How to Buy a Baby Boomer Business

By Andy Kocemba

Bill, who happens to fall in the millennial age range, was in my office the other day to begin the process of buying a business.

He graduated college and began a corporate sales career, but coming from a long family line of entrepreneurs, he knew it was only a matter of time until he was in business for himself.

It’s a good time to be a millennial — or even a gen-Xer — looking to buy a business. In the coming years, I believe the market will see many baby-boomer-owned businesses come up for sale.

While it might not create a full “buyer’s market” effect as many people predict, I believe buyers will have advantages they haven’t seen in many years.

Here’s what to expect as a business buyer in the near future, and how to make the most of market conditions.

1. Be discerning

While there might be more businesses hitting the market in the coming years, there is no guarantee that they are all good. The benefit is that there will be more variety, but you still need to be careful in your due diligence.

Don’t get swept up in the hype. Stick to your due diligence system.

2. Cash will still be king

In order to make an acquisition, be sure to look at businesses you are qualified to buy. Don’t think that just because it is now more of a buyers’ market that you are a buyer for any business you come across.

Understand your down-payment capabilities, look into financing requirements and be realistic. Economic conditions should be favorable, so you should see healthy businesses as well as banks willing to lend, but always stay within range of your capabilities.

3. Bottom-feeders get bottom businesses

Although the baby boomer sellers might not be in as strong a position as in years past, they will still demand a premium for their business. This is their baby that they have nurtured from inception.

Though there are more businesses on the market, quality businesses will still be sought after and prices will remain fair. Don’t enter the market looking for a deal unless you are also comfortable with a “project” business that needs a lot of work.

4. Bridge the generation gap

In the next few years, we will see many businesses pass from baby boomers to gen-Xers or millennials. But as always, remember that business transitions are very personal and emotional transactions. Keep it that way.

Acknowledge all that the sellers have built, take full advantage of learning from their story and experience, and show them respect.

As Bill left my office the other afternoon, I boiled it down like this: The more things change, the more they stay the same. Don’t expect that a perfect business will fall into your lap based on what you hear in the media or from friends. But, if you do your work and stay realistic, I think you have a good shot at being rewarded by a business transition market unlike any we’ve seen before.

Andy Kocemba is president and co-owner of Calhoun Cos., a top business brokerage firm in the Upper Midwest. Calhoun Cos. has been connecting buyers and sellers since 1908, working with small- to medium-sized businesses across all industries. A graduate from Bethel University, Kocemba joined Calhoun Cos. in 2003 as a sales agent before buying the business in 2011. He is a member of the International Business Brokers Association, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, and Better Business Bureau.