Know Your Broker: A Day in the Life

Know Your Broker: A Day in the LifeNot everyone has a good sense of what we Kansas City brokers “do” in getting our buyers and sellers to a successful conclusion. Yes, they know we have to send a lot of emails and make a lot of phone calls. But what else? In this article we’ll give you a bit of a look at a hypothetical “day in the life” of one of Kansas City business brokers.

Finding and Qualifying Buyers

Each broker has his/her unique network of buyers that has been cultivated over the years. The best brokers will have also taken the time to qualify those buyers by making sure they aren’t just lookers or tire-kickers. We make sure that our buyer list is as qualified as possible, so that no one wastes their time. We may keep that buyer network “in the loop” through emails, forecasts, or even blogs like this one. 

We want to stay top of mind for those looking for businesses for sale in Kansas and Missouri (we are also active throughout the Midwest). So when we get a new business listing that we like, we send it out to our network. We get new listings all the time, so these touch points happen regularly. On any given  day we might be communicating with this network or bringing it up in discussions in our ongoing networking and other meetings in the community.

First Steps

Once buyers display genuine interest in a particular business due to an abstract we’ve provided (confidentiality is important so we don’t get too detailed), we will then get a non-disclosure/confidentiality agreement from them. This allows them to get the information they need in order to make a serious decision to move forward. We want the buyer to meet with and interview the seller as soon as possible to determine if the business is the right fit for the buyer.

If there is interest, it is important to move to an  Offer to Purchase to solidify their position ahead of other potential buyers. In this phase we get the seller to disclose high-level detail and not getting too deep into the weeds with specific and detailed questions. That’s the thing to do during due diligence.  

Diligence

After an acceptance of an offer, emails and phone calls really get rolling. We will arrange for the buyer and seller to meet and facilitate information gathering necessary for diligence and deal financing. At this stage we wear different hats, depending on the email, phone call, or conversation:

  • Mentor: Many clients are first time buyers or sellers and really don’t know how the process works. We have to tell/show them. 
  • Coach: Just as there are certain exercises and drills that sports players have to do in order to get to game day, there are certain documents and legal issues that need to be addressed prior to closing day. We gently prod, but sometimes have to be less gentle when people are zoning out/procrastinating.
  • Professional: Some clients will need help with issues like tax planning, obtaining financing, or negotiating real estate. We have seasoned professional contacts that we can refer people to.
  • Friend: We will often field a panicked phone call or respond to a troubling email with empathy. Many of us have owned businesses before and we know that seller remorse is real (and how to deal with it). Again, each broker brings his/her own particular personality to the table to deal with specific situations.

Every broker will tell you that on any given day we’re wearing at least one of these hats at any moment.

Closing

There are various parties that will sometimes do their best (or maybe their worst?) to derail transactions. They may do this consciously or unconsciously, but whatever their mentality, it’s our job to mitigate their destructiveness.

Our role is to clearly and professionally deal with roadblocks, obstacles, and any other challenges that can keep these two parties, buyer and seller, from walking away happy in a transaction, both getting (mostly) what they wanted. Our brokers’ secret weapon is experience. This is not the first time we’ve dealt with these challenges and we have plenty of stories to tell about unbelievable last-minute problems that nearly sunk great deals. But we dealt with them in a timely manner, with patience, and as noted above, with empathy. We are closing deals on any given day and preventing them from going astray.

As you can see, our days can vary, but there’s a consistent theme: helping our clients get to a successful finish. We happen to be good at that. If you want to learn more, give us a call!

Know Your Broker: Merrill Staton

Apex Business Advisors: Merrill StatonMerrill Staton has had a fascinating and varied career. He’s a farm kid who had his first job at 11 doing telemarketing. After that storied beginning came all kinds of jobs. Auto repair, construction, material management, freight brokering, licensed Medicare salesperson, and a certified athletic trainer are a few of the things he’s done professionally. It’s his unrelenting work ethic and varied work background that has in part influenced his attitude of curiosity. “I’m not afraid to ask questions,” he says. “If I don’t understand or know something, I’m going to ask.” 

