Valuing Service Businesses Compared to Retail Businesses

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What is A Service or Retail Business?

The different characteristics of service and retail-related businesses may significantly play a large part in how they are ultimately valued. Retail businesses generally have a retail-oriented location that is open to the public and from which they sell goods or products directly to consumers. Service businesses may be operated from anywhere (including the seller’s home), and offer an intangible product (or tasks) to their customers (such as cleaning, maintenance, or landscaping). As we will see, the differing nature of a service business versus a retail business affects their respective business valuations as well as finding a buyer best suited to purchase each type of business.

Location Critical to Retail Businesses

For any business that is open to the public and sells products or goods directly to the public, the location of the business is of paramount importance. With many retail-oriented businesses such as convenience stores, the first and most important question a buyer will have concerns the location. A buyer will be most concerned with the demographics in the immediate geographic area of the store, including nearby competitors and any residential or commercial growth. Moreover, a buyer will closely scrutinize the commercial plaza of the store. If the plaza is run down or losing tenants, then the buyer may not be interested in purchasing the business (no matter how well the store is doing).

Location Also Important for Quasi-Retail

Some businesses have characteristics of both retail and service industries in that they operate from retail locations but sell a ‘service’ instead of a product or good to the public. Examples of such businesses include gyms or laundromats which sell ‘commoditized’ services but generally sell such ‘services’ directly to the public from a retail location. Whenever the public is being sold a good or service, and especially whenever walk-in traffic or visibility to the public is important, the location of the business is of paramount importance. A visible location in a busy plaza with favorable and growing demographics will dramatically affect the valuation of the business.

Long-Term Lease Will Increase Valuation of Retail Businesses

  • A good location is only as good as the long term lease in place.
  • Before paying a premium valuation for a retail business, a buyer will expect there to be a long term lease in place (typically at least 3-5 years) or the possibility of the buyer negotiating an extension of the lease with the landlord.
  • This is because a buyer will want to be assured that they will be able to possess and use the leased place for a sufficient period of time in which he will obtain a satisfactory return on their investment.
  • Moreover, a buyer will want to be assured that the landlord is ‘on their side’ in wanting to maintain the general upkeep on the exterior of the facility and the plaza itself (both generally the responsibility of the landlord).
  • Other attributes of a strong lease is the rate of rental increases over time, the exclusivity that the tenant has on selling their particular goods or services within the commercial plaza, and the transferability of the lease itself.
  • Many buyers of retail-oriented businesses such as restaurants will only seek to purchase those businesses where the annual rent is less than 10 percent of the total sales.
  • Given the other costs involved with operating retail businesses (namely payroll and costs of goods sold), the rent should not as a rule of thumb exceed ten percent of sales.

Service Businesses Not Concerned with Location/Lease

In contrast to retail-related businesses, service businesses may be operated anywhere and do not have ‘storefront’ locations that are open to the public. Examples of strictly service-related businesses include home healthcare companies, staffing agencies, and pool routes.  Such businesses may be operated out of the owner’s home or may be operated out of an office or industrial setting where customers are not expected to visit. Obviously, the cost structure of service businesses differs dramatically from retail businesses because service businesses have much lower occupancy costs (or none at all). On the other hand, service companies are at a disadvantage from retail businesses because they do not have a fixed place of business from which sales may take place at almost any time.

Valuing Service Businesses

  • Because service businesses do not rely on their location (or favorable lease), they obtain business from their reputation, word of mouth in the community, and brand name.
  • The intangible value of a service business is thus the expected future cash flow of the business, derived from the established relationships and reputation among its customers, staff, and the general public.
  • The proper valuation technique for service businesses is to determine the true owner benefit of the business, and then assigning a multiple to the owner benefit in deriving the value of the business.
  • The physical assets of the business (such as equipment, leasehold rights, or inventory) are usually not relevant for most service businesses.
  • Valuations may dramatically differ for service businesses with growing businesses, high margin businesses, and owner-absentee businesses all receiving premium valuations.

SBA-related Difficulties for Service Businesses

The Small Business Administration (SBA) makes it possible for many business buyers to fund the transaction via external SBA-backed financing. For some service industries requiring specialized skill or licensing (such as electricians, plumbers, or construction-related businesses), the SBA will require that the buyer have a sufficient level of work-related experience in those industries. The SBA imposes these requirements in order to ensure that the buyer has a reasonable chance of being successful after buying the business. Without the requisite skills or licensing in these specialized industries, a buyer will have a hard time in obtaining SBA financing. For most retail-related industries, the buyer will not face such a hurdle when seeking SBA-backed financing.

Before selling your service or related-related business, it is always best to value the business correctly and consider the factors that buyers will deem most relevant.

Give Martin at Five Star Business Brokers of Palm Beach County a call today for a FREE evaluation of your business.

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