Selling your business is always a difficult decision and the process can be long and complicated. This process can be especially difficult for smaller businesses. These deals are often seen as “too small to be worth anything” to many buyers and credit is available to very few local buyers who can see the value in a smaller business. (Frequently the fresh perspective brought by a change in ownership allows the purchase of these small businesses to be solid business investments.) These small business owners also take an additional hit because they rarely have the resources to hire a consultant with the experience that would be best suited to facilitate a transaction. Simply walking away is rarely an option so these owners are left with an almost impossible dilemma. Inevitably this forces the owner to make some hard choices. They can leave tens of thousands of dollars on the table and close their business, or they can become a slave to their business. It has been our experience that most owners are forced into the latter.

As business advisors in the green industries, we are frequently contacted by business owners that fit this profile and we haven’t had any real answers for these entrepreneurs. We sympathized with these owners but are also severely limited by the economics of these types of situations. It wasn’t until we were at the Green Industry Expo and met with an owner who was attempting to sell one of his garden centers that an answer became evident. He wasn’t selling because of financial problems or retirement. He was selling because he simply didn’t have time for all of his business interests. He explained his situation and we gave him the blunt news that the economics of most of these deals just simply do not work. Loans for this type of small business are almost nonexistent and buyers are very frequently scarce. However, since this seller was in an unusual circumstance we were graced with unusual latitude in discussions that allowed him to be more detached about his circumstances and therefore more honest about the visceral economics involved. He was less concerned about the money (he had multiple garden centers across the region) and more concerned about the employees and the real potential that he saw for this business. His problem wasn’t money, his problem was time.

He asked us if there was anything we could do and that’s when a creative approach presented itself and also became an appropriate title for this article. What he was facing wasn’t a dilemma at all. It just required looking at things without the pressures associated with this type of transaction and the usual hurt feelings that these economic positions almost always generate. Faced with our blunt diagnosis, he nodded but was not insulted by our observations. Disappointed that we were telling another small business owner the dire news, we began to discuss issues that each geographic area faces and how they are all similar and how geography can make a huge difference. As he circled back on how his business related to these geographic consequences, we were caught by the idea of geography and what all these places had in common which forced us to ask a simple question. “What is the closest University that offers a degree in lawn, turf management or landscape management?” His answer was immediate and our solution crystallized. Contact the dean of the school and ask for an introduction to graduating seniors that showed promise with their abilities. Lawn and landscape professionals are known for their entrepreneurial spirit and graduating seniors that show promise usually have a double helping of that independence. The solution presented itself. There are thousands of lawn, landscape and garden centers that come up for sale every year and there are thousands of graduating college students that are ready, willing and able to effectively take over operations if the opportunity would just present itself. No one can guarantee the success of any business because of the countless variables that factor in to successful daily operations, but no one can doubt a young college graduate that just needs a chance. At some point in all of our lives and careers each and every one of us needed a chance and a little guidance. Every business professional can name his or her mentors and people who gave them a chance to prove themselves when they were young and inexperienced. Now it’s time to return the favor.

—-Richard Helling

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