Turning Dreams into Reality

Sunbelt Business Brokers Canada

Sunbelt serves as a knowledgeable intermediary between sellers and buyers. Values are assessed, businesses are marketed and advertised for sale without disclosing identity, and interested potential buyers are assisted by brokers throughout the entire transaction. The service offers both business sellers and buyers superior service, highly trained brokers, effective marketing programs, tested and proven methodology, and a large inventory of businesses for sale.

In our lifetimes, we will make many major purchases and buying or selling a house is likely one of the biggest. While most home buyers and sellers know precisely what they are looking for – from the number of bedrooms, to the size of the property, to the listing price – purchasing or selling an entire business is unique, presents a number of challenges, and requires specialized expertise to ensure both business sellers and buyers receive the greatest value for their dollar.

As President, Chief Executive Officer and Master Franchisor of Sunbelt Business Brokers, Inc. in Canada, Greg Kells has personally trained every one of the company’s brokers at all thirty-four locations across the country. With about 200 staff across the country and another hundred in Brazil, Mr. Kells has been instrumental in making Sunbelt the place to go to successfully coordinate the buying and selling of approximately 3,000 small to mid-sized businesses each year.

He remembers what buying and selling a business was like before establishing Sunbelt Canada. “Years ago, buyers and sellers may have had a lawyer, or their accountant knew a local realtor,” he says. “What we had back then was a lot of businesses closing their doors and not being transferred, which was a huge economic loss for the country.”

Prior to franchising Sunbelt Business Brokers in Canada in 2002, Mr. Kells worked for many years as an international entrepreneur with extensive experience in a number of areas including business development, marketing, and management. A guest lecturer at Harvard, Yale, and Duke Universities along with numerous colleges across the country, he mentors and teaches all specialists at Sunbelt, and has shared his decades of knowledge with the International Business Brokers Association, the National Equipment and Business Brokers Institute, the Society of Business Analysts, and many others.

Mr. Kells is also the author of two successful books, 2013’s Insider Tips on Buying a Business in Canada and 2012’s Small Business Book Award-winning Insider Tips on Selling a Business in Canada.

Charismatic and outgoing, Mr. Kells – who studied business administration and attended teachers’ college – has been behind numerous high-tech start-ups going all the way back to 1969. With a varied background that includes helping to form dozens of Native businesses, being involved with conflict resolution, and serving as president / chairman of companies across diverse industries including manufacturing, business consulting, training, tourism, real estate development, business appraisal, television production and laboratories, he has bought and sold many businesses over the years.

Like many seasoned businessmen, Mr. Kells has also experienced the many ups and downs that come with the territory, including the 1992 recession and the attacks that took place on the United States on September 11, 2001. At the time, he was involved in a business which derived its revenue from companies advertising heavily in technology; when the twin towers of the World Trade Center collapsed, Mr. Kells immediately knew that money would be re-directed from technology to security for years to come. “I had a lot of experience helping people to build businesses, and I figured, ‘What am I going to do after 9/11?’” he shares. “I then thought, I am good at helping people, and I’m good at conflict resolution, so maybe business brokerage would be a good place to put those skills to work.”

Dedicating himself to sharing his experience, Mr. Kells purchased his first franchise in Ottawa, which was soon followed by other locations across Canada. Although Sunbelt – founded by Ed Pendarvis in Charleston, South Carolina in 1978 – had grown to become the world’s largest business brokerage operation, there was no presence north of the border until Mr. Kells invested in the Sunbelt franchise. “Nobody knew anything about it back then,” he says. “In fact, I had to educate the public and the clients about what is the role of a business broker.”

For the dedicated team at Sunbelt, the path to informing buyers and sellers about business has been a rewarding one. With locations across Canada and the greatest number of certified professional brokers, Sunbelt has the largest market exposure in the country. With average sales of $10 to $20 million, Sunbelt caters to businesses within a particular range – under the $50 million mark. “In $20 million and under, we do the best job in the country by far,” he says of the company, which works with professional teams of accountants, lawyers, bankers, business coaches, consultants, wealth planners, insurance experts, venture and entrepreneurial sources, and others to ensure businesses receive the correct valuation.

