Small business sales: It can take years to land the right buyer

Small business mergers and acquisitions in the first half of 2016 are up nationally and in Charlotte. According to, an online brokerage service, asking prices are also up.

The local data is based on 195 Charlotte-area businesses listed by during the second quarter. The median asking price for a small business was $295,000; the median revenue was $533,016, down from $555,196 at this same time last year.

Median cash flow this past quarter was $108,357, vs. median cash flow of $130,000 last year.

Lake Norman area business broker Joe Vagnone says the market for breweries is hot, restaurants, not so much. Restaurants are a tough sale, partly because of the time involved in running a retail business with a fixed location and long hours. “It can consume your life,” he said, explaining that many buyers want to be less tied down to a rigid schedule.

Service businesses and “light” medical—not the heavy stuff—are also selling nicely. Vape stores, where profits are sizzling, are harder to sell because of uncertain government regulations, Vagnone says.



Vagnone has around four dozen listings right now compared to less than two dozen two years ago. The number of days on market is also down, although “lifestyle” businesses—those where the owner has a particular interest in something that represents a specialized slice of life or leisure.

Take Madison River Fly Fishing Outfitters in Cornelius. The business took four years to sell, Vagnone says. The new owner-operator, Ryan Wilson, is a life-long angler who enjoys the corporate challenges of the business.

“Madison River represents a significant career change for me,” says Wilson.  His background is in sales and marketing for consumer product manufacturers, but a business ownership was a long-time personal goal. “My recent relocation to Charlotte with my fiancee was perfect timing and opportunity,” he says.

His father, Alan D. Wilson, is executive chairman of McCormick & Co.

Vagnone says sellers of small businesses should expect to pay a broker a commission of between 10 percent and 12 percent. If gross sales are over $4 million, look for commissions to ease up 1 percent or 2 percent as companies climb up the ranks in revenue.


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