Musings on business value, sale preparation, sale negotiations, sale structure.

Does your business need an auditor?

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Does your business need to be audited?

  • Perhaps your memorandum of incorporation or shareholder agreement insists on an audit.
  • Perhaps your business is within certain industries which require one.
  • Perhaps your funders require an auditor’s report annually.
  • Or perhaps you believe still, that all companies need to be audited?

If your PIS falls below 350, you do not need to be audited, and you may be wasting a great deal of money on the annual event.

Oh, but perhaps, just because a firm of auditors send an accountant around to your business every year, you believe you are being audited. Perhaps you are simply being reviewed.

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How KPMG destroys a business’s value

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Background 1

There is a sanctimonious attitude in the auditor profession, generally. It is well earned, and indeed, advertised by SAICA:

  • Years of study.
  • Stringent examination.
  • Long hours of apprenticeship.
  • Big pay cheques – commensurate with experience, dark suits, green pens, and the ever present gravitas.
  • Non auditor CA(SA)s take up the lion’s share of CEO positions in JSE listed companies.

They are apparently beyond reproach.

The trust placed in the auditing profession is borne of its rise to excellence, welded to its strict code of conduct, compliance with regulations, and sheer earning power.

By way of illustration on this “earning power” subject; please remember KPMG was paid R23M to “cut” from Tom Moyane’s list of requirements in his brief to the auditor:

  • the required findings, and
  • the names of who’s careers to destroy,
  • which facts to create, and
  • what recommendations to publish…
  • and post those emissions as their own.

(Tom Moyane was also the guy who signed the release from prison of Shabir Shaik, on medical parole, shortly before his unconsummated death).

Background 2

The KVI approach to business valuations and evaluations (and due diligence studies) is based on a potentially exhausting series of probing questionnaires which are scored on

  • Sliding scales
  • Nine box grids
  • Yes / no binaries
  • Weighted averages
  • Vector resultants
  • Answer clouds and
  • Common sense

The outcome is a series of scores which identify the effect of exposure to inherent business risks, balanced against mitigation by imperatives, and the importance of each indicator in

  • The market
  • The industry
  • The geolocation and
  • Any particular point in time.

Background 3

With the “new” Companies Act being enacted in line with the requirements of similar legislation of our trading partners, and international norms, South African companies are increasingly able to compare themselves in performance and value to their international counterparts.
South Africa has a range of reporting requirements, dependent on public interest scores (PIS), Memorandums of incorporation (MOI), and industries and stakeholder requirements.

  • There are various PIS levels.
  • The MOI of the company may require it to be audited.
  • Some industries insist on audits for their members – the estate agents and lawyers, for instance.
  • Investors and lenders may require an audit as part of their covenants.

Background 4

In the sale of a business I brokered about 15 years ago, the target had been well audited, and the buyer was well versed in audit requirements. As part of the negotiation, the new owner asked the auditors to remain on, post deal. The buyer’s thinking, he explained to me, was that the continuity of audit practice gave him comfort in the veracity of the accounts used as a basis for valuation.

In that deal, the purchaser was happy to pay full value, and even higher. He knew that the auditor was on the line.

Summary, so far

  • Auditors are held in high regard, and trusted
  • Each business has its own DNA, expressed through a variety of key valuation indicators (KVIs)
  • Auditors although trusted to give veracity to the numbers, are not always required
  • Where auditors have their round bits on the line, the numbers can be relied on, as a basis for value.

This rather long post serves as background for the the developing requirements in business valuation standards. We have always looked at the requirements of various compliances. The adherence to those requirements as a single KVI among many, determines the nature of the valuation method, its multipliers, discounts, and sums.

In the days leading up to the sudden resignations of the leaders at KPMG in South Africa, I was quizzed on the valuation of a business for which I had lead a valuation a few months back. The base figures were audited by KPMG. This was the problem. The valuation technique was not being called into question; but rather, the auditors report. “Do you have any idea of what is coming here?” said my critic. I did not.

I do now.

