Outside consultant: How to find a buyer without alienating customers

  • Updated: January 11, 2009 - 12:15 PM

Q We run a successful small boutique and are ready to take a step back. We would like to find someone who would be interested in buying our store, but we're concerned that, if we let people know our intentions, we may lose customers. How do we find prospective buyers without risking losing customers?

ANONYMOUS

A It is not clear from your question why informing your customers of a potential sale may hurt business. It is probably futile to try to keep it a secret anyway. So turn the situation into an opportunity, and make a big deal about it.

Use the occasion to thank your customers for their friendship and patronage. It is because of your customers, after all, that you now have the wherewithal to pursue your next dreams.

Also, if you are looking for potential buyers, there is no better place to prospect than with your existing customers.

They probably perceive greater value in the business than an "outsider," as they have a history with you and like your products.

If your concern is that customers will not continue to shop there once the business is under new owners, that's a different issue. When the value of a business is based inordinately on an owner's particular skills or on customer relationships, the value of that business without the owner may be quite low. If this sounds like your situation, you probably should develop a multiyear transition plan to gradually bring in a new owner.

Plans like this usually include your commitment to stay in place until the new owner develops the necessary skills to sustain and grow the business. It may also include some seller financing, where the new owner pays you over a period of time. Your willingness to stick around through a transition period and participate in financing the deal provides a level of comfort to the new owner and signals your belief in the long-term viability of the business.

MIKE RYAN, DIRECTOR

SMALL BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT CENTER

UNIVERSITY OF ST. THOMAS

OPUS COLLEGE OF BUSINESS

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