Many individuals at large institutions that trade in the public markets are turning to private ownership and pursuing majority equity positions in lower middle-market companies and even creating their own funds. This public-to-private trend is partially being driven by current and expected public market volatility over the next few years, combined with individual business circumstances, all with the expectation for a brighter future. The recent stock market instability is presenting attractive opportunities for companies that may perform better in the private market. Private equity and private investors have ample capital available to them at a time when public market valuations are sinking. The interest is coming from both private equity funds and strategies, as private markets are gaining ground on public markets. Take-privates are on pace for the second year in a row at $100 billion or more in deal value. That is a first for the industry in more than a decade.READ MORE >>
It is quite common in privately-held businesses for one or more of the owners of the client company to also own the real estate that the company occupies. That real estate may be in the name of the owner individually, or in name of another company (LLC, partnership, or corporation). In nearly every instance where the owner of the real estate is not an individual, such owner will be a pass-through entity (i.e., a subchapter S corporation, a partnership, or a trust). The company will lease the real property from the related party and recognize rent expense on the income statement. There may or may not be a formal, documented lease. Generally, these leases are triple net, meaning the tenant company pays all the maintenance costs, the insurance, and the taxes for the property.
There are several advantages for owners to hold their real estate outside of their operating business.
- It provides an avenue for additional income to flow to the owner without the necessity of paying payroll taxes.
- If the owners have other real estate holdings, they can use excessive rents to generate passive income to offset passive losses from other holdings.
- It allows the owners to separate the operating activities of their business from the real estate holdings in the event of a sale.
For business valuation purposes, we need to consider the effect of these related party leases that were not negotiated at arm's length. The lease rate may be more or less than the market. If the business is struggling, the lease may be below market. If the business is performing well, the rent will be above the market. For calculating an adjusted EBITDA, we should calculate an adjustment based on the difference between market rates and the related party lease rate. If the lease rate is below market, we have a deduction from book EBITDA. Conversely, if the lease is above market, we have an addition to book EBITDA.
In calculating the adjustment, it is necessary to make a determination of what the market rent would be. In doing so, we must look at comparable properties in the area around the client’s property and find what the going lease rates are. LoopNet.com provides a relatively good comparison of properties that are on the market with asking prices. It is important to understand the characteristics of the building that the client is occupying and if there are any special use considerations. For example, a prospective client operates a precision CNC machine shop in Southern California in a 22,000 square foot building in an industrial area with a zoning of light industrial. They have about 16,900 square feet of outside space for parking and storage. Since they are operating CNC and heat-treating equipment, they need at least 1,000 amps of 3 phase power coming into the building. A comparable building, then, has these characteristics. Comparing this property to Class A office space is not a good comparison.
Note: Some special purpose buildings can have characteristics that are hard to match in the market. In that case, we must estimate the additional costs associated with what makes the building unique.
Pictured is a Loopnet.com example of a property search in Gardena, CA for industrial properties to lease in the 15,000 to 25,000 square foot range under $15 per foot. It indicates that there are several parcels that are comparable.
To continue the example, the prospective client company leases the real estate from a separate entity owned 100% by the sole shareholder for $60,650 per month. The asking price for comparable properties in the area is approximately $12.50 per foot. As such, the market rent for a 22,000 square foot facility would be $275,000 per year. In looking further at just land, the lease rate is about $7.20 per foot or another $123,708 per year. The total annual market rent for this site would be $398,708 compared to the actual lease rate of $602,461. In this case, we have a positive adjustment to book EBITDA of $203,753 per year.
Since the company in this example is paying the actual costs of the insurance and taxes, there is no need to make an adjustment for that. However, if the company is a tenant in a multi-tenant building owned by the same owner of the company, the comparison of the rent is the same, but there is a potential for the business to be paying all the taxes, insurance, and maintenance for the property, which would require additional adjustments.READ MORE >>
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 >>
Restaurants all over the world express their own environments and tastes that help people identify the culture. People travel all to all ends of the earth to savor a certain style of food or experience a certain society or tradition. Restaurants are places that we go to enjoy everything from a quick lunch to a celebration of any sort. We engage restaurants as a platform for many activities, especially in the United States. The COVID-19 pandemic inflicted issues on all social gatherings, and the world had to change the way we do many normal, day-to-day activities, impacting the restaurant industry significantly. My focus today is to enlighten you on some aspects that may help your business adapt, and make your restaurant a more attractive target to be acquired.
