Fail to Plan: Plan to Fail [A Seller’s Story]

bakery-1437172_960_720When the alarm went off at 2:00am one cold, February morning and he heard the weather report on the radio–another four inches of snow and ice– all Rob Bentley wanted to do was pull the covers over his head and go back to sleep. After 17 years of running his bakery, Rob was tired. He groaned. “I’m done,” he told his wife. “I can’t do this much longer, Sherry.”

They’d talked a lot the night before, so she knew exactly what he meant. “Then don’t,” she said. “See if Jeremy wants it. Sell it or close it. Whatever you want to do. We’ll be fine.”

Her support meant a lot to him. She’d be there later, but he was always the first one to arrive and unlock the bakery. As usual, he sanitized the kitchen and prepared the dough to make the bread, buns and other baked goods. After so many years his routine was automatic. He knew his upcoming birthday was part of the reason for his discontent. If he wanted to sell the bakery and get a job, one that had benefits, he didn’t want to wait to get much older. But after being his own boss his whole working life, did he really want to work for someone else?

He rolled that over in his mind. Getting a regular job meant he would know what his income would be. He could work regular hours. He’d get benefits and have a 401k. If a piece of equipment broke, it would be someone else’s problem. He wouldn’t be the one who had to worry about hiring good help or staff turnover. That all sounded pretty darn good to him.

The last few years as the community had grown and sprawled toward the south, sales had declined. The grocery stores, Walmart, some restaurants and even convenience stores now sold doughnuts, bagels, pastries and fresh baked loaves of bread. Some of them now even sold the same kind of artisan loaves that had been his specialty. Competition had increased dramatically and he didn’t have the extra cash to put into advertising or marketing.

The early morning crowds who used to come in for coffee and doughnuts had dwindled as people became more calorie conscious but his utilities had gone up and costs for ingredients had risen steadily.

As he prepared a large pan of cinnamon rolls while the first loaves were baking he realized he no longer even noticed the aroma or found it appealing. That had been his favorite part of the day when he’d first opened. Rob made up his mind.

At 5:30 am when Jeremy came in to work Rob poured them both a cup of coffee. He handed his employee a cup. “I think it’s time for me to make a change. Would you be interested in taking over the shop?”

Stunned, he listened to Jeremy explain that his wife had just been accepted at a top photography school in California. He’d planned to tell Rob that very day that he would be moving in July. As they continued getting everything ready to open the shop at 6:30, they talked. “You don’t want to just close the place,” Jeremy insisted. “Sell it.”

“Who would want it? No one wants to get up in the middle of the night to go to work.”

“Someone will. Call and talk to someone who sells businesses.”

That was good advice and Rob followed it. Unfortunately he didn’t follow the advice the broker gave him after the guy had spent time outlining all the things he thought Rob and his wife should do to get the bakery ready to sell in order to get the best possible price.

Rob didn’t want to work on the business. He didn’t want to spend the time or effort or dollars it would take to rethink his strategies and rebuild his business. He was done. If the broker could sell it, fine. If not, then he’d just close it.

The broker did sell the business, but at a much lower price than he could have sold it for had the owner followed his advice, sold the business earlier or planned and prepared an exit strategy.*

*Composite characters–names changed–based on client experiences.