KPMG has taken a small slice of your pension away from you

Which brings me KPMG and the value of your business

The cynic might suggest that by subjecting his business to an audit, the business owner is purchasing value. By subjecting his company to an audit, conducted by a premier league auditor is no cheap affair, but it does give gravitas to the financial statements, and lightens the due diligence expectation in a sale. At an honest level, this is indeed so; the company pays to demonstrate its integrity. But we have to expect that at that honesty level, integrity is also present.

In the cold light of the dawn following the KPMG-SARS cut and thrust paste revelation, there may be several dusty mirrors wedged in the fat, smoky invoice.

{Ed- how the heck does one itemise an invoice over four pages, to the cent in each item, and come to EXACTLY R30,000,000-00? And then you have the friends at SARS to ensure that this amount spent on a family member’s wedding, is written off as a business expense!}

Since the first exposure of KPMG’s nefarious dealings with SARS, I have had two separate and independent parties question the validity of our valuations – not for reason of our methods, which are well regarded, but because the underlying financial information was green penned by KPMG.

Imagine THAT happening before Zuma came to power. Oh wait… there was Arthur Anderson. Remember them? The consulting and audit firm collapsed world wide. The local chapter was bought by… ah yes… KPMG. I really should spend some time penning my views on the merging of cultures in mergers, acquisitions and disposals.

Where once subjecting financial reporting to the rigours of an audit gained KVI points, well, for the time being that is going to be diluted by the criminal actions of KPMG.

#TheMostRobustAuditRegimeInTheWorld – South Africa

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It gets more complex

Zuma, the man who would be king, and president of the country for the time being, having admitted via his legal counsel that he has been stringing us all along for fools, for almost a decade, now wants to make representations to Shaun the shawned wether, as to why he should not be tried for corruption.

We can all be quite sure that the veracity of the corruption report used in Shaik’s trial will on the agenda. That report was authored by … KPMG.

Any more of the current nonsense, and South Africa will be downgraded further. And that WILL destroy further value in your business, ragardless of who the auditor is.

Valuation indicators Shareholder agreement

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If there are more than just you as a shareholder in your business, chances are that you have not put in place one of the most fundamental building blocks for the creation of value in your business:

The shareholders’ agreement

Let me explain. (Oh, and even if you are the sole shareholder in your business, you should pay heed.)

The shareholder’s agreement is more than a document governing the number of shares or percentage of shares held by each person (or entity). It helps deal with the other shareholders’ family in a time of crisis. It provides you all with a negotiated plan of action in the event you are incapacitated on a Sunday evening. It is something which can possibly stop your bank accounts being put under stress by the wife, girlfriend or children of your now dead partner.

The shareholders agreement will dictate how shares, or even the whole business will be sold or otherwise dealt with in the case of a fallout of shareholders. When you guys got together you never considered that one day there would be a divorce. The state forces us to contract for this eventuality in our personal lives, or face the whim of the courts. But in our business lives, which usually get started some time after our marriages, we are reluctant to take the same steps.

The shareholder’s agreement will help to protect minority shareholders in the case of a sale of the business. If you own less than a portion of the total equity, you are at risk of arriving at work tomorrow morning to find that in place of your shares, you have a cheque for the proceeds of the sale, which you knew nothing about.

A shareholder’s agreement can insure that all shareholders have a preemptive right of first refusal on the sale of any of the other shareholders’ shares. That can be very valuable in five years time when Big Larry wants to take off with his mistress.

A shareholder’s agreement can regulate the manner in which new shares are issued, and give you some say in the manner in which new issues are taken up, and by whom.

What happens if one of the other shareholders is a company, and that shareholder’s shareholding changes? Concentrate here. The control of your biggest shareholder changes to that of your competitor, or your ex wife’s new boyfriend… You don’t want to find that your electronic key no longer works on the first of next month.

What have you agreed to in the event one of your shareholders is sequestrated or liquidated?

How, or on what basis will you value the shares of the company in the event one of the shareholders wants to sell his shares to the other shareholders?

How will the shareholders’ loan accounts be handled in any of the above circumstances? And how will funding be sourced and repaid?

