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The Changing Landscape of Indemnification in U.S. Purchase Agreements

It has been very interesting to follow the changes in market norms for indemnification over the last two decades. As due diligence has escalated dramatically, especially in the U.S. lower-mid markets, over that time, indemnification terms have moved in equal measure in the opposite direction. It seems that acquirers believe that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While this has significantly increased the time between signing a letter of intent and closing, it has also made the negotiation of the purchase agreements a bit simpler. First-time sellers—always attentive to post-closing liabilities—seem to be much more comfortable with the current market terms for indemnification than they did with those in practice at the turn of the millennium.

While Benchmark International does not provide legal advice to its clients (or to acquirers), we do rely on our viewing of hundreds of purchase agreements per year to offer our seller clients a perspective on what we see as the norms for their market. While this is a moving target, our insights have remained fairly constant for the last three or four years as follows:

  • We see indemnification for any item other than a fundamental representation being capped at between 10 and 20% of the non-contingent portion of the purchase price.
  • Acquirers are still alternating between both baskets and true deductibles. These are typically agreed at between one and two percent of the non-contingent portion of the purchase price with baskets being at the higher end and deductibles being at the lower end. These de minimis carve-outs are applied to fundamental representations in about half of all deals.
  • The obligations for everything but fundamental representations survive for between 12 and 24 months, with 18 months coming on strong as the mode.

 

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  • Fundamental representations are almost always capped at the entire purchase price and survive for very long periods such as seven years, until the expiration of the applicable statute of limitations, or indefinitely. This survival period is one deal point for which we would say there is no market norm at the moment.
  • The representations classified as fundamental have not changed much over the years: organization, capitalization, authority, no conflict, ownership of assets, brokers, environmental, tax, and ERISA.
  • Fraud continues to be treated like the fundamental representations.
  • We still see a few acquirers attempting to leave out the provision encapsulating the indemnification as the exclusive remedy. And we still see sellers’ counsel never allowing that to be absent in the final draft. Leaving it out of a first draft has become so rare that it is almost seen as painting outside the lines, poor sportsmanship, or the like by our clients’ counsel.
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The Ultimate Checklist For Buying A Business

Acquiring an existing business can offer great advantages over starting a new business from scratch, especially if the target business is thriving and holds more opportunities for growth. When considering the purchase of a company, you should take certain steps so that you can be confident that you are minimizing your risk and making a smart move. Use this comprehensive checklist to help you ask the right questions and guide you through the process. 

 

☐ Is the Target Company Financially Healthy? 

This is a question you must ask yourself before considering anything else about the business. You will want to carefully comb through the business's financial statements for the past five years (at least) to identify if anything appears out of the ordinary and to assess how the numbers compare with standard performance in that sector. Also, request to see the tax returns for the same years. This will help you determine whether the owner has put personal expenses through the company books and give you a more complete picture of the company's actual value. You also will want to know if you will be taking on any existing debt, and exactly how much.

 

☐ Will You Be Able to Generate Cash Flow?

It is crucial that you know whether you will be able to generate cash flow immediately upon purchasing the business. If not, are you in a position to carry the business until that time comes? No matter how attractive the company may seem, you must ensure that you are not getting in over your head. Take a thorough look at sales records to assess past and future performance. You must also find out if any existing clients or customers are planning to part ways and what you can do to retain their business. 

 

☐ Does the Company Have a Good Reputation? 

Doing a quick Google search can reveal quite a bit about a business. You will want to see how the company is perceived in the world. Does it have a lot of negative reviews or bad press? Are there any customer complaints, and do you know how they were handled? Get a comprehensive look at the business's reputation because you are going to need to see if you have work to do in order to turn it around. This could include a complete rebranding and marketing effort, which costs money. 

 

☐ Have You Done Your Homework on the Staff?

When you acquire an existing business, you are also acquiring its management team and employees. You should know the skill levels and proficiencies of any staff you will be inheriting, and whether you are going to be faced with the task of replacing key staff members. Do all team members plan to stay with the company? Have they been made any promises by previous ownership that you will now be expected to fulfill? Is anyone retiring or planning to go on extended leave? Is anyone disgruntled about the sale? When you know the answers to these questions, you'll be best prepared to address any issues. 

 

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☐ What is the State of the Inventory?

If inventory is applicable to the business in question, everything should be itemized and given a carefully determined value. Will any inventory lose value with time, or only have a value at certain times of the year? Will it be adequately stocked for when you take over the company? When you are investing in a company, you're going to want to have everything you need on hand to generate revenue from its operation. 