His ability to ask questions comes through in his interactions with clients, who note that, “No BS” is one of the first ways they’d describe Merrill. Reflecting on this characterization, Merrill laughs and nods. “Well, it’s better to be honest and straightforward, right? That way, they know that I’m interested in what is best for everyone. That I want people to come away happy with the deal. Sometimes that means telling them that I don’t think they should sell at this time or they don’t really have enough of a business to sell.”

Merrill came to Apex originally as a Seller

He’s built, owned, and operated several businesses in his life, the most recent being an educational business. At the time of that sale, his neuromuscular disease restricted his movement before forcing him into a wheelchair. That condition persisted for some years. About 6 years ago, through the use of hot yoga, vitamins and prescriptions, he began his climb to his current plateau of being able to walk short distances without braces or the use of his wheelchair.

After a lifetime of productivity, Merrill had been disabled. Recovering his mobility was a gift: “I get to go to work now,” he opined. “I want to use this gift I’ve been given, my mobility, to make a difference. It makes sense to help people like myself, business owners, find the right business to start their journey, or help navigate their exit from one.”

Merrill looks at what he does now as helping people get to the next level.

“I want to make sure that people are building businesses the right way, and sometimes that means a bit more slowly. When done properly, businesses will stand the test of time. I also want to make sure that they’re growing, and not getting complacent. Yes, life has been challenging for many, but you can’t lay down and quit.”

When you speak with Merrill, you know you’re speaking with someone who has a lot more wisdom than you would guess for his age. He’s earned wisdom through many challenges and victories he’s had in his life and career. But you also quickly pick up on his passion to help people wherever they are, whoever they are. His attitude of gratitude made him a successful entrepreneur, and it’s part of the success he brings to the deals he shepherds here at Apex!

Know Your Broker: Debbie Small

From the very start of her career, Debbie Small was interested in small businesses and entrepreneurship. Even as a child she confessed, “I didn’t read Glamour like my girlfriends, I read Entrepreneur!” In college, she put those lessons to work and created Party Pizzaz, a business that sold unique party favors to sororities and fraternities at Kansas State University. She spent the first decade after college as a Senior Media Consultant producing comprehensive television advertising campaigns for small business owners and placing them on cable networks. She found the work fulfilling and loved the opportunity to consult with business owners to assess their needs and grow their revenue.

Apex Business Advisors

Utilizing her core strength of working with business owners, Debbie joined the Apex team in 2004. She’s now worked in the Mergers and Acquisitions industry for sixteen years. While she’s sold hundreds of businesses in a variety of industries, she’s still the same friendly and approachable person that she was when she first started as a broker. Her longevity with Apex has given her extensive experience helping business sellers and buyers navigate the numerous complexities of selling and buying a business. She’s helped many sellers avoid challenges that can arise when cashing out their largest asset, their company.

Due to her long history of success, Debbie was named 2019 Apex Broker of the Year.

When asked why she loves selling companies, Debbie replied, “I help make people’s dreams come true! It’s the American dream to own your own business, be an entrepreneur, and then sell your company reaping the rewards of all your hard work!”

She went on to share that she once sold a home product installation company. The operation was throwing off $100k a year in profit when the new buyer purchased the business. Within three years the buyer had tripled his cash flow profit and hired his daughter to work in the company, giving her a full-time income as well. He was so pleased with the business he bought that he sent his son to Debbie to buy a company. Now his son is also doing very well with the specialty auto parts company he bought from her.

Debbie commented, “For buyers to find a great business to purchase, they must seek them out. They should email and call me on a regular basis, so I know they’re motivated to purchase a company.” Debbie has thousands of buyer confidentiality agreements on file and only a small percentage of these buyers actually acquire a business. The buyers that are the “squeaky wheel” with her often rise to the top.

“Another mistake buyers can make, apart from not being squeaky enough, is to insist on analyzing the operation before making an offer. There are too many well-capitalized buyers in the market to play the waiting game. A solid business will be snatched up immediately. Savvy buyers come to terms on an accepted purchase price prior to doing a deep dive into due diligence.”

