Episode 79 – How to Attract an Unconventional Buyer for a Tough-to-Sell Small Consulting Firm  – Member Case with Marc Weiss

A strong market position can indicate excellent competitive positioning. On this episode, Marc Weiss, CEO of Management One, shares how he positioned his firm for a successful exit with an unconventional buyer. 

TRANSCRIPT

Greg Alexander [00:00:15] Welcome to the Boutique with Collective 54, a podcast for founders and leaders of boutique professional services firms. For those that are not familiar with us, Collective 54 is the first mastermind community to help you grow, scale and exit your firm bigger and faster. My name is Greg Alexander and I’m the founder and I’ll be your host today. And on this episode, we’re going to discuss market position. What I mean by market position? Well, some boutique founders want to sell their firm some day and positioning their firm in such a way that makes it attractive to a potential acquirer requires some thought. And there’s lots of ways to do this. And some traditional and some are unconventional. And there’s a particular set of best practices, if you will, to to leverage when you’re a smaller firm and you have a unique set of possible acquirers. And today we’ve got a guest who who did exactly this and successfully exited recently. And we’re very fortunate to have him with us today and hear about his story. His name is Marc Weiss. And Marc, would you first welcome and would you properly introduce yourself to the audience? 

Marc Weiss [00:01:33] Hi, everyone. Greg, thanks for having me on today. Appreciate it. Marc Weiss, the CEO of Management One and founder. In the process of selling, we’re almost ready to close, so there’s no flag. So I feel pretty comfortable about it. So we’re good to go. Glad to share my experience. Thank you. 

Greg Alexander [00:01:54] So, Marc, just for a context, would you explain what Management One does? 

Marc Weiss [00:01:59] Management One provides inventory planning for independent specialty retailers. So we typically service the mom and pop marketplace and we forecast their sales and their inventory. And therefore, we’ve created one of the most sophisticated cash flow tools ever used in in retail. So a retailer knows, you know, how much business they’re going to do. We do a break even analysis to know what their financials look like and they spend more money on inventory than anything else. So we can manage the proper flow and investment in their inventory. They can have a very positive outcome on their cash flow. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:35] And Marc, you founded this firm. 

Marc Weiss [00:02:36] 35 years ago. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:41] So it’s obviously a great success story to stay in the business for 35 years. And the retail sector is is really saying something. 

Marc Weiss [00:02:50] One with one product. 

Greg Alexander [00:02:51] Yeah, really. I mean, that’s really it’s amazing in retail, let’s just say, has gone through quite a transformation over time, probably more so than any other industry, right? 

Marc Weiss [00:03:01] Yeah. The last five years have been remarkable. COVID accelerated everything like it did many industries. But, you know, a lot of things are bouncing back to the way they were a little bit. But it’s all about adaptability. And one of the things that we really work hard to do is adapt and change. And actually we didn’t have to change for almost 30 years. Know what we did really worked was just a matter of upgrading our technology. But fortunately, right before COVID hit, we decided to change our platform and and did, you know, created, you know, really created a lot of disruption in our own company, but put us in a position to be where we are today and actually put us in a better position. So yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:03:44] So first question for you is. You’ve been doing this for a long time. Obviously love doing it. Why did you decide to sell? 

Marc Weiss [00:03:55] A couple of reasons. One is we’d gone to Cuba right before COVID, and I got Legionnaires disease from one of the hotels. I was really sick, and I was about 12 hours away from being put on a ventilator. So I remember making a promise to myself that if I was given another chapter in my life, I wanted to do something with it. So, you know, I hit I’ll hit 70 this year. And I also felt like some of the passion was starting to go away. And I asked my cousin, who’s a successful doctor, I said, why are you? He retired at 65. As to why did you retire? He said, I didn’t, you know, I stopped reading the journals and I felt like I couldn’t be the best doctor for my patients. And I knew it was time to quit. And I feel like I kind of hit the same stole things. He has to go back to business. But what we do fundamentally I’ve been doing for over 35 years and the people we’ve hired actually are doing a better job at it than I am, and I feel good about turning it over to them and I feel like I would be in their way and I’ve contributed to the level one two. I want to do something else now. Great. 

Greg Alexander [00:05:03] Okay. Next question is sometimes boutiques the typical exit path, which you didn’t take and why I find your story so interesting as either sell it to a private equity firm, they they sell it to a large strategic, they sell to their employees. Those are those are the three most common ways. Right. You sold it to an individual. Right, which is really brilliant. So tell everybody a little bit about this individual, how you met him, how this whole thing unfolded. 