The restaurant industry is a monstrosity. It has various moving parts and year-over-year new aspects and competition. From ingredients to efficiency to ambiance, the restaurant sector has always been competitive and continually pushing forward with the times. 2020 brought all of that to a screeching halt. Though demand for certain items such as beans, rice, and bread was higher than ever, and grocery stores were being raided, restaurants were forced into full panic mode. There was no way to prepare, and no one knew what to do. Unlike several other diseases in the past, COVID-19 thankfully does not spread directly through livestock and agricultural products. Though that is not where the issue lies. Getting the products delivered to the location and having employees inside without spreading the disease was nearly impossible. The restaurants still surviving have obviously adapted to the times by focusing on enhanced delivery options and marketing schemes that helped them to stay afloat. With the world beginning to open back up, what is going to be the best tactic to getting the financials back to pre-COVID numbers?
More than 110,000 establishments have closed permanently over the past year, with others filing for bankruptcy. Everyone has changed their dining habits over the past year, particularly shifting to takeout and delivery. Moving forward, the industry is going to need to maintain a focus on responsiveness, and prioritization of health and safety. No one wants a cold pizza or cold veal parmesan in a plastic container. Presentation has come further into play. Restaurants need to get a foot ahead of the competition in any way possible. More restaurant concepts will have a drive-thru or pickup window in construction designs. Marketing schemes have been redirected to be community-based on a larger sense. For example, homeowner associations, next-door-neighbor sites, and city blog pages are going to need to be targeted. Along with that, customer loyalty programs, organic menu options, social media options, and mobile paying all may be beneficial. With the vaccines being distributed more widely, people are tired of being cooped up for over a year and are starting to travel and go to the newest, trendiest, most happening areas. How do you make your business compete and intrigue the crowd? There has to be a niche to your business—one that makes it stands apart from the chains and competition. There are restaurants on every corner, so you must create a particular dish or unique ambiance that people will remember. It is a difficult median that must be found where you are focusing on your health, yet also creating a memorable experience. Technology has also made its presence known, as nearly all communication over the past year has been through phone, text, video chat, or online ordering.
When it comes to mergers and acquisitions, what can you do to make your restaurant more sellable? There are a lot of factors that come into play, but a large portion has to do with profit & loss statements, balance sheets, and showing consistency. Of course, 2020 will not be taken out of consideration, but at the same time, buyers cannot consider last year to have been normal. Some buyers will try to take this into consideration as they want the better deal, and this may work out in certain situations, but overall growth or consistency makes your company enticing. Outside of financials, strategic buyers seem to focus on how it lines up with the current business they are operating. Room for development is a trait that I’ve learned many potential buyers seek. With wanting to bring your business into a current facility, or operating under the same name, buyers want to be able to see the room for growth. Along with that, the capability to adapt is a key aspect because any time new management is put in place, there may be at least a few altercations. Looking forward, what is going to be the challenge is getting your financials back to where they were pre-COVID. This is easier said than done, but a few good places to start are re-accumulating an employee base, providing a safe environment, following all government regulations, and providing the same pre-COVID quality of service and food.
With mergers and acquisitions, if you were one of the larger firms such as OPES Acquisition Corp. or Inspire Brands, this would be an opportunity to make significant acquisitions. When smaller brands struggle, they can swoop in and save the day by acquiring them. The stage has been set in a sense for the next several years with different outlooks. Well-performing chains with drive thrus and delivery options yield high multiples, while frustrated owners are selling struggling chains. Activity will be fueled by cheap debt thanks to low interest rates, private equity groups, other investors that remain ready to spend, and strategic investors eager to get bigger. There is a lot of money that private equity firms have held onto for 2021, along with SPACs making their presence known. Getting your restaurant’s financials back up to normal and showing that your business has withheld and adapted with the times will make it more attractive.
