The U.S. is in the midst of an unprecedented generational shift in assets, and as baby boomers continue to move their wealth to younger generations, many of the small businesses they’re leaving behind are attracting attention from players in the private equity world.
Whether it’s by way of retirement or inheritance, multigenerational small businesses are changing hands at an accelerated pace. As a result, lawyers entrenched in the space are seeing an increase in work.
Both Monique Hayes and Isaac Marcushamer of Miami-based DGIM Law have felt a shift in the amount of work they see related to small business transactions.
Hayes specializes in both bankruptcy and estate planning, putting her in place to catch a lot of work revolving around small business transfers.
“With the baby boomer generation, what I see is clients coming in saying that their children are not prepared to take on the business or they’re not interested in the family business. They have gone on in pursuit of other types of professions or they moved,” Hayes said. “At that point, the boomers are deciding, ‘OK, if I’m not passing it on to a family member or my child, then am I selling it?’ And that is what presents the opportunity to preserve small businesses, which are so vital to our economy.”
While family disputes over control of businesses fuel litigation for Marcushamer and Hayes, those fights are just adding to a broader trend that’s sending many of these businesses to the market.
With all those businesses going up for grabs, people with the ability to leverage the businesses are taking notice.
“I do see private equity targeting small businesses that are feeders into major industries. For instance, on the logistics side, if there is a small business that provides logistics services that are essential to the large-scale logistics industry, private equity firms will look at it,” Hayes said. “What I don’t see is private equity encouraging investments into dry cleaners, plumbing services or a window-contracting small business.”
Another frequent buyer is the younger entrepreneur looking to escape traditional work environments, according to Hayes. And some of these buyers are the ones scooping up the other businesses private equity doesn’t touch.
“When you see millennials and Gen Z that are looking to purchase small businesses, they’re also looking to infuse those small businesses with the technologies that will allow them to run those businesses off-site and to scale them exponentially,” Hayes said.
SMB Law Group was built entirely around small business transactions, with lawyers spread across the country handling mergers and acquisitions activity within the growing space. Part of the growth it’s seeing is based on similar trends.
In addition to interest from private equity, SMB Law Group founding partners Eric Pacifici and Kevin Henderson say they’re also seeing a number of highly educated young people ditching their jobs to enter the space.
“You’re talking Wharton, Stanford MBAs that spent 10 years at McKinsey and Carlyle,” Henderson said. “[They’re] saying two things: ‘Why am I working so hard for $400,000 a year in a box in midtown Manhattan to line the pockets of these massive private equity behemoths that I’m never going to have meaningful ownership of, when I can move back home to Wichita and be CEO of my own business?’ Or what we’re seeing increasingly is, ‘I’ll launch my own micro private equity fund, raise a little capital and start rolling up a handful of businesses.’”
A bulk of what the firm handles is the transactions going to younger professionals looking to buy into these businesses.
With the firm’s national spread, Henderson is seeing Florida, California and Texas as the hottest markets for those sales currently.
But because many buyers are geographically agnostic, the firm has been constantly expanding head count since it opened its doors more than a year ago, according to Henderson, and it’s looking to keep adding states to its list of licenses within the firm.
“For all the bad things we hear about M&A generally, things are really great in the Main Street space, so we’re having a great time,” Henderson said.