Every month as a board member of the IWCA, I am asked to write an article for the
members. Sometimes I struggle to bring something relevant to my fellow window
cleaners. Other times, timely events make this task easier...
In the last year we have been approached by three different window cleaners looking to
sell their businesses; one having been within the last month. It is very flattering to have
a peer/competitor make such an offer. We are always looking to expand our brand, and
acquisition is a great way to do it. All of these businesses represented great value but,
in all three cases, things didn't make sense for us to complete the deal mostly because
we could not come to a win/win type of arrangement. For our company, that part is
In all three cases, the other owner was looking to sell "now.” That is a real challenge for
a buyer, and negatively effects the value of a company. How does the buyer convince
the customers that they will service them as well, if not better, without the seller there to
provide assurances? Why would they choose to be loyal to a new company that they
are not familiar with? What's the real value to a good customer list, if in a year, half or
more of those customers have moved on to other companies...? Helping with the
transition is critical to providing value to a potential buyer.
In addition, all of these companies were looking at selling in the spring with no
employees to go along with the customer list & assets. In spring we are already spread
thin with our existing/new customers and are at our lowest staffing point of the year.
Does it make sense to take on a whole new "book" of business then? To us no. Buying
a new business with the employees to support the business, going into the busiest time
of year seems like a recipe for disaster. Think 80 pounds in a 50 pound bag...!
Employee acquisition proves to be our toughest challenge every year, especially in the
spring. Why would anyone want to make that worse?!?
The point I'm trying to relate is always keep an exit strategy in mind. I love my business
and the window cleaning industry and I don't ever plan to get out but, through these
experiences, both my partner and I have developed plans for a potential exits that make
sense. A good customer list is extremely valuable but is worthless to a savvy buyer
without some planning and effort. Always keep in mind what makes your business
valuable and maintain that value through the sale. Know that it's not the name, website,
trucks, or squeegees; it's the service and customers. How you decide to transition them
is where you will get the value in the end.