What is your agreed dividend policy; or do you simply have an argument at the end of each year? Wouldn’t you prefer to have left some of that money in the account after the last financial year end?

Many businesses actually fail because this very important document is not in place to regulate the way shareholders direct the directors, who (let’s face it) in our realm, are usually the same people. Such a failure leads to all the shareholders losing all the value built up in the business from the start to the time of the failure.

But most important, one day when you decide to sell the business, and all has gone well, how will you agree on the method of sale, and the distribution of the proceeds?

If you are a one man shareholder, read the above again, and give it a think. What will you do when someone offers to buy a portion of your business one day. I know what you should do. Visit an attorney with all these questions, and a bunch of others I have not brought up.

But there is more…

The memorandum of incorporation (MOI). The government put this into place for us a few years ago. Of course we were given an opportunity to make it agree with what we intended in the shareholder agreement, but most of us didn’t bother. The problem is that if there is conflict between the MOI and the shareholder agreement, then the MOI will hold.

Really. It may really be time to spend some money with an attorney.

Very willing sellers

Selling too high doesn’t happen often. But hey, if you can get it to happen without lying, cheating, defrauding and incurring financial or liberty liabilities, then why not?

Let’s be clear “selling too high” is not a seller problem. For the most part it is not a buyer problem either. Willing buyer – willing seller, and all that. Nobody buys a business the way one buys a house; you know, half an hour snoop, some estate agent pressure, a clumsy deed of sale, and the deal is done, save for the bond arrangements.

Selling businesses is an entirely different matter. Weeks and even months of investigating the business history and the likely future are condensed into a variety of different business plans and financial forecasts. Through that process, if any undue pressure is suggested by the seller, that bluff is called quite quickly, and usually with devastating consequences.

The best way of speeding the process up is to give the investor what he wants, and in an easily usable format. The investigation and due diligence process is a gruelling one. These guys are often tasked with other people’s money, which demands a return. If it goes wrong, then their round bits are on cubed things.

In a forest of poorly prepared businesses with high asking prices, a well prepared business and owner has a better chance at hitting the jackpot.

I was involved in the sale of a business about ten years ago where a plan came together quite beautifully. It all happened like this:

About a year before the sellers placing their business on the market, they had spoken to me. I’m a “call a spade a spade” kinda guy. They hadn’t liked the message I gave them. So they went off somewhere else for more comfortable sale story. It did not take long to get an offer. Sort of in mid reality check, a mutual friend suggested that they run it by us for another opinion before accepting.

That took some doing, but we all put our big girl panties on, and had a look. Frankly, the deal in offer was such a waste for the sellers. They were selling too low, on lousy terms. I told them as much. Well not exactly.

What happened after that, taught us all some valuable lessons in being prepaired for sale – the gentle art of identifying a bunch of potential future owners of a business, and pre pairing for future benefit to all.

Valuation indicators Type of business (part2)

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In PBFS015 we ruffled a few feathers in the retail industry. I suggested that the value of retail businesses is very volatile. You will remember I said that retailers are at risk and are exposed to the effects of interest rate changes, government policies and global crises.

So what about other sectors – the rest?

Obviously these businesses are also at risk of the external factors pressing down on their full over draft bladders. But I would venture to say that on the whole, the effect on them is much less dire, with some exceptions.

Some consultants and “luxury” suppliers are perhaps almost as volatile as retailers. The so called corporate gifts businesses lose their finger nails on a slippery slope of cut backs by their customers in hard times. Their biggest exposure is often the fact that they are single parent stores with only a few customers. If one large customer pulls back on ordering, the entire net profit of the business may suffer.

The saving grace of the corporate gifts business is that most of them operate from home, and unlike their retail cousins do not have huge rental bills waiting for them at month end. They are more likely to remain in business during tough times; and like retailers, their multipliers fall precipitously.

