A while back I suggested that business owners should spend less time worrying about their sales turnover, and consider the importance of net profit when apportioning value to their businesses. While that certainly puts us on the right track, it may also lead down a trail of misrepresentation.
The basis for the earlier assertion is that buyers of businesses are looking for a return on investment, and similar businesses with similar sales figures will be differentiated in their value by the bottom line. Nothing wrong with that assertion until we introduce some other variables.
You may recall that both businesses we previously spoke of were in different cities, manufacturing the same goods with the same turnover and similar expenses, but one had a lower cost of sales because it is closer to its principal suppliers. It had an immediate advantage with stronger cash flows, and after paying the same expenses as its counterpart, ended up with more profit. We concluded therefore that the more profitable business would be more valuable, and we are probably correct.
So for the purposes of this discussion, let’s assume that all those variables are equal; the two businesses are very close together and now have the same suppliers at the same prices, and therefore the bottom line is the same for each.
Fixed Asset Value
The variable we will introduce now is in the fixed asset value of the business. One business invested heavily in equipment twenty years ago. At the time the owner was lucky enough to be granted a loan to get up and running, and he bought his equipment very wisely. He concentrated on good German technology, perhaps spending a bit more than he could really afford at the time. But heck, it has been worth it. He has hardly had a breakdown.
Every year he takes his wife to Europe for two weeks where they spend two days justifying the trip by “visiting the factory parts division” where they purchase the dies for the next year, even if last year’s dies were only installed six months ago previously. Having placed the order (which may as well have been done online) they continue on for their annual ski holiday.
A business like this will typically have written off in their books all the machinery except the new delivery vehicle for which they paid cash. So the equipment has very little carrying value and would probably not fetch a very high price on the open market given the new computer controlled wizardry that is available today – the same electronics that makes the replacement value sky high.
On the other hand, Darrel
This business’s neighbour with the similar profit has done things differently: He was never able to get a loan because the government had introduced some social engineering into the mix at the time he got into business, and money was less easy to get hold of for him. So he relied on supplier rental finance to start with, scraping and battling along until things started to happen. With growth he invested wisely in new equipment, replacing and modernizing, and then as the whole factory hit its sales and production straps, he was able to really go to town on the latest and greatest.
He does not have the old workhorse machinery that will never break, but he does not really need to worry about that because he has a good replacement and modernising policy. The machinery is taken apart every year at the annual shut down when agent trained technicians move in, replace, lubricate and provide a new warranty for the next twelve months.
So which business is more valuable? Answers on the back of a R200 note and send to….
This situation immediately takes the “multiplar-bar-twenty” crowd out of the equation as far as providing a reliable valuation is concerned. The first owner would perhaps be grateful, but the second one would be leaving cash on the table, without a doubt.
This is a very simple example, and of course, there are other variables which come into play as well which we will deal with later. When they are all taken together, some interesting dynamics mean that valuing a business is best left to professionals who know what businesses really sell for at the current time, in the current circumstances.