 

☐ What is the State of the Physical Property?

First things first: you need to know if the business owns the property on which it resides or if there is a lease agreement in place. Then seek out answers to the following questions. What are the details of the lease and the reputation of the landlord? How much is the rent, and is it due to increase? Is the property in good condition, or is it in need of repair? If the business owns the property, what are the real estate taxes? Is the property able to accommodate any planned growth? Is it legally zoned? Is the location appropriate? Are you going to need to make changes, or find a new location altogether? This is an area where you cannot be too thorough. 

 

☐ Do You Have All the Legal Documents and Contracts?

This is another critical step in purchasing a business. You are going to need to have every last piece of paperwork that pertains to that business. This includes business licenses, copyright agreementspatentstrademarks, import and export permits, mining rights, real estate documents, etc. Basically, if something relates to the business in any way, you should have documentation of it. If the current owner has not kept good records, there is your first sign that you might want to think twice about moving forward with the acquisition. 

 

☐ What is the Condition of the Business's Equipment?

You should assess the condition of all office equipment, furniture, machinery, and vehicles used for the business. What is owned and what is leased? What are the items' lease or purchase details, and are there maintenance agreements in place? You should assess the condition of all equipment to determine if anything will need to be replaced because this will be a factor in the purchase price of the business.

 

☐ Are You Familiar With the Business's Suppliers?

This is important because suppliers can have a significant impact on how reliable your business is able to run. You want to ensure that they are established and committed to providing superior quality and service. Find out if they fill orders on time and meet their obligations. Look into any contracts that are in place, so you understand the relationship. You also will want to ask if there are any expected price increases or factors that may impact the existing arrangement.

 

☐ Contact Benchmark International 

If you are looking to buy a business, we represent highly motivated sellers in the lower-middle and middle market that may be the perfect fit for you. Contact one of our experts to discuss how we can help with target company searches. 

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Global Printing Industry Outlook

The global print market is shrinking in volume but growing in value. Output measured in billions of A4 prints was 49,973 back in 2014 but is forecast to decline very slightly to 49,654 by 2024. In value terms, print output is expected to grow from a total of $767.4 billion in 2014 to $862.7 billion in 2024 – a CAGR of 1.18%.

The role and dynamics of the print industry are changing, with the main factor being the impact of the internet and mobile connectivity on the way both businesses and individuals communicate and access information. This affects every segment of the traditional printing business, changing expectations of what is acceptable to speed, relevance, and degree of interactivity of data, irrespective of the medium used.

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Benchmark International's Three Key Philosophies for Getting Deals Done

As we work exclusively in the mid and lower-mid markets, we see many deals succeed, and some wither. In an effort to have more of the former and less of the latter, we would like to share our core philosophies with the belief that helping you understand them will make working with us a more rewarding experience.


1. Time kills all deals.

Prudent and deliberate action are certainly also key aspects of getting deals closed but, in our experience, neither buyers nor sellers are inclined to be under-prudent or lacking deliberateness. Rather, unexplained and avoidable delays tend to stack up between the first meeting and the closing. Each delay shaves off a small percentage from the probability of closing. There are enough legitimate delays in the M&A process. When we see one that can be avoided, we will step in and attempt to get the ball rolling once again.

 

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2. Transparency is the best antiseptic.

We’ve seen too many deals die because one side or the other has hidden something until it is too late. Long before you meet our clients, we will have already guided them on the value of releasing the troubling issues they might have at the earliest opportunity. Hopefully, you will already have seen some of this in our Confidential Information Memorandums. We lean forward into these issues because we believe that the sooner they are addressed, the more solutions there are, and the less likely anyone is to feel hoodwinked. We hope you’ll feel the same way with your own challenges (for example, lining up debt financing) as well as any you may see with our clients.


3. The emotional must be covered as well as the financial.

This may be somewhat unique to our clients as our process appeals to a certain owner type. As you probably know, we specialize in closely-held and owner-operated businesses. Nowhere is it more true that “every business is a family business.” Our clients have typically had 20- to 30-year relationships with their businesses and often equate the sale process to sending their son or daughter off to college. When we work with acquirers that understand the effects of this fact pattern, we see a much higher level of success. In fact, we have built our teams, our process, and our engagements around it. We will be more than happy to help you deal with this interesting aspect of our clients. Please just ask.

