THOUGHTS ON SEARCHING 9 MONTHS POST ACQUISITION
It's Thanksgiving Day 2020 and I'm sitting at home in my man cave watching Home Alone, one of my favorite childhood movies. While I'm one prone to rambling, I am writing this because I think that the right attitude goes a long way in getting successful outcomes and I think that thanksgiving is the foundation of a good attitude. So now that I have a little more perspective as an operator here are a few things that I'm thankful for as it relates to my search and hopefully they help others.
The Deals That Didn't Work Out
I can't emphasize this enough. Getting the wrong deal (especially a first deal) is like marrying the wrong person. All the effort, rapport building, exhausting negotiation is very much like preparing for a wedding and it takes a lot out of you. If you're like me you look at it like "How the hell is all this necessary for a simple transaction?" But as challenging as that is to do over and over again while you're searching, it's so worth it in the end. I am so thankful that all of the other deals I had my heart set on closing didn't work; I didn't see it at the time, but I was trying to fit a square pegs into a round hole. The right target (LuXout) fits me like a glove. Moreover, where my company had a momentary drop and resurgence of demand, those businesses would likely have defaulted on the loan I'd have taken on them for purchase. In contrast, 2020 will likely be LuXout's best year to this point.
Even after purchasing LuXout I've done well enough to buy other businesses and have tried to do so. To this point it has not worked. But with each time I shoot my shot my method improves and the system for acquisitions going forward looks a lot different than what I'd envisioned in the beginning and is actually better and more sustainable.
Jay-Z is arguably the greatest rapper of all time and with certainty the smartest. Over and over again in his life he scraped together what he had and made into something way more commercially valuable. Now he's a billionaire and married to Beyonce. What people don't know is that he had major trouble getting a record deal in the 90s as he was trying to leave drug dealing and pimping behind. So since no one would sign him, he signed himself and built company that was a platform for him and others like Kanye West. I wouldn't say that I'm Jay-Z but similarly I understand the pressures that come from having to put yourself on and look crazy to your friends and family until it works out. And just as I'm sure that he's glad that everything happened as it did for him, I am for me.
Please remember "No deal is better than a bad deal." And I promise that the best deal for you is the one you make for yourself.
Super Niche Industry
Stage curtain manufacturing is a super niche business with a long sales cycle. I'm very thankful for that. Those two factors and the fact that our sales system is a bit different than our competitors's systems insulated our business from a lot of the economic fallout from COVID-19. A competitor in Maryland went out of business this year. The biggest competitor out of New Jersey cut over half its staff. We didn't lay anyone off and were actually able to hire more staff. Competitors were hurting and though we certainly had our hiccups, we were able to pay out bonuses. And don't get it twisted. That's not because of some stroke of genius that I have. I bought the business with a very hard working and dedicated staff with certain controls and systems in place that give us feedback loops that our competitors simply don't have. By the grace of God, I bought a business that was in every way superior to what I perceived it to be in due diligence. So whatever you acquire, please make sure it's a good business in a "boring" industry that people need but never think about and make sure that the seller is honest.
So picture this. It's mid-March and COVID hits in a way that begins to shut everything down. Governor Northam makes an executive order stating that certain businesses have to close. Our customers are mainly schools and they not only stopped talking to us but many of them stopped sending in checks for completed jobs around that time because everyone was scared and didn't know what would happen next. I was distraught and I told my staff that we're going to close down for a month per the governor's order. Many of them cried and wondered how they were going to make it. The next day we read the executive order and it excluded us for having to shut down but demand for our main product was still zero. Fortunately, we had a backlog of work. I told everyone we were going to 3 days per week in the plant. That saved very little money and ultimately caused us to get behind on our work. Then for the next several months we had some break even months and some where we made substantial profits as demand came back.
If I had not had experienced managers and staff to help me navigate what was in my head for how we moved as a company we could have gone the way of our competitors. We pivoted in so many ways that'd have been impossible without them. If you buy a business, make sure you assess the tenure and experience of the staff directly below you; they better care about it as much as you do. Ask the seller about them, their stories, and what drives them. I'm convinced that my seller sold me the business because he was convinced that I'd take care of his people and that his people would take care of my business and he sold it far below what it was worth in my opinion.
Those are the three things search related that I'm most thankful for. Enjoy your holiday, everyone. And please be safe!