Along with the direct work in the restaurant industry, the delivery options such as Grubhub, DoorDash, Postmates and Uber Eats have exploded, and their presence has been known in the mergers and acquisitions industry. DoorDash is the industry leader with 50% market share, Uber acquired Postmates, with GrubHub in a close second. Before COVID, many companies said they intentionally avoided these apps because the cost to the business seemed too high. Once COVID hit, these apps were essential to keeping many businesses open. There was a survey taken with 2,500 consumers in July that stated that 52% of them would avoid restaurants and bars even after they open back up. Showing your capability to work with these companies as efficiently and effectively as possible will be a contributing factor to the success in your business for the next several years.
The restaurant industry will overcome this pandemic and to adjust to what the new normal will look like. With the vaccines being distributed, the light at the end of the tunnel seems visible. Although it will not be an overnight process, the economy will recover and there will be new adaptations to get used to. Restaurants are opening back up and doing all they can, and the competition is eager to do the most they can with the government regulations. It may be far from over with limited capacities and dine-in options still somewhat limited, but local companies are doing everything they can to accrue the income to keep the doors open. Local restaurants need this, and there is a difficult balance that needs to be found. The hope is there, and the future is bright for both buy-side but sell-side M&A in the restaurant industry.
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A lifestyle business is a business that sustains or supports the income and personal needs of the owner. The business is profit-oriented, but the owner's goal is not to grow the company but maximize profits. The goal of a lifestyle business is for the owner to enjoy a work/life balance while generating enough profit to support the owner's current lifestyle without negatively affecting the owner's personal life.
Often, lifestyle businesses are small businesses and center around the owner's passion. Some examples of lifestyle businesses include e-commerce clothing boutiques, breweries, and art galleries.
Lifestyle businesses are different than being self-employed. Typically, when you are self-employed, you work defied hours. Like any business, a lifestyle business has additional time requirements. You open it up daily and work long hours and weekends, but it intertwines with your personal life. The business may be online or have a physical presence. It may or may not sell goods, or it may provide services to others.
Why would someone want to own a lifestyle business? The owner does not have to sacrifice their personal life. You are not required to work certain hours, answer to superiors, or deliver specific amounts of work on strict deadlines. There are no obligations to investors because the owner provides the funding for the business, so they also receive all the profits. You have freedom of time and location, so you can come and go as you please. The owner controls all aspects of the business. There is no board or third party to report to on the state of the business. The business provides financial freedom because the owner is earning an income that supports their chosen lifestyle. Typically, since there are few employees or other overheads, the lifestyle business tends to be positive cash flow early on.
Like all businesses, there will be challenges. The owner may struggle to fund the business at times or have limited funding. Finding the right employees could be challenging because a lifestyle business tends to have fewer employee benefits than other employers within the market.
When considering starting or buying a lifestyle business you should take the following steps:
- Define your goals: Make a list of what you hope to achieve with a lifestyle business. What do you want to accomplish with the business? What are your personal goals? Consider the amount of freedom you are seeking. Set an income target for your personal needs.
- Identify a passion or interest: Businesses can fail because the owner losses interest. A lifestyle has a higher chance of succeeding because the owner is passionate about the business or purpose. People tend to excel at their passion because they tend to spend more time on the topic because they enjoy it.
- Find a problem that needs to be solved: The business is likely to have more customers for your business if you offer them an option to solve a problem. People should be willing to pay for the problem’s solution.
- Decide on the business: After assessing the items above, you should have a good idea of what type of business to buy or start. Put together a business plan to help execute the strategy.
- Execute on the plan: Now is the time to execute your business plan. If you are going to purchase a lifestyle business and need help, there are many resources available to help with the purchase process. If you are going to start the business, begin by establishing the business. You may need to purchase inventory and begin to target clients.
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Have you always dreamt of owning your own business? What about having your boss’ job? If you are in management and in a privately owned company, it might be possible for you to be the boss and the owner one day. However, many mid-level managers do not know how to accomplish their dream of owning a company that currently employs them. The good news is that your dream can become a reality.
One of the challenges of transitioning from an employee to a business owner is thinking like a business owner. As an employee, your manager/owner provides guidance, and often you may not question the guidance. As a business owner, you make all the decisions, set goals, and create a plan that will drive the future of the company. Then, you will be the one that has to drive and financially fund the vision. Yes, you will develop mentors around you, but as a business owner, you are the one that benefits and suffers from the positive and negative outcomes of your decisions.
