Search Funds and the ‘Silver Tsunami’ in Collision Repair

Written by Cole Strandberg, Autobody News
Jan. 9, 2023

It’s no secret that the collision repair business---much like most other trade industries---is aging. Baby Boomers are retiring or nearing retirement. In fact, tens of thousands of Boomers are retiring every day.

This is creating what many in the investment community refer to as “the great wealth transfer,” in which the retiring generation is set to pass along, sell or otherwise transfer somewhere between $30 trillion and $70 trillion worth of business assets.

So how will this “silver tsunami” impact business owners in the collision repair space?

To start, the collision repair M&A marketplace continues to be robust. The silver tsunami, depending on outside market conditions and the continued evolution of the collision repair industry, is expected to increase the pace of consolidation even more. Currently, the market for single shop and micro-multi-shop operator (MSO) owners looking to sell is largely MSO-centric.

In other words, consolidators---be they national or regional---are the ones buying up smaller collision repair operations. Once a collision repairer turns into a regional MSO, their buyer pool typically increases significantly, as it includes private equity and other investment vehicles.

Searching for Value

But a new type of buyer has entered the picture. The silver tsunami has led to increased M&A activity in the small-to-medium business (SMB) world through the increased popularity of search funds.

Search funds are investment vehicles that function as a micro private equity fund, with the primary difference being the search fund owners---often called “searchers”---are typically focused on making just one acquisition and operating it upon the closing of the deal.

Searchers are typically recent MBA graduates, but as the model has grown in popularity, searcher backgrounds have become more diverse. The thesis of a searcher is, generally, the quickest path to wealth is by owning an SMB. Search funds typically target smaller companies than their private equity counterparts, opening the potential acquisition pool significantly. Search funds have already entered the collision repair market, and that activity is only likely to increase.

Why would collision repair be interesting for a search fund or other micro private equity groups? Lots of reasons! Search funds typically look for small businesses that have the potential to grow and generate a return on investment. These businesses may be in a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, retail, services, health care, technology and yes, even collision repair.

What Search Funds Want

How can you make your collision repair business attractive to a search fund? In general, search funds tend to look for businesses that meet the following criteria:

A proven track record of profitability.

Search funds typically look for businesses that have a history of profitability, as this demonstrates the company's ability to generate revenue and cover its expenses.

A clear path to growth.

Search funds are typically focused on businesses that have the potential to grow, either through expanding into new markets or by increasing their customer base. Collision repair, naturally, checks this box.

A strong management team.

Search funds often seek businesses that have a capable and experienced management team in place, as this can be a key factor in the company's future success. Building a business that can survive without the owner/founder is key.

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