Wholesalers to the retail industry are perhaps even more volatile. At the first whiff of trouble, their customers, having ridden the crest of a very profitable wave are quick to “destock”, driving their store room volumes down. Not only will a wholesaler’s customers purchase less, but they will actively actually not buy at all and cancel orders, leaving the wholesaler with an over stocked business, and all the risks that entails. In tough times they tend to shed customers while surviving customers purchase less. It seems though that their biggest customers survive the tough times, and a boom happens as the retail sector wakes up in the upturn. There is a big shift in multipliers in the wholesale sector, from boom to bust times, although not as remarkable as in the retail sector.

Factories are much less reliant on the position of their premises than are retailers, and are able to move routinely, with the exception of a few for whom their buildings are purpose designed. Most factories though, have to relocate as they grow, in order to survive anyway. Moving premises is used as a marketing opportunity, rather than being regarded as a marketing catastrophe. Tough times for factories usually result in lower utilization of capacities, less money spent on overtime payments, lower raw materials costs and a sharpening of the pencils of salary negotiators. The biggest impediment to factory values in tough times is the access to credit for prospective purchasers, and there are therefore fewer of them. This naturally drives prices down, but not nearly as badly as for the retail sector.

Franchises are generally retail businesses, but not always. Somehow they are less volatile in their value than other retail operations, for reason only of the perception being that they are part of a stable operation, and have huge marketing budgets behind them. In difficult times their undercapitalised competitors go to the wall, reducing the number of slices the pie needs to be cut up into, even if it is a smaller pie.

There is another albatross following franchisees, viz. the franchisor and his debtors department. This is a sting in the tail of franchisees’ income statements, particularly where the franchisors do not reciprocate the royalty and marketing fund contributions with a strong brand, and even stronger marketing effort. The effect of this comes to the fore in tough times. When strong stand alone businesses are able to net less than 5% of their sales, outlets of weak franchise systems are contributing all of this to their overlords. So where strong franchise systems command good multiples, their weak counterparts do not.

We will unpack this some more, later in the series, but for now, I hope I have illustrated how foolhardy it is to compare notes with friends in other industries, using the multiples they achieved in the sale of their businesses which may have been in an entirely different industry, different geography, different economic cycle, different … etc.

The paradigm of trust

When a potential buyer of a business first looks at his intended target, he fits somewhere in the spectrum ranging from deep distrust of everything which will be presented – even before it is shown, to wilfull acceptance of anything presented.

  • The former because the buyer is either very conservative or very experienced;
  • The latter because the purchaser is intent on acquiring that business, come what may, and perceives himself to have very few alternatives.

As a potential seller of a business, it is in the seller’s ambit of control to be able to still the fears and mistrust of the former by having all the facts at hand in an accessible and accurate format.

It is helpful to be able to deal with the latter by impressing him even further (and dissuade him from looking for alternatives) with the good records you have. This is in the realms of PrepareYourBusinessForSale™.

How’s about we indulge in a little bit of prepare your mind for sale.

Selling a business can be very quick, which yields poor results; or it can be slow and mellow, to yield far greater satisfaction. As an outsider to the emotion which fills the minds of business owners, who invariably become business sellers, I have the luxury of being able to stare them in the eye, knowingly, at times. With a knowing smile, sometimes.

“I don’t ever want to have partners EVER again”, says the scared and previously bitten engineering shop owner. He went into business many years back with his brother in law. Now there is a split in the family, and a missing million Rands. They could never agree on the marketing budget, nor on the terms of tying down that large order from Malawi.

“Sure I can sell some equity now, and the rest in a few years. How else will we hand over this lot?”

  • The mind of a man who understands that having a bus number of 1 has always been a problem for the business, his wife, and himself.
  • The mind of the child who never go to grow up, and who is having too much time to see her happiness destroyed by the search for cash flow from the 20th of the month to the 15th of the following month because her passion is causing the business to grow and grow and grow.
  • The mind of the a woman who has run out of talent in the workshop, and know she will burn out without better machinery; expensive machinery.
  • The mind of the guy who is running out of BEE points. And cash. And time. And who just has no more figs to give!

Pre planning, beating a drum to slightly different rhythm, and getting one’s A into G, will set you up to

  • trust a new shareholder, and
  • be trusted as a fellow shareholder

The paradigm of trust. Good feelings.

