Here’s an exchange I recently had with a supposedly seasoned businessperson, growth consultant, and business broker:
Me: “There are a couple issues with this business, one in particular seems serious.”
Him: “Oh, what are they?”
Me: “The main issue is the top two customers are 60% of sales.”
Him: “I don’t see why that’s an issue.”
Really? He doesn’t see it’s an issue? Two customers dominating, the top one at 37%. And this in an industry with larger players, low barriers to entry, and the number two customer moved over from a competitor three years prior (and probably would move again to save a few bucks).
It reminds me of a story in my books about a call from a desperate owner who wanted a buyer for his business. He had helped his 80% (of sales) customer get started (as a contract manufacturer), the customer’s owner brought in a new management team, the new CEO had a friend whose company made the same products, and the rug was pulled out with no notice. Bye-bye big customer, bye-bye business.
Ours advice to one and all (especially owners planning to exit at any time):
Get rid of your dependencies.
- No dominant customers.
- No key employees (who would be hard to replace).
- No major supplier (with limited options other than this supplier).
- No owner dependency. The less the owner does day-to-day the better. It might be tough on the ego but it sure builds value. Strategy, vision, and growth (including by acquisition) should fill the owner’s calendar.
“I guess a man is the only kind of varmint who sets his own trap, baits it, and then steps in it.” John Steinbeck