Small Business Acquisitions Pick Up with High Demand for Thriving Businesses

The 2nd quarter of 2020 began with government mandated shutdowns, disruption and uncertainty, as small businesses faced new restrictions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. April business acquisition activity paused, deals were postponed, and transactions dropped 51%, according to BizBuySell’s Insight Report on the small business market. 

By the end of the quarter, the dust had settled and new trends in consumer activity emerged. Entrepreneurs adjusted their strategy and acquisitions began steadily bouncing back. Given the various forces at play, the pandemic and resulting government relief programs have presented small business buyers with the following unique opportunities.  

Low-risk, High Performing Essential Businesses Attract Buyers 

While many small businesses have been struggling in the face of this pandemic, those deemed as essential have continued to receive a steady stream of customers, many even thriving. Consumer behavior has shifted, fueling demand for their products and services. Businesses we rely upon for our everyday needs, such as grocery stores, liquor stores, medical and healthcare businesses, and auto repair shops continue to perform well. Others, such as cleaning services, IT services, quick service restaurants and logistic services have seen business skyrocket. For buyers looking for stability in uncertain times, or even emerging growth opportunities, these businesses are very attractice.

Even in the midst of a pandemic, BizBuySell data shows financials of sold businesses during Q2 2020 held steady. The median revenue declined an insignificant 0.2%, while the median cash flow increased 5.6%. Furthermore, these high performing businesses hold value. This is driven by two factors: (1) the low risk in reliable cash flow, and (2) lower availability of these type of resilient businesses on the market. 

Buying a business that is profitable during the pandemic might mean paying a premium for the reduced risk. In fact, the median sale price of businesses sold in Q2 rose 6.1% compared to 2019, from $270,000 to $286,500.

Alison Hall, owner of the UPS store in Pennsylvania observes, “If anything, the last few months has made my business more marketable”. When faced with the task of identifying essential businesses, it can be easy to stop at grocery stores, cleaning services, and healthcare services. Challenge yourself to think outside the box to meet the needs of consumers.

Getting a Head Start by Acquiring the Dip Through Depressed Businesses 

Buyers seeking lower prices can achieve business ownership through acquiring depressed businesses. According to a recent BizBuySell study, at the right value, 59% of buyers would consider buying a closed business due to the pandemic. Buyers in the restaurant sector may be the most well-positioned to take advantage of this, as in its wake, the pandemic is leaving thousands of fully built out closed restaurants available for purchase.   

Buying a depressed business means knowing how to manage risk. Buyers looking to find value in a distressed business, should search for a business at a lower price and invest time and energy into making it successful. According to BizBuySell’s survey, 68% of owners experiencing a decline expect it to rebound within the next year. Buyers committed to buying a depressed business should keep this timeline in mind when evaluating how much cash flow is necessary to sustain operations as demand returns to normal.  

Asset Sales Provide Opportunities to Secure Prime Commercial Real Estate  

Businesses sold as asset sales present a rare opportunity for buyers to secure coveted real estate in prime locations, allowing for growth and expansion. They also offer valuable material assets in the form of leasehold improvements, FF&E, inventory, transferable permits and licenses, saving buyers substantial amounts of money. Asset sales can be purchased without having to pay for the historical cash flow a business would generate under normal circumstances. According to Amy Kocemba, President & CEO of Calhoun Companies, some owners will be forced to sell specifically to exit the lease. Kocemba concludes, “In these cases, you’re essentially helping them sell their assets only.” 

More Acquisition Opportunities Expected in the Pipeline as Market Uncertainty Continues 

As the coronavirus pandemic remains a major influence over the small business economy, business buyers can expect to find an interesting mix of both high performing and distressed businesses, as well as asset sales. Baby Boomers reaching retirement and facing economic volatility will continue to supply the market, with some owners exiting thriving businesses and receiving premium prices, and others liquidating in hopes of getting out before rent is due.

To navigate this market volatility, buyers should do plenty of research, including talking to experienced business brokers, before deciding on a plan of action. Consider the various things each of these types of businesses offer business buyers: essential businesses, depressed businesses, and asset sales, to find opportunities that are surfacing during this time. 

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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