 

 

Valuation indicators Type of business (part1)

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For many years, the obvious question we would ask all our prospective buyers of businesses, is what business each would like to buy; that is, if they didn’t open the dialogue with a statement like “Hi, I’m looking for a small restaurant / coffee shop / factory / workshop” – the standard greeting from buyers in our industry!

Everyone has his favourite, and equally everyone has his pet hate:

  • Factory owners hate the idea of retail food outlets.
  • Retail food franchisees don’t see why they should have to work as hard as a factory owner. (Their perception, not mine)
  • Retailers tell me how they don’t want to call on their customers – “They must come to me”
  • Agents are happy to rent small offices, employ a few people, and move boxes. Preferably from home.

And it is this difference in favourites, coupled to an ever-changing macro-economic environment which contributes to the differences in values from one sector to another, from one time to another.

The old maxim of “if you have no shop, you have no business” is true for retailers, more so than it is for factories, for instance. Retailers in the small and medium size stratum are notoriously short sighted, in the opinion of almost everybody else. Most retailers are at the mercy of their landlords to start with, and are more often that not, abused by these wily foxes.

The big retailers can swing enough clout to turn the tables and have the landlords at their beck and call, while the small guy must simply take everything that is thrown at him from enforced opening and closing times to arbitrary rule changes, usually at the insistence of a much bigger retailer.

Of course, becoming a small retailer has enough of its own hurdles to overcome, that it’s a wonder that there are any of them in the bigger centres at all. Personal suretyships as well as bank guarantees often accompany the inflated rentals which subsidise the much lower rentals paid by their bigger colleagues in the anchor positions.

In difficult economic times, the small retailers are taken out quickly, and we were inundated with requests to sell “for almost anything” over night. So, retail values plummeted. As times improve though, the buyers of retail operations flood into the market to purchase the very few available businesses still operating after the squeeze. Demand drives prices up in a market being held dear by now cash flush owners.

Demand for retail businesses in good times is high, because most small operations are easy to run, and usually don’t require any specialist training. Entry level buyers from the ranks of the recently retired, retrenched or stressed are the fuel that feeds this machine.

During 2006 we saw a major shift in value from the factory environment to retail because of BBBEE initiatives being brought to bear on factory and wholesale businesses. White people unable to stomach the idea of sharing their businesses sold up and moved to retail where the same pressures did not exist. With the nexy round of codes of practice being released in 2007, this trend reversed with the perceived diminished BEE risk, and retailers suffered as the move to manufacture strengthened.

The fall in retail value was cushioned by the rise in consumer spending with the credit largess of that year and 2008. Big spending led to high profits, which attracted high rentals from more and more shopping centres and strip malls opening.

Came the end of 2008 and the so called “credit crisis”: many, many small and medium size retailers fell off the wagon and placed themselves on the market. A flood of supply of businesses attracting few buyers. None of those sellers had pre-approved credit facilities. The combination led to a general plummet in retail value.

So the first to feel the heat as the global credit crunch took hold were the retailers, with many of the buyers of 2007 and early 2008 now closing shop, unable to sell. That was first true for luxury item stores and fast food centres. One trendy night spot franchise in  particular, had as many as 38 of its franchisee operations for sale in 2009.

With a rise in supply and a fall in demand of any income producing entity, comes an associated fall in any of the multipliers which indicate its value. With a fall in profits, there is a magnified effect on the fall in values.

From all this it is easy to understand the high amplitude and frequency of value change in retail operations from extremely low profit multiples in poor times to frankly stupid multiples in good times. “Stupid”, because it is these new owners who will be taken out in the next downturn.

Prepaired

In all my years of helping people to sell their businesses, the biggest frustration was not in finding buyers. There is never any shortage of people wanting to own good, profitable, well prepared businesses.

The real frustration always came in when the would-be owner had to find funding to enable the deal. The seller was faced with a choice:

  1. Look for alternative buyers while the one in hand seeks funding
  2. Wait for the current buyer to find his funding

I generally recommended the first option, in a low key, non threatening (to the buyer) manner. Problems arose if the buyer found out his deal was threatened, which often resulted in him losing motivation to carry through with the project. Similarly, funders insisted on exclusivity for a period while they conducted their due diligences. If, as often happened, the business passed muster, but the buyer did not, the deal failed. We were left looking for another buyer anyway, as if we had waited on option 2.

