Punching Out! Acquiring a Distressed Company

Everyone loves a bargain. Are you looking to acquire a beat-up Pinto with four bald tires and 300,000 miles, a gently used Malibu that was recently tuned up and washed, or a brand-new Tesla? Just like buying an old car or a fixer-upper house, you can get a great deal, or sometimes you get what you pay for. Acquiring a distressed or underperforming business can be a great opportunity, or it can end up being such a bad deal that the acquiring company gets in trouble. Here are some thoughts on acquiring a distressed or underperforming business.

By distressed, we mean the company is losing money or breaking even, but still paying interest, accounts payable, and payroll. By underperforming, we mean the company is not making much profit over the owner’s market-based compensation. By seriously distressed, we mean in bankruptcy or heading into BK. Depending on the level of distress or underperformance, the company will require more radical changes and more or less scrutiny before acquiring. In some ways, acquiring a company in BK is better, but the company might be too far gone to be worth it; sometimes, it might be better to buy equipment at auction and hire any good employees.

Some of the key factors in looking at distressed acquisitions include:

  • Will it cost more to fix than to buy a well-performing company?
  • Did the business have bad luck, hit a one-time blip, or have something else occur that is easily fixable?
  • Does it make sense to keep the business in place, or move it to the buyer’s existing facility?
  • Are customers, suppliers, employees, and others still on-board, or have they started looking for alternatives?
  • Is the owner realistic about the situation and willing to move quickly?
  • Is the owner transparent about the issues that the company faces?
  • Can the buying company support the distressed company during the acquisition and transition?

Buying a distressed company can be a great opportunity and a bargain compared to buying a well-performing company. Owners are usually flexible and willing to move quickly, and employees may be grateful that a buyer has come in to save the facility. Their customers may be loyal if they have stuck with the company during tough times and willing to look at buying more if the company gets on solid ground. It can be a great way for the buyer to expand into a new location, get new customers, and bring on trained employees.

On the other hand, what looks like a bargain can turn out to be a real mess. There may be years of catch-up investment needed. The employees may be the reason why the company got in trouble, and they may have foregone raises for years in order to help the old owner out. It may be difficult to change the culture. The company’s reputation with customers and suppliers might be terrible, and customers may already have one foot out of the door. Because time is typically limited if a company is heading down, due diligence might be rushed, and documentation can be incomplete. If the price is low, that leaves very little room for escrow or for other protection for the buyer if the situation turns out to be worse than it seemed. Even the best acquisitions take up a lot of the buyer’s time to close and integrate. Distressed deals can take up much more time and investment to bring the company back to life.

Here are some other items to consider when looking at a distressed acquisition:

  • Have employees foregone raises and promotions, and have suppliers foregone price increases?
  • Did the seller skimp on maintenance, software/cybersecurity upgrades, and other essential expenses?
  • Is the company too far gone?
  • Are the employees hanging on out of loyalty and/or ready to retire themselves?
  • Is it the first acquisition for the buyer? It might be too much for first-time buyers to handle.
  • Have owners been playing any unusual games in order to stay afloat?
  • Ask advisors to look for red flags. They have probably been through several distressed deals.
  • Will third parties—such as landlords, lenders, etc. —give consents? Ask for confirmation early on in the process.
  • On the positive side, does the company have new products or customers that are starving for attention—diamonds in the rough?

Over the past few years, our firm has completed several transactions that involved distressed or underperforming sellers. Almost all of them required more work on the buyer’s part than originally anticipated. Some deals have worked out fine for the buyers, and the jury’s out for others. One thing is for sure—even if a deal looks like a bargain on the surface, you have to dive into the issues in order to figure out if it really is a good deal or a lemon that will leave you on the side of the road in a rainstorm.

Tom Kastner is the president of GP Ventures, an M&A advisory services firm focused on the tech and electronics industries. He is a registered representative of StillPoint Capital, LLC—a Tampa, Florida member of FINRA and SIPC—and securities transactions are conducted through it. StillPoint Capital is not affiliated with GP Ventures.

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2020

Punching Out! Acquiring a Distressed Company

07-20-2020

Everyone loves a bargain. Just like buying an old car or a fixer-upper house, you can get a great deal, or sometimes you get what you pay for. Tom Kastner shares some thoughts on acquiring a distressed or underperforming business.

