The society which scorns excellence in plumbing as a humble activity and tolerates shoddiness in philosophy because it is an exalted activity will have neither good plumbing nor good philosophy: neither its pipes nor its theories will hold water.-John W. Gardner
As a plumbing business owner, your focus on achieving excellence in the profession has yielded great success. You love what you do and your passion and hard work has paid off.
Your business has managed to survive and prosper in the toughest economic climates and has earned the respect of your customers, peers and employees. Your plumbing company is considered a true asset to the community with a reputation for reliability and honesty.
All of this, however, has come at a price. You’ve had to sacrifice time you might rather have spent with family or pursuing a hobby or other interest. You may have postponed taking better care of your health and fitness. You may be at a point, right now where you want to retire from the business and start the next half of your life.
If you are like the majority of plumbing company owners, you simply haven’t had time to sit down and plan for the inevitable day when you will exit your business. In fact, the vast majority of owners of small and medium-sized businesses (nearly 80 %!) admit that they have no succession plan in place.
This fact points to a common assumption many business owners make.
“My business is so profitable and amazing that it will be easy for me to find buyers and sell it quickly.”
Unfortunately this is far removed from reality. Even in the best of times, for the very best businesses, the success rate for selling in the United States is less than 3%.
That’s why, if you plan on exiting your business, you should start putting together a plan at least two years before you intend to leave.
Document your financials to assist in valuation…
Putting together a thorough, comprehensive exit plan entails paying attention to some critical areas of your business in order to attract the highest caliber of potential buyers.
For example, you must have fully-documented financials available that cover a minimum of five years, including the present year.
For savvy buyers, the reality of potential return on investment is what your plumbing company actually looks like on paper, and not what you as the seller think it is worth.
While you will certainly want to engage the services of an experienced professional who is well-versed in all the nuances of proper valuation, you do need to understand at least some of the factors considered in a valuation.
Potential buyers will focus on obvious things such as net income, revenue, and cash flow as basic measures
Buyers may also consider what is known as the EBITDA, or “earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation, and amortization,” a measure used to analyze and compare profitability between companies.
In addition to a thorough financial review, a buyer who is looking to invest in a plumbing business will consider other things before making an offer. A prospect will probably want to know details such as how many service calls you average per day and the value of those calls.
He or she will be looking beyond the books for both tangible and intangible factors that make your business more likely to produce a quick return on investment. Planning ahead will ensure that you have done everything possible to make your business an attractive option for the prospective buyer.
What you can do right now to prepare for a great outcome…
The first place to start when planning a business exit is to put together a highly-skilled, trustworthy transition team.
This team consists of experts and trusted advisors with experience in business transitions, as well as key employees, family members, and other interested parties. In addition to your attorney and tax consultant, include a mentor from your industry who has actually gone through the sales process; someone who has been in the trenches and can assist and advise you.
Selling a business is no longer effected with a bundle of cash and a handshake. It is a highly complex process and you need as much expertise and wisdom as you can gather together. Once your team has been assembled, you can meet regularly to draw up a step-by-step transition blueprint.
After your team has been assembled and you have created a basic timeline for how your exit will play out, you then need to put a lot of effort into making your business as profitable and efficient as possible.
Experts liken this to the seller of a home making the cosmetic fixes that lead to “curb appeal.”
You don’t want to wait until the last minute to start enhancing the curb appeal of your plumbing establishment.
If it makes sense to your transition team, consider replacing or repairing worn-out equipment and tools. Run the numbers to determine whether or not it is worthwhile to invest in new trucks, communication equipment, or computers.
Your physical location speaks volumes to a potential buyer, so don’t neglect it. Something as simple and inexpensive as tidying up the landscaping, throwing a fresh coat of paint on the exterior, or ensuring that the dumpsters are emptied and clean, can make a big difference when you are courting buyers.
Get your employees in the habit of keeping their company vehicles clean, their workspaces orderly, and their personal appearances neat and professional.
First impressions count and never more so than when you are trying to find the perfect buyer for your plumbing company.
Don’t forget to grow your business…
Once you’ve made the determination to leave your business, it’s easy to get caught up in the sales process and forget you still have customers of whom you need to take care.
Don’t allow yourself to get distracted from the everyday running of the business. Allow your advisors and transition team to handle the exit details while you do everything you can to increase your bottom line and make the company run more efficiently.
Remember: the typical qualified buyer most likely is not purchasing your business because he or she has always dreamed of becoming a plumber. That buyer is looking for a business that will produce profits now and for many years to come.
If you have key commercial accounts, now is the time to make them feel especially appreciated. Customer loyalty is one of the intangible qualities that seasoned buyers look for in a business. Do your best to keep your client base happy, satisfied, and singing your praises. Something as simple as a phone call from you, a thank you card, or an invitation to lunch can create strong feelings of loyalty in a client.
You may also want to step up your marketing efforts a bit to get those service calls coming in more regularly or shore up your commercial database.
Even if you are currently busy and successful, building a pipeline to add new clients is never a bad thing. To a potential buyer, a phone that never stops ringing is an irresistible siren song.
It is likely that you will only get one chance to successfully sell your plumbing company. There are many gremlins that can creep into the process and wind up making it take longer and cost more.
That’s why it is so important to put together your team and create a game plan that doesn’t overlook any detail.
As you prepare to end your career in plumbing and move on to the next phase of your life, you must avoid making mistakes in strategic planning that will cost you money.
A short article such as this one can’t possibly address all the factors that go into a very successful, stress-free business transition. The hope is, however, that this will get you started doing the necessary things to guarantee the best outcome.
Leaving your plumbing business is one of the most important phases of your life. Planning and preparation ensures that you will be able to get out of your business the money you need in order to create the future you desire.
Educating yourself now on the perfect exit strategy and implementing it in phases is the best way to avoid making bad decisions that will impact your retirement.