Shop Life Columnists

Cropper: 19 Years and Counting

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I’m coming to you from a different perspective this month: I’m no longer a shop owner.

Well, that’s a little dramatic because I’m still involved with my shops but earlier this summer, I sold my shops to Classic Collision in a move that surprised even me. I mean, I’m 42 years old. Retirement felt far off, I thought I’d tackle that when I was 62 or something. So how did I get here? It’s been beyond interesting and also the right thing for us to do, so I wanted to break it all down for you over the next few columns so you can get an inside look.

To start, here’s something you need to know about me: I've always taken the approach that, if we're not growing, then we're dying. In business, I was never going to be content with the status quo. It was always, what’s next? What’s next?

That’s been one thing after another and most recently last year, it was buying our competitor out right in the middle of COVID-19. The whole thing was crazy and we didn’t hit our projection with the new acquisition, but we were still up $1 million in sales last year, which is awesome.

At the end of 2020, we got approached by one of the consolidators. It wasn’t a deal that I was interested in but it got my wheels turning. If they're interested in me, they’re surely interested in others in my market, which means they’re coming. Do I need to have that on my radar?

I’ve made it through a lot as a business owner. I started at a super young age with a very, very small business—I never should have made it. Like, I would never advise someone in my situation to do what I did. But I got lucky there and I made it. Then I made it through a financial crisis, a massive earthquake in 2018, a health crisis, and finally, COVID.

I’ve rolled the dice a lot of times here. But the other major, major factors happened when I closed on my last deal in March. The bank told me, “Look, it's going to be a while before we fund anything for you. You're just a single guy that isn’t part of some big corporation. You've got a lot of money out in real estate; you just need to really, really get this real estate paid off before we talk about more deals.”

Well, at the size of real estate we're talking about, it’s 20 years down the road before it's going to be paid off. I had the realization of, all right, well now I have to take a different approach. If we're going to continue to grow, I'm not going to be able to deal with traditional, SBA and bank loans. And I really, really did not like that idea. It was just kind of shocking for me to have the realization of, you're probably as big as you're going to get without a different way of funding. Either you have to partner or somehow raise venture capital money.

That kind of got my mind going and, and that's when we ended up talking to Classic Collision and they came up with a deal for me that really made sense. They just came across totally differently than anyone else we'd actually been approached at this point—which has been a lot over the years, by the way.

That’s where I’m going to leave you for now, because next month we’re going to get into how you know if a seller is a good match for your business. As you may have guessed, I’m in the fortunate spot to have found a great fit.

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