 

Author
Clinton Johnston
Managing Partner
Benchmark International

T: +1 813 898 2350
E: Johnston@benchmarkcorporate.com

 

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6 Books About Growing A Business That You Should Read

Growing a Business

By Paul Hawken

In this book, Paul Hawken explains how a successful business is an expression of the individual behind it, along with practical advice, common sense, and down-to-earth ideas. Even though it was written 30 years ago, it remains an excellent and very relevant read, backed by the fact that the author’s own companies are still successful after all these years.

 

Organizational Physics - The Science of Growing a Business 

By Lex Sisney

The author of this book spent more than a decade leading and coaching high-growth technology companies. In his work, he discovered that companies that thrive do so in accordance with six universal principles. The book covers a blend of important business and entrepreneurial topics in a manner that stands out from other business books.

 

Profit First: Transform Your Business from a Cash-Eating Monster to a Money-Making Machine

By Mike Michalowicz

In this book, the author offers principles to simplify accounting and easily manage a business through analysis of bank account balances. The theory is that a small, profitable business can be more valuable than a large business surviving on its top line, and those that achieve early and sustained profitability have a better chance of maintaining long-term growth.

 

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Explosive Growth: A Few Things I Learned While Growing To 100 Million Users - And Losing $78 Million

By Cliff Lerner

This best seller provides step-by-step instructions, case studies and proven tactics on how to explode business growth. It reveals the detailed growth frameworks that propelled the author’s small online dating startup to grow to 100 million users while coupling humorous storytelling with concrete examples.

 

Traction: How Any Startup Can Achieve Explosive Customer Growth

By Gabriel Weinberg

Traction is based on interviews with more than 40 successful business founders about their real-life successes. It covers 19 channels that can be used to gain traction for a business, and how to select the best ones for your company. The book discusses topics such as targeted media coverage, effective email marketing strategy, and online search optimization.  

 

Growing Influence: A Story of How to Lead with Character, Expertise, and Impact

By Ron Price and Stacy Ennis

Growing Influence is packed with relatable human experiences and practical advice on developing the right leadership skills. It chronicles two main characters’ growth as they applied the principles in the book, mixing solid business advice with a novel that is fresh, timely and inspiring.

 

Ready to Grow Your Business?

Contact us for help with unique growth strategies for your company and how we can partner for your successful future.

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Why Buy-and-build Strategies Work

What Is Buy and Build?

When private equity acquires a well-positioned platform company to acquire additional smaller companies, using the developed expertise in a specialized area to grow and increase returns, it is considered a buy-and-build strategy. This strategy is common with private equity firms with shorter holding periods of about three to five years.

Why It Is An Effective Growth Strategy

If a buy-and-build strategy is executed correctly, a great deal of value can be created when smaller companies are combined under the control of a new company.

  • This type of acquisition saves time regarding the development of specialized skills or knowledge, allowing for growth and expansion to other markets more quickly and successfully with lower production costs.
  • Creating a larger, more attractive company offers a path to exploit the market’s inclination to assign larger companies higher valuations than smaller ones.
  • It provides a clear plan when deal multiples are at record levels and there is a need for less traditional strategies.
  • Buy-and-build deals generate an average internal rate of return of 31.6% from entry to exit, versus 23.1% for standalone deals.

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Getting It Right

The buy-and-build acquisition is not simple to execute. The process demands meticulous planning and due diligence for the strategy to work. The best deals usually employ multiple paths to create value.

  • Synergy between the acquirer and the acquired is important to the outcome of the deal. Companies should target existing firms that will be a good fit as a team both tactically and culturally. The human element should always be considered.
  • The management team must be an appropriate fit and have experience with these types of transitions.
  • There should be a vision in place for where the company will be five years down the road.
  • The platform company must be stable enough to endure the process regarding operations, cash flow, and infrastructure (IT integration in particular).
  • Sector dynamics should also be considered. Avoid sectors that are dominated by low-cost rivals or mature, stable players. Focus on sectors with many active smaller suppliers and service providers. Consolidation should result in cost savings and improved service.
  • While no two deals are the same, there are patterns for getting it right. Those experienced with buy-and-build strategies are more likely to lead to a successful deal.
  • It can be difficult to identify private equity firms because of the nature of the way they do business. It helps to have an experienced M&A firm with extensive connections and a proven track record of negotiating successfully with buy-and-build-focused private equity firms.

These reasons are among several as to why it is a sensible decision to enlist the help of an experienced M&A firm such as Benchmark International for your vision for growth. Count on us to help you get your buy-and-build strategy done right.

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