About two weeks ago I found myself browsing through the day’s articles on estate agency website “Property Industry Eye”, and was drawn to one solitary headline, “Romans confirms closures of two branches as it looks to diversify into new markets”. Nothing exceptional about that – after all trading conditions are not easy at present – except to say that one of those offices was an office that my business partner and I had sold to Romans in Henley-on-Thames back in 2014.
To my surprise I felt neither regret nor remorse at digesting this news, as my practical reaction was simply that business was surely business. However, I have to admit to feeling a tinge of sadness that there would be no legacy going forward for all of the countless hours of hard work that myself, my business partner, and our committed staff had put into our business prior to the sale. But the really sad part about it, is coming to terms and accepting that a business that once had such personal relevance in your life is now consigned to being just another empty high street shop unit with a “To Let” board hanging from the first-floor window.
Of course, I realise that it would be easy to look to place the blame squarely with our buyers, but that would be too simplistic, as after all we were very happy to take their money and move on to fresh pastures. But no, I would rather examine the dynamic that surrounds the sale of a small business to a larger business, in order to give food for thought to any readers presently considering a potential sale at some point in the future.
Firstly, in my subsequent experience as a business broker I have come to understand more clearly the difference in culture between small business and larger more corporately run businesses. You see small business owners live, breath and sometimes even love the trading entities that they create and manage. So, like the birth of a child, the DNA associated with the business is almost exclusively theirs. In a nutshell, sure it is a business – but it is also very personal, which often thinks and operates very differently to its more corporate counterparts.
Secondly, the larger buying firms should think more seriously about their “one size fits all” approach when making strategic acquisitions. For example in this instance, Romans are an extremely effective mass market agent for whom I have the utmost respect, but it is no coincidence that the two offices they closed were located in two very up market towns (Beaconsfield and Henley-on-Thames) where raw energy/aggression in itself is not necessarily the right “modus operandi” for lasting success.
Thirdly, in my experience the best deals are often where there is a good understanding (and dare I suggest commitment) between buyer and seller. Often this means the seller committing to “hand over” their business over a period of weeks/months, so that the change in ownership is consequently more measured, with both parties getting out of the deal what they principally want. In the buyer’s case this usually comes down to continuity of client income, and in the seller’s case not only cash (which is of course important) but securing a long-term legacy for the many hours of personal dedication put into their business over previous years.
Finally, I should add that I have nothing but praise for Romans in the professional manner in which they acquired our former business in Henley-on-Thames, and I might add that they are by no means alone in failing to tailor their approach to the market in selected towns and cities, indeed I suspect it to be common place. But my experience as a business broker has taught me that issues such as company culture, location and staff experience should all come much higher up the list of considerations when larger corporate firms make much smaller acquisitions. As successful integration is the key to long lasting commercial success, and until that is more firmly understood then my personal experience is set to be repeated many times over.