Along with working as a broker, Debbie loves being mom to a teenage son. She also owns and manages residential real estate properties. Even now, as Apex’s 2019 Broker of the Year, she still remains as driven to achieve as she did when she was that young girl flipping through business magazines!

Know Your Broker: Karen Callahan

Karen CallahanKaren Callahan is one of the newest additions to our team here at Apex. She brings passion and experience with data and tech businesses to complement many of the other skills we have among our brokers.

Like many on our team, Karen was an entrepreneur at various times before coming to work with us.

She has (and still does) financial analysis and projections for some large companies. Before that, she also had a buy-and-flip real estate business. To help pay for college she owned a carpet cleaning company and also sold carpet.

But Karen’s also had experience in corporate America. After obtaining a dual BA in mathematics and computer science, she worked in data analytics for an insurance and banking firm. Her husband also worked for the same company and it was a transfer to the Kansas City area that brought them and their four children (2 boys and 2 girls) here some years ago.

Karen’s Role at Apex

She’s taken the same attitude towards her new role as a broker that she has towards her life and business: Understand and learn as much as you can first. We have some key training that we do here in the office. She’s also getting involved on deals with her fellow brokers who’ve been with Apex for 10 years or more, learning how to manage deals to a successful conclusion.

When asked what makes her better qualified to work on deals for tech companies, Karen responds, “Because of my educational and work background, I understand the vocabulary they are using to talk about their businesses. Even if I don’t know what their business does at the outset, I can understand it quickly. I’m able to speak their language: technology doesn’t intimidate me.” She also relishes the chance to dive back into entrepreneurship through business brokering. “I love having the freedom to pursue pathways that make sense for me in order to earn and retain clients. It’s exciting!”

Karen’s passions outside of work include fitness training, gardening, and blockchain technology.

Please join us in welcoming Karen to the team!

Certifications Matter: What Do All Those Letters Mean After Our Names?

lettersWe really have a wealth of experience in our office here at APEX.  

People come from insurance, real estate, and financial services backgrounds.

And when they become brokers they often bring Series 7, CFP, CPA, real estate, and even health and life insurance certifications and licenses with them.  

Those certifications give them added insights into transactions involving those specialties.

But we also have certifications for the brokerage industry, and so in this article, we’ll shed a little light on those.

CBI: Certified Business Intermediary

This is really an entry-level certification that can help those new to brokering gain some broader experience beyond what they may have experienced “in the trenches” working on deals. You need to:

  • Have spent three of the last ten years as a full-time broker, or
  • Have a college degree, or
  • Have equivalent work experience which can be substituted for two of the three-year requirement, and
  • You need to have taken at least 60 credit hours of courses in various aspects of brokering and transactions, and
  • Be the lead broker on three transactions in the last 12 months, and
  • Have attended at least one conference, and
  • Be a member in good standing of the IBBA (International Business Brokers Association), and
  • Swear to uphold a code of ethics, and
  • Pass an exam with at least a 70% score.

This needs to be recertified every three years, with conference attendance, a number of continuing education hours, and fees.

CM&AP: Certified Mergers & Acquisitions Professional

Some see this as an additional step beyond CBI. It’s aimed at those who are continuing to develop their mid-market transactions, and it comes with at least 40 hours of coursework, usually completed within a one-week conference.

It’s also a certification that many private equity firms pursue to better educate their principals, less for the letters and more for the education. This shows you that this certification is really of value, given that non-business brokers pursue it.

M&AMI: Mergers & Acquisitions Intermediary

This is the next step up from a CBI certification and can be seen as a compliment or a logical follow-on from a CM&AP certification.  Requirements include:

  • A CBI and 20 hours of coursework, or
  • 40 hours of coursework if not holding a CBI, and
  • Proof of three years full-time as a broker, and
  • At least three transactions in the last three years greater than or equal to $1M in value, and
  • Conference attendance

It has similar recertification requirements to the CBI, and in a nod to sensibility, you can synchronize your recertifications for the CBI with your M&AMI, meaning if you complete requirements for the M&AMI  then you’re automatically recertified as a CBI.

