It Pays To Understand What Your Business Is Worth

It Pays To Understand What Your Business Is Worth

Owning a collision repair business shouldn’t just be a way to provide yourself with a job. It also should be an investment—with the “dividends” of a paycheck or other benefits as you go, but with the real pay-off at the end: When you “cash out” by selling the business, whether that’s to a family member, an industry consolidator, a trusted employee or other investor.

So while you’re working to keep your company profitable and paying those dividends, it also pays to think longer term, in order to do the things that will build the value of your business.

And whether you’re planning (long-term or short-term) for retirement, want to give a son a daughter some equity ownership in the business, are ready to sell or are just curious about your own net worth, it’s good to understand how to calculate what your business is worth right now.

No doubt you can think of several different ways to go about determining a value for any of the vehicles in your shop right now. Determining the value of a business is similar in that there are dozens of ways to approach it. And even experts will tell you that business valuation is almost as much art as science.

But here’s an example of one method of determining the value of a business (see Chart A). ABC Autobody has assets totaling $500,000. The owner’s salary, bonuses and profit total $59,000. When half of the depreciation expense on equipment, and all of the interest expense on loans is added to this $59,000, the owner’s “cash flow” totals $70,000.

A portion of this cash flow is assigned to cover the cost of carrying the shop’s assets. Let’s say the current interest rate is 10 percent. Then $50,000 (10 percent of the $500,000 in assets) is deducted from the cash flow and viewed as satisfying the return on the investment in assets. Any cash flow over that amount is considered excess.

Deduct $50,000 from the ABC Autobody owner’s cash flow, and there will be $20,000 in excess earnings. This amount is then multiplied by a number between one and six (based on such criteria as stability and growth potential of the company) to get the value of ABC Autobody’s cash flow.

Let’s say ABC Autobody’s track record indicates that it is about average in terms of risk and desirability. Its excess earnings ($20,000) could be multiplied by a factor of 3.5. This figure is then added to the value of the assets to get the total price. For ABC Autobody, this means $70,000 is added to its $500,000 in assets. The total value of ABC Autobody: $570,000.

Or you can use the method the owner of XYZ Collision used to determine the value of the business (see Chart B). Write down the net profit of your business for the past five years. Figure a “weighted average” by multiplying your 2008 profit by five, your 2007 profit by four, your 2006 profit by three, your 2005 profit by two and your 2004 profit by one. Add these five numbers and divide by 15 for your average yearly earnings.

Then divide your average yearly earnings by an appropriate rate of return (usually between 20 and 30 percent for businesses with average “risk factors”). XYZ Collision, for example, found its weighted average yearly earnings was $90,000. Divided by a 30 percent rate of return placed the value of XYZ Collision at $300,000.

Perhaps the most common valuation tool, which is similar to the first example, goes by the acronym “EBITDA” (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization). Once EBITDA is calculated, it is increased by a multiple, usually between 2 and 6.

A buyer might recalculate your EBITDA after reviewing your company’s financials. A buyer with multiple shops, for example, won’t have the salary expense of an owner onsite, which could boost your business’ EBITDA. Or if the buyer expects to offer better employee benefits than you offer, that would lower the EBITDA.

Getting a Professional Appraisal

If your interest in the value of your business is more than just idle curiosity, it may be time to hire a professional. When choosing a business appraiser, ask about their training, certification and experience with the industry. One option: Calling the American Society of Appraisers (, 800- ASA-VALU), or the National Association of Certified Valuation Analysts (, 800-677-2009), for a referral.

Remember that a business appraiser will help you determine a value for the business but isn’t likely to be involved in the sale process. A business broker can help you buy or sell a business, and may be able to help you determine an appropriate selling price, but might not have formal training or certification in business valuations. A broker’s valuation also may be influenced based on their interest in selling the business.

The cost of a professional business appraisal will be based on which of three types of reports you want. The most comprehensive reports can easily cost $12,000 to $18,000. At the other end of the spectrum is a verbal report, in which the appraiser provides a valuation but no written report. Probably of most use to shop owners is the “limited-scope report,” in which the appraiser provides a valuation letter and often some supporting documentation. Costs for this type of report generally start around $3,000.

The appraiser is likely to ask for a variety of documents including financial statements and tax returns for the past five years, incorporation papers, any buy-sell agreements, and accounts receivable and payable aging reports. He or she will likely want to tour your shop to get a feel for the age and condition of the facility and equipment, the training level of your employees, how closely the success of the business is tied to you or a key employee, etc.

Make sure you end up with a good understanding of any business valuation. And keep in mind that while it’s foolish to blindly accept what a broker or appraiser tells you your business is worth, part of the reason so many businesses fail to sell in a reasonable amount of time is that many business owners don’t accept what a competent appraiser can demonstrate is a reasonable price for the business.

Chart A: Method No. 1

$________ owner’s salary, bonuses
$________ 1/2 depreciation expense on equipment
$________ all interest paid on loans
$________ TOTAL CASH FLOW (line A)

$________ total assets (equipment, furniture, inventory, cash, tools, etc.) (line B)
_______% current interest rate

$________ line A (above)
$________ line B (above)
$________ excess earnings (line D)
Multiply line D by the number that best describes your business…
    1 or 2... low stability, low growth potential
    3 or 4... average stability, average growth potential
    5 or 6... high stability, high growth potential
    …and write that total on line E (below)

$________ Line E
$________ Line B

Chart B: Method No. 2

Net profit for…

2004 $__________ x 1 =     $__________
2005 $__________ x 2 =    $__________
2006 $__________  x 3 =    $__________
2007 $__________  x 4 =    $__________
2008 $__________  x 5 =    $__________

(total of above 5 numbers)    $__________    
        divided by...        15
= weighted average profit    $__________

    divided by...    20-30%  (.2 or .3)

= BUSINESS VALUE    $__________

Improving your company’s value

Whether you plan to sell your business soon or decades from now, here are some things you can do to improve its value.

Accretive value. Owning multiple shops can often make your business worth more than the sum of its parts. If you own one shop worth $1 million, and buy a second one also worth $1 million, the sum of the two might actually be worth $3 million because of how you are positioned in the market. But it can work the other way too: A weak shop can pull down the value of your other shop.

Capacity. A buyer will want the ability for the business to grow. So if you are running your business at its peak capacity and have maxed out your property, that’s great for you but may decrease its value to a potential buyer.

Debt and other encumbrances. While having debt isn’t necessarily a negative when it comes to the value of your business, it can have an impact. A Small Business Administration (SBA) loan, for all its advantages, can scuttle a sale because it generally must be paid back in full at the time of the sale.

Trending. About the time your business is growing and doing well – and you decide maybe you should stick with it – is actually the time it has the most value to sell. Anyone buying your business is likely to review your financials for the last three years, but the most recent information – especially the last 6-12 months – are the most important. So timing can be critical.

Barriers to market. Zoning laws that would limit others from operating a shop in your area can obviously drive the value of your business up. On the other hand, grandfather clauses or zoning overlays may be good for you now but may restrict a future owner’s options, driving the value down.

Accurate financial records. Most businesses are operated to minimize reported earnings. To a buyer, this may make it seem like the business is overpriced. Your books should directly reflect what you’re doing in business.

John Yoswick

John Yoswick is a freelance writer and Autobody News columnist who has been covering the collision industry since 1988, and the editor of the CRASH Network... Read More

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