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Punching Out! 20 EMS Deals in the Past 12 Months

06-15-2020

Does it seem like there have been a lot of EMS deals in North American in the past 12 months (June 2019 to May 2020)? Tom Kastner highlights some of the major M&A deals, as well as predictions.

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Punching Out! Pivot Like MJ

05-11-2020

Most successful businesses have pivoted at least 4–5 times during their history. The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many companies to close and many others to find other business models. You might not want to stop making boards and start delivering for Amazon, but Tom Kastner explains how it is good to keep looking for new opportunities.

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Punching Out! Stress Testing Deals

04-07-2020

Most M&A transactions fall apart several times before closing, even during normal times. When a major crisis occurs—whether internal or external—a deal can truly be stress tested. Tom Kastner shares 12 tips his company has used (and are currently using) to keep deals rolling.

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Punching Out! What Is a Quality of Earnings Report?

03-23-2020

For the past several years, quality of earnings reports (also called “Q of E” reports) have become more popular in M&A deals. Whether the seller’s financials are audited, reviewed, compiled, in QuickBooks, or on the back of a napkin, a Q of E report helps buyers become more comfortable with the seller’s numbers and identifies risks in the business. Tom Kastner explains.

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Punching Out! Down to 199

02-25-2020

According to the database at Tom Kastner's firm, the number of PCB companies in North America is now down to 199. This is a psychologically significant number for the industry. Tom unpacks this number, provides insights on trends, and shares his firm's predictions for the future.

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Punching Out! Preparing for Life Post-transaction

01-20-2020

Congratulations! You have punched out! Now what? Tom Kastner details how being prepared for life after a transaction is a good idea not only to help set up a smooth sale but also to give you the motivation to get through the deal process.

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2019

Punching Out! Why Buy a PCB/PCBA Shop?

12-31-2019

Overall, the U.S. economy is strong, and manufacturing has seen a resurgence over the past decade. Still, the overall trend for investors and small company buyers for 20 years has been in asset-light, tech-enabled services businesses, such as Uber, Amazon, Airbnb, etc. Given that background, why should someone buy or invest in a North American manufacturing business such as a PCB or PCBA company? Tom Kastner explains.

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Punching Out! Lessons From Recent PCB/PCBA Buyers

11-25-2019

Tom Kastner reached out to several buy-side clients as well as others who have recently made acquisitions in the PCB and PCBA sectors. He shares some common themes and their thoughts on what went right, what went wrong, and what they would do differently next time.

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Punching Out! Trust Is a Major Factor in M&A Transactions

11-04-2019

Trust is critical in M&A transactions. Both parties are naturally suspicious of each other, and tensions run high even in the smoothest of deals, so any small molehill can be magnified into Mt. Everest. To avoid bigger problems, Tom Kastner emphasizes the importance of establishing trust from the beginning and continuing to be trustworthy throughout the process.

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Punching Out! SMTAI 2019

10-10-2019

My firm goes to a lot of trade shows—at least one each month—because it is a great way to meet business owners as well as their trusted advisors. Trade shows are also an excellent way to hear industry information that otherwise we would not hear (aka rumors).

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Punching Out! What Goes Into the Confidential Memo?

09-23-2019

One of the key materials used in the business sale process is the confidential memo or book, which is essential if an owner is considering a sale of the business. Even if you are considering a sale in the future, it is good to have a basic book ready in case an unsolicited buyer comes calling.

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Punching Out! Mid-2019 M&A Round-up

08-22-2019

There have been quite a few deals in North America in the PCB and EMS spaces over the past 12 months. I have attempted to track down a fair number of these deals and list them, but many are not publicized. What’s remarkable is that so many of these deals involve private equity. PE firms are certainly a great source of liquidity for owners in these sectors. PE-owned firms tend to make a lot of add-on acquisitions, so we’ll look at these companies to acquire many smaller shops in the coming years. Here are some of the most notable PCB, PCBA, and EMS deals since December 2018.

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Punching Out! Why Can’t You Sell Your Business on eBay?

07-25-2019

Wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we could buy and sell companies online? Owners could avoid a lot of trouble and fees as well as get deals done quicker. Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. Here are seven reasons why a business cannot be sold online and how owners can make the sale process go more smoothly.