Taking the funding on offer from buyer 1’s bank often helped subsequent, more suitable buyers, if the seller stayed the course.

Cars

If you ever go into a car dealership to buy a car, as soon as you have got through all the salesman bluster, and shown your buy signal, and you have chosen your colour, seats, extras and so on, you will be ushered to the financing “department”.

Of course this is not a department of the dealership, necessarily. In reality, the “department” is an individual who is a bank clerk with a desk at a dealership. The bank has previously vetted the product and the dealership. Of principal interest to the dealership and the bank now is the viability of the customer – you.

White goods

Similarly for cars, the customer is shown a seat at the “finance desk” of the department store selling washing machines, TVs, laptops, smartphones, and so on. Things are a bit different for these goods because often the financing of the goods sold contributes significantly to the bottom line of the parent company, for reasons which have become abundantly clear over recent times.

Never the less, the metaphor(ish) holds: Goods and services stay sold if the funding is easy to come by. The funding is product approved in advance by the funder, subject only to a suitable buyer.

So why are business sales not pre-approved for funding?

Well they are, and they can be. It is not as simple as the process of a bank getting into bed with a car dealership group, but it can be done.

Our PrepareYourBusinessForSale™ initiative has been expanded into its obvious next step… being “PREPAIRED”. It is a process which takes time and is not easy to wedge into a fixed algorithm, given the complex differences between different businesses. But a guided and considered approach can achieve remarkably rewarding results.

Speak to possible funders of your exit plan well in advance, and get a feel for what they are going to require in

  • Your business
  • The new owner
  • The deal structure
  • The deal value

Keep in mind that you will have to work with your funder in placing the correct new owner, when the time comes.

“I am just so sick of the uncertainty. My business is really doing well, and it has some good years ahead of it, so it is time to get ‘Prepaired’”.

The coming tsunami

The thing with Tsunami warnings is that they appear over and over again following reports of earth quakes, but they seldom manifest in anything discernible to those on the shore. So with time, people, cities, and governments start to ignore the warnings. Frogs in warming water.

When the big event occurs. The unprepared citizens witness first hand entire towns being washed off the face of the coast, nuclear power stations being shut down, or not. And vending machines being left unlooted. This was once a real thing in a first world country.

My South African clients are giving giving vent to any number of local scenarios, ranging between two extremes:

  • Zuma will be out by Christmas, and in jail by the new year (Unlikely)
  • All is lost, the country has been entirely captured. Democracy is a myth in South Africa. Stock up on canned goods and buy Bitcoin. (Also unlikely, although I do find myself attracted by the notion of a finite issue, decentralised, non fiat, digital asset)

We all have our own expectations of the future, and our actions or inactions will be influenced by the current turmoil in the political, social, and economic malaise; but that malaise is the single biggest reason for so many of our clients retaining us in the last year.

As Stephen Grootes says:
“The next five months in our politics could determine the coming decade”.

As luck would have it for those approaching retirement in the near future; there is a growing number of investors looking to expand their own projects into business owners’ horizontals and, or, verticals. They are getting their own acts together for a strong upturn which is quite possible, once the madness is over.

  1. Horizontals – competitors, industry related, and complementary businesses.
    A franchisee in a successful chain of restaurants buys a store of the same franchise which becomes available on the other side of town, and also makes an offer for the new store being contemplated in the new mall.
    A hairdresser buys a nail salon in the same mall so that it can cross sell to both businesses’ customers.
  2. Verticals – in the same supply chain to an end user.
    A large group owning a logistics company, an abattoir, and a coffee bean importer, purchases a national chain of restaurants to enable spare capacity in the abattoir and the logistics businesses to be utilised, while securing a market for its beans.
    The supplier of beauty products buys both the hairdresser and the nail salon so that it can benefit from gross margins on a longer chain.

