Risky business The ultimate sale of your business is a risky thing for that business. Sellers either realise this and react accordingly, or they give it no thought at all and blunder into a mass dissemination of previously guarded intellectual property – a course which will damage the business in the future, for whoever owns it.
You need to be wary of how you present the information given to potential buyers, some of whom are not as honest as we would like them to be. Consider two different businesses:
- The owner of a small supermarket on the one hand, with his very wide range of suppliers, all well known in the market place; and on the other hand
- A niche manufacturer of specialized components to the mine drilling fraternity who purchases wear components to fit to his patented head.
The sensitivity of the latter is much higher. In a meeting with the former, and the owner of another supermarket who is looking to invest in other ventures, the conversation might sound like this: “Do you buy direct from Liger Brands, or do you go through the DC? When you deal with Liger, you should ask to speak to the new guy Louis – much more helpful than Joe.”
The niche manufacturer will be far more guarded in even telling the prospect that he imports his components from China, let alone the name of the supplier. These details are more likely to come out through a due diligence process after the deal is signed.
Open up and die
An example: We were involved in the sale of a motorcycle parts wholesaler which had run into cash flow problems associated with rapid growth and a depreciating currency. (At one time they were selling older inventory at the same price as the new replacement goods were costing them – how’s that for a business model? But that’s another story.) The business had sole agencies for a number of lines, and general agencies for others. They had prepared tables of information on gross margins, sales trends and flow through profits. The prospective purchasers were appreciative, and through the process there was a short tussle between two buyers to become the new shareholder of the business. Eventually it was sold to the higher bidder.
But midway through the process a very well established motorcycle wholesaler entered the fray. The so called “ideal purchaser”. This was very exciting for our client. Then I calmed the waters by asking if it would be usual to supply this information to other competitors. Would it be okay for us to tell Biglad Biker Bloke (BBB) what the margins were on a product we supplied to them; but more than that, to tell them what our sales on that product had been for the past three years? Well of course not. Imagine how upset would another prospect be once the sale had gone through, and he discovers that BBB has had access to the same data he had, and is now using it to force prices down.
Would you normally supply market sensitive data to a competitor?
The situation resolved itself when BBB told us that they were only interested in some of the brands (the most profitable, no doubt) and would be retrenching all the staff in the transfer. That was the end of that negotiation. More on this in a later instalment.
Non disclosure agreement (NDA)
An important question: If the prospective purchaser picks up the telephone and calls your supplier; how much damage will be done when the supplier discovers your business is for sale? This is an issue which needs to be dealt with by the M&A practitioner guiding you in the sale of your business, and should be dealt with in the non disclosure agreement signed by prospective purchasers prior to even the name of your business being supplied.
In the meantime, the advice here is to limit your output of supplier information in your Pitch Deck to fairly innocuous generic information to start with. Wait until you have a better idea of who you are dealing with, and what their intentions are. A lot of this information can be provided in subsequent handouts, and even as a generic “promise” to be proven with the due diligence.