All of our brokers bring different approaches and experience and certifications to the table, but we all share a passion for doing deals the right way. Give us a call to see if we can help you!

Know Your Broker: Steve Weaver

Steve Weaver

Steve Weaver

In this occasional series, we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women that make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

“Anyone who owns a business is a unique and special person, whether they’re successful or not, and I admire that.”

Steve Weaver has over a decade of experience as a business owner himself to complement the almost dozen years he has been a business broker.

And while he now calls Kansas City home, life as a military brat took him to Japan, the Philippines, South Carolina, Texas, Illinois, and finally Alabama, where he worked in sales for produce supplies.  

The job had plenty of long drives. On those long drives, Steve started to conspire to own his own business.

He got a friendly nudge from a friend who had just opened a business brokerage and before too long Steve was helping people buy and sell companies.

After three years brokering sales in Alabama, Steve moved to New Orleans, chasing a bigger market and greater opportunities. As you might guess, the market in that city is much more oriented around bars/restaurants (which feature “about the messiest financials you can imagine,” Steve opined). He enjoyed working with the team in that office and did plenty of deals during a 7-year run.

Personal circumstances eventually took him to Kansas City where he continued as a broker and helped sell a company that really caught his eye. It was a party rental company. After the sale, circumstances fell into place for him to buy the firm. He went on to own the business for 13 years before choosing to sell, mostly for his own health.

“I’ve lived the stories of my clients that I broker for. I had to get stints in my body…because of a business! I understand burnout. I understand needing to let things go. Most of all, I understand how to sell a business from both sides of the transaction.”  

Steve exited that business in 2017 and came back to brokering, something he’s always loved.

He’s continued to dig in roots in Kansas City, active in the Knights of Columbus and helping to found a new Rotary Club in the Waldo area.

“I’ll probably die here in KC, but not yet!” he said with a laugh, his easy smile and his gentle but professional manner.

Know Your Broker: Jeff Crooks

Jeff CrooksIn this occasional series, we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women who make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

Jeff Crooks has spent almost 20 years as a business broker.

Even more impressive, he’s spent almost double that amount of time in the US Army. That includes 8 years on active duty, with the remainder in the reserve. His current rank is Lieutenant Colonel.  

Persistence Pays Well

When asked about what makes him successful in both fields, he responds, “Persistence pays well.”

He attributes the early stages of this trait to the work ethic instilled in him by his military family, but he honed it through practice.  

“When someone says…call me in 90 days… and then I actually do, they’re shocked.” Because the sales cycle in business brokering can often be months and years in the making (though he recently had two businesses close within 30 days), persistence really matters.

It Takes One to Know One

Jeff started life as a broker after selling his own staffing firm via a business broker.

As a business owner himself, he had a passion for helping others realize their own dreams. He also felt that he had the ability to manage the egos of everyone involved in the transactions: buyers, sellers, accountants, attorneys, financial planners, and of course, family.  

While he’s sold all sorts of businesses, Jeff has a particular passion for those in manufacturing, distribution, and service. Despite having undergraduate degrees in biology and chemistry and a graduate degree in Business, it’s his graduate degree in Gerontology that he uses most often. He believes it helps him understand his older sellers particularly well.  

“For them, it’s not about money. It’s about legacy and reputation. This is their baby, and they need to be able to trust me with it.”

When you meet Jeff and witness his confidential nature in person, it’s not surprising that so many people trust him with their (business) babies, regardless of their age.  

Know Your Broker: Valerie Vaughn

In this occasional series, we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women that make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

Valerie Vaughn“This is the first time in my career that I have found myself still challenged after the 3-year mark, because each situation is complex in its own unique way – I love it!”

Valerie has a rock-solid educational foundation (apparently a Ph.D. in Chemistry wasn’t enough for her; she also has an MBA) underpinning dozens of years of work at some important companies: Marion Labs, Hewlett-Packard, and IBM, just to name a few.