Marc Weiss [00:05:35] Yeah, it’s, you know, just the serendipitous story I, I had gotten. We get we get offers. We have three or four offers. We might turn them all over to our president. He looks at them, examine them. And, you know, he said, Marc, when you’re ready to sell, let me know and I’ll start pulling the trigger. But there was one in particular that came through for some reason. The email struck me in a way that it was written that I actually responded, which I never do. And we kind of got into a conversation. This was about 21 months ago, and we just kind of hit it off. And I said, Well, what brought you to us? Why are you why do you want to buy my business? And he said, Well, one of my good friends was an MBA, owns a retail business in Seattle and, you know, covid had hit. And we were I think it was like maybe June or July of 2020. And she said, oh, she said, I work with a I know you want to buy. I know you’re looking to buy a business. I work with a business that maybe they’re interested in selling. And he said, Well, what what’s good about why do you believe in this business? And she said, Be the last people I’ve fired before I had to turn off the lights, I’d be the last person. And he said, nobody ever talks about their vendor that way. So he said, I was blown away. I respect her a lot. She’s a bright person. She uses data effectively. So I decided to reach out to you. And so from that conversation, our relationship grew. I wasn’t ready to sell then it was covid, I knew I had to lead the company out of it because we’re in retail. We were we were hit hard, you know, in the early days we were, but we had rebounded by December. We had all our business back, but we stayed in touch. And then an interesting thing happened. And so I we use EOS and in December of this year, my my son who runs our planning department now he’s in charge of product development. We are actually developing new products. He called me and he said, Dad, who do I report to? And I said, We report to my our present resources of number 5 to 54. He’s done. He’s on the the scale side. And he said I dont know who to report to. And I said, well you report to Mike. He said, Well, you’re interfering too much. So that night I went to bed and recognized that I really am not the kind of CEO I hoped to be. I really can’t stay, keep my hands out of the cookie jar. And I woke up the next morning, called this individual and said he’s still interested in buying the business. And he said, yes. And I said, here’s my number. And he said, I can make that work. And there we are. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:18] Wow. It’s really amazing. I mean, what I love about that story is this started by a happy customer. 

Marc Weiss [00:08:26] Yeah. So you. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:08:28] I mean, that phrase that they’re the last vendor I turn off before I turn off the lights. I mean, that’s quite a phrase. So I mean, we’re talking a lot. 

Marc Weiss [00:08:36] We’re very fortunate. We have a lot of raving fans. A lot of our business comes from independent retailers who are in market or carrying our our budgets around with them. And other people ask questions and we get a lot of business just by the referral system within our our. Our clients have been very loyal and very I’ve told our clients that I saw when I started the business 35 years ago. We’ve gone through their own sales. 

Greg Alexander [00:09:01] Yeah. So also we’re talking to Marc Weiss right now about how to position your company for an exit, how to make your company attractive to a potential acquire by having a great market position. And we’re reminded of the obvious, which is build a great company first, have have fans instead of clients. And it makes it a lot easier to sell your firm when you’re ready to sell your firm. As Marc is his healthcare and his willingness, their desire to retire. Okay, so let’s come back to this individual sometimes. Like, for example, if I got approached by an individual, I would be skeptical because the number I would have in my head is typically would exceed what an individual can afford. So how did you qualify the individual that they had the funding to pull the deal off? 

Marc Weiss [00:09:50] Yeah, that’s a great question. It because it’s it’s a, I guess the word genre, but it’s a whole niche that I never knew existed. It’s called self funding. And this individual’s got a group of people who invest with him and literally pay his salary to help find a business in all his expenses for 2 to 4. They give him a two year window to do it, and he was very close to buying another business. But the seller jumped the price at the end of the deal by 30%, and he said, No, we’re not going to do that. That was after they invested a lot of money in due diligence. So there is he’s self-funded and there’s a lot of them out there. I just happened to follow in No. One. I was kind of curious about it, and I was I did some research about it and that’s it’s it’s it’s it’s moral, but it’s a more robust industry than I knew about. And I talked to one of the person buying the business. I talked to one of his key investors. And I said, because it was hard for me, Greg, even today, I mean, I’ve gotten to know this person over the last two and a half years. Well, I’ll just get his name’s Nate, so it’s called by his name. I’ve known Nate for two for over 20 months, and it has really been a great journey. So, you know, I felt like there’s good chemistry. He really got to understand who we are. And it wasn’t just a transaction for me. It was also needed to be a it needed to be the culture needed to be sustained. I mean, he’s for 35 years in a company, you feel like you’ve built a great culture. We don’t have a problem attracting people. There’s a lot of good we’re a virtual company, so a lot of good things about the company that I wanted to stay in place. And I was afraid if I sold it to a private equity firm, you know, it wouldn’t be there. You know, you and I had talked about an Aesop or something like that, but I wasn’t going to get the kind of money out of it that I wanted. So these self-funded opportunities are there and they’re real. And when I talked to one of his investors, I found out that they’ve been in this for 20 years and they’ve done 52 of these transactions are these businesses with capital. So that was important to me, that they’ve kept all the businesses, they help them. They haven’t gone in to change them. They look for businesses that help other businesses succeed and other people succeed. And they they seem to, at least on the surface, share our core values. Yeah. 