Buying or selling a business – from restaurants to dry cleaners, gas stations to hotels, auto body shops and more – is about much more than numbers, says Mr. Kells. By sitting down with owners who have put their heart, soul, time and money into their business, Sunbelt discusses all aspects of valuation in detail. These include location of the business, processing systems, age of staff, market positioning, where customers come from, age of equipment, risk, and more. “The numbers don’t tell the whole story, and I don’t trust other peoples’ valuations. Even if the business owner had a valuation, I insist on re-doing it.” Only in this way can he come up with an accurate, objective value for the entire business, and go to market with pricing and strategy that reflects true worth.

Many business owners are not only professionally invested in their companies, but have worked to build them up for decades in some cases, and have developed a personal attachment to their work. Unlike someone who works for another company and retires at sixty-five, the average business owner sells at seventy-one years of age, and has literally invested their life into their work.

“Selling a business can be complex,” says Mr. Kells. “You need to be a psychologist, a financial analyst, a great salesperson, and more. By the time we finish a deal, not only did we deal with the financials, the valuation, funding the transaction, educating the buyer and the seller, but we’ve also had to deal with the seller who has a tough time letting go. Many have a strong emotional attachment, and part of the issue is, ‘who am I, if I am not the president of this company?’”

Entrusted with helping business owners find the right buyer, Sunbelt maintains professionalism and the utmost discretion throughout the entire process of packaging a company for sale. Working confidentially, Sunbelt does not disclose the name of any business for sale to anyone, unless they have signed a non-disclosure agreement. Taking the process seriously, the highly trained team at Sunbelt will ask potential buyers for their net worth, aspirations, passions, skills and more to match them with a business that is the right fit. “If a potential buyer lives within an hour of our office, we will not deal with them if they do not come to see us,” states Mr. Kells. “If they are more than an hour away, we will work remotely and spent two hours with them on an intake interview.”

For Canadian owners, selling a business through anyone else can be risky for a number of reasons. Some less than reputable organizations host pricey seminars across North America for business owners and value a business at two to three times its actual worth, with the result that the business never sells. Even the best-intentioned lawyers and accountants will provide “valuation advice” to sellers without realizing the true value of a company for sale, and many real estate agents don’t know how to package and price an entire business. “All the smart realtors, smart lawyers, and smart accountants will say they don’t know what a biz is worth, and refuse to sell businesses,” Mr. Kells explains. “Unfortunately, there are still a bunch of them out there who choose to provide business advice and valuation advice to their clients, who go to market at too low or high a price, and who have no idea about marketing, demographic studies, or financials.”

Mr. Kells says this has been the best year for Sunbelt in Canada since 2008, and the company recently took on twelve new clients in Ottawa alone. The reason, he says, is that with the Global Financial Crisis of 2008, many businesses were underperforming, and owners chose to keep their companies. Now, five years later, the economy has significantly improved, business owners are older and facing family pressure to retire, and more companies are coming onto the market. “Leading edge baby boomers are now sixty-seven or sixty-eight, and starting to think about retirement,” he says. “Within three or four years, we’re going to have a lot of businesses for sale, and the less than average ones are going to have a tough time finding a buyer.”

Ultimately, the goal of a successful business owner is not to keep working into old age, but to retire, spend time with family, and transition their companies, processes, staff and systems to new ownership. For anyone interested in selling or buying a business in Canada, Sunbelt’s highly trained staff are available to make this process as smooth as possible. Realizing that many who come to Sunbelt are first-time buyers, company staff will help educate them and guide them step-by-step through locating, valuing, financing, and purchasing a privately held business that is right for their needs.

Undergoing eighteen months of training, many Sunbelt brokers are themselves former business owners, well-educated, almost all of them over fifty with decades of first-hand experience. “Most of our staff are people who have already been successful in their own businesses, and they do it because it if fun,” says Mr. Kells. “Where else can you be in a business where you help people achieve their dreams and goals?”

November 22, 2017, 9:28 AM EST