainly justify the effort.READ MORE >>