The roles at those companies challenged and encouraged her to keep going deeper with her core competency: problem-solving.

“To be honest, I love that it’s complicated,” she opines. “It’s complicated to find sellers, to get them to the point of selling, to find the right buyer, do the dance and get the deal closed. I love putting all the pieces together to form a puzzle.”

Valerie has been at Apex for over 4 years now, and she’ll tell you that the first year was the hardest. She was doing a lot of networking, meeting a lot of people, and “drinking too much coffee.”

But she knew that she was doing the right things and putting in the work, and in time she would get to help represent manufacturers, HVAC companies, and women-owned businesses, the last of which are a particular passion of hers.

“I think you’ll find that a lot of women-owned businesses tend to be in really good shape financially, with systems in place, which, of course, de-risks the purchase for the buyer.”

She currently serves as the President of the Kansas City Chapter of the National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) where she gets to see a lot of the challenges (and success stories) of these businesses up close.

“I’m not looking to close a deal as quickly as possible, but rather feel as though I helped everyone at the table win. My clients often tell me that they appreciate how much I really cared about getting them what was best.”

Know Your Broker: Ron Kleier

In this occasional series, we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women that make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

Ron KleierWhile it’s true that Ron has only been in the industry for 3 years, he brings over 45 years of experience buying and selling businesses on his own behalf.  

Those experiences inform the way he works with buyers and sellers because he can say he’s been in both positions many times.

Ron lives on 16 acres of wooded property in Wellsville, Kansas, about 45 minutes southwest of Kansas City and 15 minutes from Gardner, where he first got his start in a family-owned and operated grocery store.

He was managing the produce department by the age of 11 and closing the store by 13. He knew the business inside out and so it was no surprise that, after helping his parents expand the business, he bought it from them when he was in his mid-30s.  

He took over when the business was doing $25M in annual revenue and, through selling the smaller stores and doing strategic acquisitions, he grew the business to $100M in revenue.  

The grocery business wasn’t enough to satisfy Ron’s entrepreneurial drive, so he and his wife Sandra went on to grow a sunscreen business 1500% in sales over a 10-year period before selling that company as well.

He eventually got into business brokering but found that as a sole owner-operator in the space, he simply didn’t have access to the same resources and expertise that a firm like Apex did. He joined us and hasn’t looked back since.

Ron knows, having participated in many business transactions (he has owned, operated, and sold more than 40 businesses), that buying or selling a business is a life-changing event.  He has a real passion to help goal-oriented individuals realize their dreams.  He enjoys connecting with them deeply on a personal level not just to build trust, but to know how to structure deals and the process for the best outcome.  

“I know how much anxiety can come from these events and, as a broker, I want my clients to see my number and hope that I’m calling with good news.”

Know Your Broker: Jerry Meinert

Jerry-Meinert

Jerry Meinert

In this occasional series we will share profiles of our team here at Apex so you can get to know the men and women that make us best qualified to help you buy or sell a business.

“You can’t make this stuff up!” Jerry says when asked about “war stories” in the business brokering world.  

While Jerry has been a broker for five years, he was a business owner for 33 and he uses the exit of that business to inform how he advises his clients.

Jerry was in the general construction business, both in design and build. Because of that, he was able to see seven quarters ahead of time what was going to happen in 2008.  

The challenge was that he was tired and wasn’t willing to negotiate on the deal when an opportunity to sell came up. Instead of taking payments over a period of time, he insisted on a cash-up-front deal and the opportunity dissolved.  

I should have been more patient. Period,” he reflects.

He brings that patience, also honed by raising two daughters, to bear on each of his transactions, and uses it as a watchword whether he’s dealing with a buyer or a seller.

What is perhaps most satisfying for me is helping qualified and motivated buyers find the right match with the opportunity to control their own destiny and live the dream of owning a business. That spark and fire is exciting to see and I’m able to use my background as a business owner across decades to help get them ready for that next step.”