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Punching Out! Exit Planning 101

06-26-2019

Proper planning can take away many headaches for the seller and buyer as well as increase the value of the company, help obtain better terms, and overall, make it easier to complete a transaction.

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Punching Out! Delegate and You Shall Be Set Free

05-29-2019

It is good for owners/CEOs to step back a few times a year and think about what they do well, what they like to do, and what others can do better. Delegating simple tasks, like sweeping floors, is easy, but delegating sales management or quality control might be tougher. Although delegating is difficult, almost no business can grow solely on the efforts of the owner.

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Punching Out! What’s Special About Your Business?

04-29-2019

To help sell your business to buyers, or to sell your products and services to customers, it is a good idea to find out what is special about your business. It is also important to know how to communicate what's special. Read on to find out how you really compare to the competition, and what concrete metrics and KPIs you can use to judge your own performance.

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2018

Punching Out! Avoid Surprises During the M&A Process

11-27-2018

No one likes surprises, especially in merger and acquisitions (M&A) deals; there are enough unknown variables to start with. As the deal progresses, tensions start to rise, so any additional variables can cause a disproportionate response. Below are some ways to avoid surprises, and how to deal with them when they come up.

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Punching Out! How to Avoid Key-Person Risk

09-06-2018

PCB West 2018 is next week in Santa Clara, California (September 11–13). Can you go to the show and visit a winery or two without your shop falling apart? Have you taken a vacation in the past few years? Can you afford to not do board rework on a holiday weekend, like this past Labor Day? If you answered “no” to any of these questions, you may have key-person risk.

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Punching Out! Beware of Customer Concentration Risk

08-08-2018

One of the biggest risks in M&A is customer concentration risk. It is hard to avoid as a business owner; if a customer is giving you orders, you generally take them! The next thing you know, your customer has 90% of your sales and they own you. We see this a lot in both the PCB and contract manufacturing industries.

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Punching Out! Dealing with Family Businesses

06-28-2018

Some families may have spent this past Father’s Day discussing family business issues, including when, how or whether to pass the baton. There are several issues to consider when dealing with a family business.

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Fact or Myth: Do 80% of M&A Deals Fail?

05-09-2018

We are often asked by business owners if the commonly quoted figure is true that 80% of mergers fail to meet expectations after closing. There is a fair amount of research on large ($1 billion+), public deals that suggests that the 80% post-closing failure rate may be true.

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How to Prepare for a Smooth Post-M&A Deal Transition

04-05-2018

Selling a company is an exciting process, as well as time-consuming, stressful, and complex. Both sellers and buyers are sometimes so caught up in the deal that they forget to properly plan the post-deal integration.

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Cross Border Deals: What to Look for and How to Manage

02-22-2018

My firm has been approached by foreign firms several times this year and in 2017 who want to acquire PCB, PCBA, or other electronics companies in North America.

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Punching Out! Top 10 M&A Deal Killers

01-25-2018

I am often asked about some of the reasons why M&A deals die. Although this is a very painful subject, hopefully through sharing these reasons we can help some deals survive the M&A process. Here are my top 10 M&A deal killers (and some of the solutions).

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2017

Punching Out! Survey on State of the North American PCB M&A Market

12-29-2017

Recently, my firm surveyed about 20 PCB manufacturers in North America with an estimated greater than $10 million in revenue. Quite a few replied, and we have spoken with many others throughout the year, which gives us a good view on the state of the PCB market. If I did not contact your shop recently, it is because we already talked within the last 12 months.

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Punching Out!: PCB/PCBA M&A Top 10 FAQs

11-13-2017

We talk with owners a lot about the possible sale of their businesses. Here are the top 10 questions asked by PCB/PCBA shop owners about the process.

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Punching Out! Case Study—Lessons on a Deal

10-19-2017

This is a story of one of our clients, a U.S. contract manufacturer that sold a few years ago. To maintain confidentiality, the names have been changed and the details slightly modified.

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Punching Out! Making the Process Easy (M&A Process Engineering)

09-06-2017

In the M&A world, there are companies that make it easy (or at least easier) and those that make it difficult. By making the process easier, sellers should see better valuations and terms, and have a smoother deal process.