The potential investment situation is evidenced by the large amount of money sitting unused in large businesses, corporates, and in pension funds. It is the same money which Bell Pottinger might suggest is being held ransom by white monopoly capital (WMC) – an apparent thing – for defined performance by the ruling elite.

Psst… it is money being held back looking for decent investment. Stop being a box!

As a business owner entering the closing years of an exit plan, you have an unprecedented opportunity to tap into that enormous resource; but only if you play your cards right. PrepareYourBusinessForSale™. Get prepaired. The group or company which buys your business is not going to pay over the top. They will pay the value you are able to confidently demonstrate. It’s up to you to demonstrate that value. If you are not adequately prepared, you will leave money on the table.

Think outside the box for a while. Really; give it some serious thought:

  • Who would be interested in buying your business in the coming years?
  • What would they want to buy?
  • Does your business have the capacity to excite, simplify, or add security to a new owner?
  • How do you get things in the right “place” for them?
  • How do you maximise your own value, while enticing the acquiring person / business / group to see the greater future picture?

Those are the current and ongoing challenges for all business owners. Don’t neglect them.

Pitch Deck 02 Suppliers

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Risky business The ultimate sale of your business is a risky thing for that business. Sellers either realise this and react accordingly, or they give it no thought at all and blunder into a mass dissemination of previously guarded intellectual property – a course which will damage the business in the future, for whoever owns it.

You need to be wary of how you present the information given to potential buyers, some of whom are not as honest as we would like them to be. Consider two different businesses:

  • The owner of a small supermarket on the one hand, with his very wide range of suppliers, all well known in the market place; and on the other hand
  • A niche manufacturer of specialized components to the mine drilling fraternity who purchases wear components to fit to his patented head.

The sensitivity of the latter is much higher. In a meeting with the former, and the owner of another supermarket who is looking to invest in other ventures, the conversation might sound like this: “Do you buy direct from Liger Brands, or do you go through the DC? When you deal with Liger, you should ask to speak to the new guy Louis – much more helpful than Joe.”

The niche manufacturer will be far more guarded in even telling the prospect that he imports his components from China, let alone the name of the supplier. These details are more likely to come out through a due diligence process after the deal is signed.

Open up and die

An example: We were involved in the sale of a motorcycle parts wholesaler which had run into cash flow problems associated with rapid growth and a depreciating currency. (At one time they were selling older inventory at the same price as the new replacement goods were costing them – how’s that for a business model? But that’s another story.) The business had sole agencies for a number of lines, and general agencies for others. They had prepared tables of information on gross margins, sales trends and flow through profits. The prospective purchasers were appreciative, and through the process there was a short tussle between two buyers to become the new shareholder of the business. Eventually it was sold to the higher bidder.

But midway through the process a very well established motorcycle wholesaler entered the fray. The so called “ideal purchaser”. This was very exciting for our client. Then I calmed the waters by asking if it would be usual to supply this information to other competitors. Would it be okay for us to tell Biglad Biker Bloke (BBB) what the margins were on a product we supplied to them; but more than that, to tell them what our sales on that product had been for the past three years? Well of course not. Imagine how upset would another prospect be once the sale had gone through, and he discovers that BBB has had access to the same data he had, and is now using it to force prices down.

Would you normally supply market sensitive data to a competitor?

The situation resolved itself when BBB told us that they were only interested in some of the brands (the most profitable, no doubt) and would be retrenching all the staff in the transfer.  That was the end of that negotiation. More on this in a later instalment.

Non disclosure agreement (NDA)

An important question: If the prospective purchaser picks up the telephone and calls your supplier; how much damage will be done when the supplier discovers your business is for sale? This is an issue which needs to be dealt with by the M&A practitioner guiding you in the sale of your business, and should be dealt with in the non disclosure agreement signed by prospective purchasers prior to even the name of your business being supplied.

In the meantime, the advice here is to limit your output of supplier information in your Pitch Deck to fairly innocuous generic information to start with. Wait until you have a better idea of who you are dealing with, and what their intentions are. A lot of this information can be provided in subsequent handouts, and even as a generic “promise” to be proven with the due diligence.