While you may work long hours currently, be prepared for a more immense workload and additional hours. Employees have a work schedule, and business owners that operate the company do not have work schedules. You are on call 24/7, and it is hard to get away from the business as you always carry that burden with you. Vacations are interrupted and weekends are often spent at the business. However, if you are in a place in your life where you can dedicate the required time, mentally and physically, to the business, the long term pay-off, whether it be financial or time freedom, can be significant.
Interview your owner and shadow him/her if possible. Ask the company owner for insight into their day. Understand the stresses that the business owner deals with daily. Some of the stresses will be confidential, such as employee issues or financial issues, so anticipate that your receiving limited insight.
Then commit to making your dream a reality. Ask the business owner their exit strategy. Some owners may be open to a slow exit where you can purchase the company over a few years, or they may want a clean exit where you have the option to purchase the company immediately and the current owner walks away after a short handover period. Having an introductory conversation about your interest in purchasing the company is going to be important. Once you understand the business owner's personal goals regarding their exit, it will allow you to structure a deal to achieve both parties' goals.
It is important to prepare your financing so you know how much you can afford. This knowledge is key to structuring an offer. The business owner will need to share the information around the business' performance for a bank to underwrite an acquisition. The company's current banker might be a good starting point. After your conversation with the business owner, ask if they would be open to making an introduction to the company’s banker. The banker understands the business and risk as they have underwritten the business previously. Their goal would be to underwrite the business to incorporate the new ownership.
Be patient and ask for help when needed. Purchasing any business can be an emotional process. If you have never been through the process previously, you may need to seek help from your advisers or hire an experienced buyer side M&A advisor. There are many resources available to you to help with the purchase.READ MORE >>
Maybe you are a lot like Sam. Sam has been working at a job that he doesn’t love, going to work each day and feeling unfulfilled. Sam would really like to quit and go into business for himself but he has a wife and a child to support. This leaves him with a big decision to make; should he start a business or buy an existing one? As Sam does his research, he discovers the many factors that will influence his decision.
Sam, like many of us, has a family to support so most important to him is to have sufficient income to continue supporting his family. Taking on the risk of possibly not generating any income for several years with a startup is not a realistic option for Sam. Since starting up is not an option for Sam, buying an existing business will allow him to have the necessary cash flow from day one as he will be taking a salary directly from his business. In addition, depending on the way he chooses to acquire his new business he will be able to keep investing back into the business so it can continue to grow. While Sam understands that there will be many headaches and long days because of his new business owners he will be free to be his own boss. Furthermore, this new business will likely relieve a lot of the financial stress that he currently has as his family’s expenses continues to grow.
Like most people going into business for themselves, Sam will need to secure financing and/or attract investors to help him get started. He quickly learns that banks and investors strongly prefer dealing or lending to a business that has a proven track record and strong historic financial performance rather than a higher risk start up business with so many uncertain factors such as high debt, or customer concentrations. With the right guidance from a reputable M&A firm such as Benchmark International, Sam will be able to find financing to be on his way to fulfilling his dream of business ownership.
Like many young entrepreneurs, Sam is excited and motivated by the idea of growing a business. He understands that there is a marketplace for businesses he is currently looking for and is much less interested in the grueling legwork and struggle of getting one up and running. He knows that buying a business will give him an established brand that has been tried and tested along with any patents, copyrights and valuable legal rights that may come with that. Having acquired a business, rather than starting one, will have be doing the work he is most passionate about from day one.
Sam’s wife Helen is a very active member in their community and their home is usually filled with family and friends. Like many of us, friends and family are very important to Sam and he wants to make sure he will still have time for those things and does not miss out. Sam is especially enthusiastic about four children’s school activities. He realizes that by buying an existing business, he will have an established vendor, customer base, goodwill, equipment and suppliers. Things he would otherwise need to spend countless hours acquiring. Sam will also have an experienced and trained staff in place ready to go that will know and understand the business so he can take a couple of hours and see his children flourish. The seller has spent time teaching and training those people and Sam will reap the benefits of that. From day one, he will have people in place who are able to help run the business and teach him things while he gets settled in. Sam understands the target business and he knows that with a few tweaks and changes here and there it will be running the way he wants to in no time. While at the same time being able to spend the evenings at home with his wife and kids.