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Punching Out! Bridging the Valuation Gap Between Buyer and Seller

06-13-2017

PCB acquisitions in the U.S. are down so far in the first five months of 2017, with only two announced deals (HT Global Circuits’ acquisition of Pho-Tronics in April; American Standard Circuits’ acquisition of Camtech in May); and one anonymous deal that I am aware of that has not been announced. This compares with 11 announced deals in 2016. There are a variety of reasons for the decline, but one reason could certainly be the valuation gap between buyer and seller.

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Punching Out! How to Put a Wrench in the Rumor Mill During the Sale of a Company

05-23-2017

When selling a house, the owner’s agent puts a sign in the front yard, posts info on the Web, and invites buyers over for an open house. When selling a car, we put a sign on the windshield and take out an ad with our phone number on it. However, when selling a business, some owners do not even tell their spouses.

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Punching Out! Selling a Company—Seeing it as a Triumph, Not a Defeat

04-25-2017

Somehow, there is a still a stigma that selling a company is a negative for the owner. Many people think that there must be something wrong, otherwise, they would not be selling. In reality, exiting a business should be looked at as a triumph for the owner, not a defeat.

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Punching Out! 10 Ways to Increase the Value of Your PCB/PCBA Shop

03-22-2017

I have worked with a wide range of companies in the PCB, PCBA, and other tech and electronics sectors. Through the years, I have developed some ideas on how companies can improve their valuation. Some of these ideas are simple and involve little cost, other ideas are more long-term and involve more effort or investment.

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Punching Out! When Should I Call an Investment Banker?

02-20-2017

The quick answer is ASAP. Even if you are not considering the sale of the company for 5−10 years, it is best to be educated and prepared. Give your advisor (or a few advisors) a call to discuss what can be done to get the company ready for a future sale. The worst time to call an i-banker or business broker is when you are forced to sell due to poor performance, health issues, pending bankruptcy, or dispute with a partner or manager.

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Punching Out! Types of Company Buyers in the PCB and EMS Sectors

01-09-2017

Mergers and acquisitions in the U.S. PCB sector have been in the news recently, with at least 12 deals completed over the past year, and several more in the works. In contrast, the EMS sector has been relatively quiet, but that may change now that the presidential election is over.

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2016

War Stories from the Front Lines of Deal-Making

09-16-2016

Here are some war stories from my experience in working on M&A deals in the PCB, EMS, and electronics fields. The names and details have been changed to protect the innocent.

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Timing: When is the Best Time to Sell?

08-18-2016

A few of the top questions we receive relate to the timing of the sale of a business. The first is, "Is now a good time?" The second one is, "How are market conditions?" These are the top FAQs.

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The PCB Sector—What Buyers Look for and Recent Deals

07-14-2016

The past few months have seen a rash of PCB deals in North America, for a variety of reasons.

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What the Heck is Adjusted EBITDA?

06-07-2016

If you are looking to sell or buy a business, you will most likely come across the term ‘adjusted EBITDA.’ Other common terms are adjusted cash flow, owner’s discretionary earnings, earnings after add-backs, etc. What do these terms mean, and why are they important?

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The Additive Process: Tips on How to Buy a Board Shop or Assembly House

05-14-2016

One of the quickest ways to grow a business is to acquire another business. At the same time, acquiring a business can be risky, and a really bad deal may put your original business in jeopardy. Here are some tips on how to make acquisitions.

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Your Baby’s Ugly, Now Get Over it (How to Work with Buyers)

04-14-2016

Here’s a scenario: An owner has gone to market and is starting to get feedback from buyers, and shockingly, not everyone appreciates the hard work and achievements that went into the business. Buyers may not understand the business, or they may be trying to position things for a low offer. In any case, it is important to know how to work with buyers.

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Putting Together the Deal Team

03-21-2016

When preparing to sell, remember the old saying, “He who represents himself has a fool for a client.” While many owners might be tempted to go it alone, in my experience it pays to have a deal team to help prepare a company (and the owner) for a sale

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Punching Out: How to Sell Your PCB/Assembly Shop

02-04-2016

You are thinking of selling your PCB or assembly shop. Perhaps you are contemplating retirement, you have no successors, and the thought of going to the office on Monday is driving you crazy. This column is designed to help your planning efforts. Future columns will go deeper into each subject

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