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What are you waiting for? For operators, a question worth pondering

Have you ever heard the old idiom, “He who hesitates is lost?” While it was not originally directed at coffee service, vending and micro market operators, it applies pretty well today, based on the current buying frenzy in the convenience services industry. What exactly can be lost by an operator who is waiting to sell their business? An opportunity to take advantage of an unprecedented market condition.

Almost every week, we hear about acquisitions, large and small, happening in our industry. In just the last couple of weeks, Sodexo acquired A.H. Management to extend the offerings of their InReach convenience services division. Additionally, Five Star Food Service acquired Canteen franchise Franks Vending, expanding their territory into southern middle Tennessee.

This is all good news for operators. Your business has value. The biggest companies in the industry have a ravenous appetite right now and are competing against one another to make deals. As a sell side broker, an intermediary who represents sellers exclusively, it is a good time to be in the business, helping operators see their dreams come to fruition.

More than ever, as the leading business broker in the convenience services industry, VBB Advisors is being approached by operators who are “dipping their toe in the water” to have a conversation about selling their business. For some operators, there is a long list of reasons that keep them on the sidelines. “What are you waiting for?” I ask. Here are some of the answers I hear.

“I’m waiting to see if family members might want to take over the business”

You could be in for a long wait. Consider this 2023 data from

  • Family businesses are less common than you think. Of the 28.8 million small businesses in America, 19% are owned by families. “Family-owned” means “any business in which two or more family members operate the company, and the majority of ownership or control lies within a family.”

Challenges family businesses face:

  • 30% of family businesses survive the transition from first to second generation ownership.

  • 12% survive the transition from second to third generation.

  • Only 13 percent of family businesses remain in the family over 60 years.

  • And 47% of family business owners expecting to retire in five years DO NOT have a successor.

The key to a successful transition in a family business is long term focus on the next generation. If you have not been cultivating a member of the next generation for several years, the chances of a successful transition become slim.

Other key considerations: If you transition ownership to the next generation, is there a way to get your wealth out of the company? If things go wrong once you are no longer running the business, are you financially secure enough to retire comfortably without income or long-term payments from the company?

While multi-generational businesses can be a joyful ride, there is something to be said about cashing in and investing the proceeds to create multi-generational wealth – free of family drama.

“I’m waiting to get more return on all of my technology investment”

I get it. As an operator, you have done all the right things. You invested in the best micro market technology, the leading vending management system and state of the art bean to cup brewers. It is all beautifully connected on one platform, helping you to efficiently run your business. It was a big investment and you would like to see a bit more return before you sell the business and turn all of this expensive technology over to a buyer.

I addressed this issue when interviewed by Bob Tullio on Automatic Merchandiser’s Vending & OCS Nation podcast, “What is going on with all of these acquisitions?” Operators who are loaded up with the latest technology are enjoying the biggest ROI when they decide to sell their business. Having the right technology in place means accurate business records, lower overall costs, and a more seamless transition when a sale occurs. Buyers, especially the big national operators, will pay a premium and will reward a seller handsomely for making an investment in technology.

“I’m waiting for more employees to get back to the office”

Slowly but surely, employees are returning to the office, especially in the Midwest, according to a Bloomberg article earlier this month. “The region’s offices posted a 60% weekly average peak occupancy rate in the first half of the year, the highest in the nation by far, according to data from, a workplace-occupancy analytics company.”

The return to office, at least a hybrid office, is trending. Bloomberg reports that even Zoom Video Communications, a one-time darling of the work-from-home era, is calling workers back to the office.

“Employees who live near a Zoom location must be on-site two days a week, a company spokesperson said. The company’s video-conferencing software was a breakout hit of the pandemic as entire industries were forced to communicate virtually. Since then, companies as varied as Amazon, Chipotle and BlackRock have increased the amount of time employees must spend on-site.”

Here is the reality – the return to the workplace five days a week may not happen for a long time, but prices have increased and employers are willing to pay for exceptional services from convenience services operators who can deliver the amenities. As a result, operators are telling me that sales have rebounded to 2019 levels, in the vending, micro market and pantry service business. Coffee service is crawling back – has a way to go, but buyers are aware that OCS is trending in the right direction.

Bottom line – Valuations in our industry have never been this high, which brings us back to the question: What are you waiting for?

The waiting is over. What is beginning to emerge is a growing line of sellers who are ready to step up to the table. Combine the currently ravenous appetite of buyers with a fresh inventory of sellers and we have what can only be called “a perfect storm” for M&A activity.

Here is the question: Are you ready to get in on the action and capitalize on this window of opportunity for sellers? I have signed several new clients recently that fit the seller profile that I am seeing on a consistent basis. They have been in business for over thirty years, often covering two generations. The owners are in their sixties, have worked hard and simply want to enjoy the next chapter of their lives. They want to spend more time with their grandkids. Does that sound like you?

Take that first step

Buyers come to me because they know that I serve sellers who have thoroughly and thoughtfully considered their exit strategy with my help. That is the type of seller that you want to be – a seller who has their ducks in order, has taken steps to make their business as attractive as possible and a seller who values their employees enough to make a deal that everyone will feel good about.

Take that critical first step. That is often the toughest one to take.

Order my free 2023 Exit Strategy Planner. At the very least, it will provoke some thought, and this is a good time to think about your future.

Whatever your reasons are to sell your company - the timing, a sense of frustration, the desire to enjoy life or an interest in rewarding yourself for years of hard work – VBB Advisors can help you realize your goals.

I am Mike Kelner, the leading sell side intermediary in the convenience services industry. Let’s sit down and have a conversation. Use this appointment scheduler to set up a meeting with me.

Or – give me a call at 704-942-4621.

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