Greg Alexander [00:12:15] And what did they find attractive about your firm? 

Marc Weiss [00:12:21] What they found attractive? It was the opportunity of what we were doing. We didn’t have a lot of you know, the competition in our space is really people who use Excel spreadsheets. And we’re much more sophisticated. We have much more sophisticated information. You know, we’ve got they call it greenfields. We’ve got 860 clients. We’ll hit 1000 this year because we’re at a growth rate of about 35%, 33% last year, 35% this year. So I think they saw the real opportunity and that we are in a market that’s underserved. I mean, there are literally hundreds you know, there’s I think close to 100,000 businesses that fit into our model. And we’re also in multiple verticals. So, you know, we do everything from college bookstores to a mom and pop dress shop or men’s store on the street. So we’re we’re we’ve got we’re in over 22 verticals. So we’re, we’re pretty diverse, which allows us to sustain ourselves in, in, in any almost any economic area. Yeah. And, you know, I was reading Chapter 29 and one of our our best year retention was actually in 2008, you know, when people would, you know, when economic when there’s economic turbulence or recessions, they’re a friend to us. So I think the other part of it is we’re pretty much recession proof business. 

Greg Alexander [00:13:42] Interesting. And without violating any confidentiality agreements, I’m sure you’re governed by in terms of the structure of the deal. Were you able to get enough cash at closing that made you happy? Was there an earn out? Like what were some of the terms? 

Marc Weiss [00:14:04] So yeah, it was kind of an odd thing. I have to be careful what I talk about, but I had a happy number that I had to walk away with the net number. And so we’re, we’re, you know, so I got the net number and I also I also got a I have also an equity, you know, business on top of it. Okay. So I own about 7% of the business after the deal’s closed. So I get another bite of the apple. 

Greg Alexander [00:14:27] So these self-funding groups, which this is a breakthrough for many of our listeners because they have firms similar size to yours and they might be, in some cases, too small to attract the right type of investor that they may want to sell to. Because for them, like you, it’s more than just a transaction. So these self-funding groups are funded well enough to get to your happy number. 

Marc Weiss [00:14:52] Yes, they’re well-funded. Nate’s going to have, I think, seven investors and he’ll be the majority shareholder. But and, you know, I been one of his key investors that I talked to said I’ll write a check tomorrow for the whole business. Wow. But so they like the business. They like the model. We also have a great management team. They want to buy businesses where they don’t have to do anything except invest in the resources that’ll help the business grow. Yeah, when you’re a small business, everybody works a lot of hours and you’re overworked. And that’s true in our business. So my team does an amazing job and we just launched a new platform which really stretched our resources. So I think that they’ll be able to bring resources to bear that’ll help the whole company. So I think they work for businesses where there’s an opportunity to add resources in the right place. There’ll be a board of directors. So I think that, you know, we fit that kind of we fit that that model. Part of what they like about us is that a naked come in and replace me as the CEO. Mm hmm. He’s already bought into our ten year plan. As a matter of fact, he came back to me and he said, you know, us goes out ten years, but I’m thinking about where management one can be 15 or 20 years from now. So that was music to my heart. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:08] Yeah, for sure. 

Marc Weiss [00:16:09] And I think that I think that. So therefore I think there’s a real opportunity for these self-funded businesses. And by the way, I’m getting just in the time that we took, I signed a letter of Intent February. I’ve gotten two or three requests from different self-funded groups almost weekly since then. So they’re out there. 

Greg Alexander [00:16:32] That’s interesting. Well, Marc, we’re at our time allocation here, but you’re such a great member. You have such a generous spirit and you’re always willing to contribute. So on behalf of behalf of the membership, I appreciate you coming on the show today and sharing your wisdom with us. 

Marc Weiss [00:16:49] Again, if anybody has any questions or thoughts or anything, just feel free to contact me. I’m happy to share my journey. And one thing I want to say, Greg, is I really thought hard about making sure the pipeline’s full when you sell it, our pipeline is full. So when they takes over, I’m going to feel very good because he’s got a whole rush of business that I wish I was here to participate in, so. 

Greg Alexander [00:17:11] Oh, that’s fantastic. All right. Well, listen, for those that are interested in this topic and others like it, you can pick up a copy of the book. Of course, it’s called The Boutique How to Start Scale and Sell a Professional Services Firm. And for those that are not members yet but might want to be and meet inspirational leaders like Marc. Consider joining our mastermind community, which you can find out. Collective54.com. Thanks again, Marc. Appreciate it. 

Marc Weiss [00:17:36] Thank you. Have a good day. All right.