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.