When determining your exit strategy or looking to attract investment into your company, it is important to remain open-minded with regards to who classifies as an “optimal buyer.”
Something Dr. John Binkley has identified among business owners in his time with Generational Equity and in the wider M&A market is the presumption that their eventual buyer will be someone from within their own industry (and likely a competitor), and it will be a straightforward 100% sale.
For some, this will be how their exit process pans out. But, there are alternatives. This piece is focusing on one of those options that can prove to be a win-win for all parties involved in a transaction – investment from a private equity firm.
Why highlight this now? Well, as Dr. Binkley has previously emphasized, we are in the middle of one of the strongest seller’s markets in recent history. But, beyond this, many are projecting that private equity activity in 2018, particularly in the middle market, may set new records after an already stellar 2017.
In this article, Dr. Binkley will outline what a private equity firm is and how a partnership with one can benefit business owners, explore the recent growth in private equity activity, and explain what business owners considering a partial or full exit of their business can do to market to these firms.
What is a Private Equity Firm & how do they operate?
“Private equity is capital that is not listed on a public exchange. Private equity is composed of funds and investors that directly invest in private companies, or that engage in buyouts of public companies, resulting in the delisting of public equity.” – Investopedia
In practice, a private equity firm seeks to enhance the value of a ‘platform company’ (or portfolio company), which they will then exit at a later date for a greater valuation. In order to do this, they will often earmark smaller add-on companies to support the growth of their larger investment.
These smaller companies are usually strong synergistic fits for the platform company, giving it access to improved technology, additional capital, access to new markets and more skilled staff, among other benefits.
This continued investment into the platform company will often be carried out over a number of years in pursuit of an optimal return, both for the private equity firm and the original owners of the business, who often stay on during this process due to their expertise and understanding of the company’s culture and industry.
In Dr. John Binkley’s experiences as part of Generational Equity, these private equity firm transactions are most often established through a partial sale. In these scenarios, the equity firm acquires 51% or more of the target company, existing management is retained, and the firm continues to invest into the growth of the company over time.
What are the benefits of working with a Private Equity Firm?
As a result, partnering with a private equity firm through a partial sale presents significant benefits for business owners who have reached their ceiling in terms of building their company’s value, or aren’t looking for a complete exit from their business. With investment from a private equity firm, a company might experience:
- Greater investment of capital into areas of their company
- Expansion of their operations
- Increased brand awareness in new or existing markets
- Implementation of more efficient processes
- Introduction of new staff/management
- Institution of improved technology and equipment
- Enhanced marketing and sales acumen
An example of this in action can be seen in the sale of Tate’s Bake Shop to Mondelez International for $500 million. Tate’s Bake Shop was previously a portfolio company of Riverside Company, a private equity firm specializing in the lower middle market.
Thanks to the guidance, support and funding provided by Riverside, Tate’s was able to grow beyond its pre-existing means at an exceptional rate to achieve this valuation upon their sale. For the owners of the company, this meant they were able to pursue further growth with the help of like-minded individuals and receive a return on investment upon their exit they would likely not have achieved otherwise.
Is now an ideal time to consider Private Equity Investment?
Having a firm grasp on what private equity firms do and the benefits it can have for your business, whether you’re planning on selling the business or investing in its future growth, is invaluable in the current market.
As Dr. Binkley mentioned earlier, we could be on the road to a record-breaking year for private equity activity. According to PitchBook’s recent US Middle Market PE Report, $54 billion was invested in middle market private equity activity in Q1 2018, continuing the pattern set in 2017’s record-setting year for both acquisition value and volume of transactions completed.
Almost $55 billion worth of capital was realized in 2017 upon exit, a 55% increase on the previous year and only slightly short of the 2015 peak. However, it should be noted that 2017 represented a consistently strong seller’s market that was not skewed by one great quarter or a couple of standout transactions – both Q2 and Q4 were worth over $15 billion.
In addition, add-ons now represent more than half of all buyout activity, a much higher percentage than even a few years ago, while nearly 30% of companies backed by a private equity firm undertake at least one add-on acquisition per year. Furthermore, with the baby boomer retirement wave expected over the next decade (10,000 baby boomer business owners already retire every day), now is considered an ideal time to pursue investment before the market becomes crowded.
Why the interest in lower middle market companies? The numbers don’t lie – there are 350,000 companies with an annual revenue between $5 million and $100 million, compared to just 25,000 between $100 million and $500 million. So, with private equity firms sitting on a record amount of dry powder ready to be invested, they will look to the largest volume of companies to devote their time and money to, which also have lower risk associated with them.
It is easier for private equity firms to score runs with several one- or two-base hits than it is to score with a single swing that has the intention of hitting a home run.
How can I take advantage of increased Private Equity Activity?
With demand high for middle market businesses among private equity firms, the best advice Dr. John Binkley can offer is don’t delay in marketing your company to these groups. As previously mentioned, the market is set to become crowded over the next decade due to the retirement of baby boomer business owners, while at present private equity firms are urgently searching for new investment opportunities.
Whether your business is chosen as a potential platform company for a private equity firm, or identified as an effective add-on for a pre-existing portfolio company, there are plentiful opportunities to achieve an optimal value. With effective collaboration and investment, all sides stand to benefit and generate more revenue in the long-term.
It is encouraged to reach out to an M&A advisory firm like Generational Equity for further guidance, and to ensure you locate private equity firms that align with your own business goals. Realizing the potential private equity investment can have on your business is often predicated on a strong partnership and shared culture between all parties. So, getting professional support in assessing your options is essential in making the most out of a relationship with equity firms.
If you’d like to learn more about private equity and how it could play a key role in both the future growth of your business and eventual exit strategy, you should browse Generational Equity’s in-depth M&A insights. Their website contains numerous valuable resources on the topics of private equity, add-on acquisitions and exiting for the optimal value.
For more from Dr. John Binkley, be sure to visit his blog for further exit planning advice, management tips and recent updates from his activities.