Business ownership may seem like a daunting thought but it really should not be that hard. Sam’s experience shows us some of the things to think about when making such an important life decision.
So, what about you? Are those advantages important to you as well? Do you have a unique idea that may be easier to get off the ground by incorporating it into an existing business? As we move into a time where more and more baby boomers are looking to retire and sell their businesses, the opportunities are endless for budding entrepreneurs. Your time may be now!
And what happened to Sam you wonder? Sam did make the decision to purchase an existing store rather than start his own and was very successful in growing it. In fact, Sam Walton grew his Wal-Mart stores to be the largest retail chain in the United States. What business will you grow?
As a business owner you may be asking yourself how to keep your employees motivated and focused on the long-term objectives you have put in place for your business or you may be asking yourself how to raise additional capital to grow your business. There is a way to keep employees focused and aligned with the company’s growth objectives. Growing up in a family of entrepreneurs, I was always told that you better care of the things you actually own. Ever been to a nice hotel room and left the beds undone? The point here is that if employees take ownership of the business, they will have the business’ best interests at heart. One of the mechanisms used by many business owners as an exit strategy is an ESOP. An ESOP allows the continuity of an existing business and can be a great way for growth and expansion.
Employee Stock Ownership Plan, or better known as an ESOP, is an employee benefit plan much like a 401(k) that allows your employees to take a real interest in the success of the company ownership. In other words, employees are allocated a number of ownership shares in a business this making them ‘owners.’ Traditionally, when the process of an ESOP begins, ownership shares are usually held in a trust until the employee decides to retire or leave the business, and at that point the company buys back the shares, keeping the ownership under one roof. The best part is the shareholders of your company wouldn’t be some outside investors that are only focused on their return, but they would be the people coming to the office everyday and putting in the work to make a difference. The success of your business will directly affect your employees/shareholders retirement plan, giving them an additional reason to increase productivity and profitability.
Now, let’s say your employees are doing great but you want to take your business to its next growth stage. You may go to a bank to obtain a loan, which will result in high interest rates for a number of years. Your second option may be to seek out a financial investor, that could potentially result in losing a majority or controlling stake in your company. When companies bring in investors, they will want to see a return on their investment as quickly as possible and this can cause unwanted changes in company culture or operations. Luckily, there is a third option, creating an ESOP. This would allow you and your employees to stay in control and maintain the corporate culture you have created for your business over the many years it’s been in operation.
You’re probably thinking how does an ESOP create capital for my company. At a simplified level, the business will have to be able to borrow money from a financial institution to fund the transaction of buying company shares or shares of a current owner. Since this would be considered a loan, the business will have to pay back both principal and interest; however, the way an ESOP is set up is as a pension plan, if you speak to your CPA or tax advisor they might be able to guide you on how these contributions could alleviate your tax burden. In addition, to the contributions to repay the ESOP loan, your tax advisor might be able to illustrate that there are other tax benefits the company can benefit from. Some of these include, cash contributions to the ESOP for the purpose of buying shares from employees or even to build up cash reserves could be tax deductible. In S Corporations, the ownership held by the ESOP could be subjected to tax benefits, as the proportion held by the ESOP does not have to pay federal income tax. For example, if the ESOP owns 30% of the company, 30% of the profits from the business will not be included when paying taxes. There are restrictions on all contributions but these seldom cause an issue for the company.
You may be asking yourself, ‘why would my employees would want a stake in the business?’ ‘it’s just a job for them.’ Well the answer to this is that there are many benefits for the employees to participate in an ESOP. Just like most pension plans, the employee will not pay taxes on these contributions as long as they are working for the company. Instead of giving additional bonuses for hitting goals, which are taxed, you would be able to offer shares in the company and in the end will benefit them when they reach retirement. In a study in 2017, millennials that are in an employee stock ownership plan reported 33% higher wages, 92% higher net household worth, and 53% longer median job tenure.1
As a business owner who values the safety and well-being of your employees, before you decide on management buyout to increase capital or step away from your business, consider all the options on the table. Benchmark International a leading lower middle market M&A firm is able to assistance you in this process when making tough decisions on the future of your company. We are here to support our client’s objectives and make an easy and graceful transition as you prepare for the step stage of your life, no matter where that might be.
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