During the course of their decades-long marriage, Jim and Missy Delmont have always been a formidable team. The husband-wife duo owned and operated businesses in the construction field throughout their relationship, demonstrating a savvy blend of technical expertise, business acumen and a taste for hard work and hustle. So, when they made the decision in 2007 to join an established business, it had to be under remarkable circumstances.
“Missy and I have always been in business for ourselves; we’ve been in construction and housing and other things,” Jim recalled. “When the recession hit, we looked around for something else to do. Missy’s father had this business and he was experiencing some health issues, so we decided we would come help him out.”
The couple gave the company a much-needed boost of energy & expertise and M.J. VanDamme, a Michigan-based construction firm specializing in niche industries, such as mining, farming and civil construction, thrived because of it. Together, the Delmonts grew the company into four locations and over $20 million in annual sales in each of the past three years.
“I always tell people, building a business is about relationships,” Jim said. “We hustled and we went out and shook the bushes and formed relationships, working hard to build the business. Now we’re at a point where the work is coming in bigger chunks. A big job for us used to be $150,000; now we’re getting opportunities to bid $4-$5 million jobs.”
Along with sales dollars, the Delmont’s also grew the workforce inherited from Missy’s father from 14 employees to around 150, providing jobs and incomes for families throughout their service area.
“We’re probably the fourth or fifth largest employer in our county and our county is the largest in the state of Michigan,” Jim said. “We’ve always run this company like a family business. We don’t want [employees] to miss the school programs and the baseball games; we want them to have the flexibility to do that. We raised kids while building a business and we didn’t miss any of that and so we don’t expect our employees to, either.”
Even with all their success, and as much as he loved the interaction with his crews and customers, the schedule could be grueling, and it led Jim and Missy to have serious conversations about their future.
“My wife and I are the shareholders in this, and I didn’t want to leave her with a big headache if something happened to me,” Jim said. “We have three daughters, ages 20, 18 and 12, and I think the biggest thing was if I got sick or passed away or couldn’t function in the business, I didn’t want to leave Missy and the girls with a big monster, if you will.
“So, we were looking to take some chips off the table and reduce the financial risk. We decided to go out early and see what the market had out there. We figured it might take a few years and would require the right people to do that.”
The couple retained a brokerage to start shopping the company, which yielded nothing! Then, about a year later, the phone rang and on the other end was a representative of The Firm in Omaha, Nebraska.
“They reached out to us and they said they have buyers looking for our type of successful business in the upper Midwest,” Jim said with a grin. “I still don’t know for sure how they found us, but that’s how the whole initial program started. I said, ‘We’re probably interested in talking to you,’ and our relationship began.”
“That call was initiated as a strategic search on behalf of one of our buyers,” said Cortney Sells, CEO of The Firm. “We regularly talk with our buy-side clients about what they need, what they are looking for, how many employees, et cetera. Once we identify those benchmarks, our strategic division will reach out to businesses that meet those 7-10 buy-side parameters. M.J. VanDamme came to fruition because of that strategic search criteria.”
Given the Delmonts’ first experience with an M&A firm, they were naturally skeptical of a company in Nebraska being able to serve them adequately. Sells was so confident she made them an offer they couldn’t refuse.
“Most M&A firms want to sign you up for a year,” she said. “I told Jim; we only want to do three months because we are that confident in our buyer portfolio and our deal team.”
The Firm team got right down to business, completing a comprehensive valuation and assessment of M.J. VanDamme’s assets and financial performance. More than that, they listened to what the current owners wanted to see in a buyer.
“We give back a lot to the community,” Jim said. “We’re a pretty tight-knit company that is involved in a lot of extracurricular events, and when we were looking for a buyer, we were looking for someone who had the same culture.”
“We also wanted someone to take over who was not only sound financially, but who could take our $25 million company and make it a $50 million company. We wanted the kind of buyer who would run this business in such a way that you could go into the grocery store and people would still speak highly about you. That was really important to us.”
True to her word, Sells and her team of professionals produced results short of 45 days after being retained, thanks to The Firm’s proprietary database of more than 36,000 qualified buyers, along with proprietary IP tools which quickly matched the right motivated buyers with this prospective deal.
“Honestly, I couldn’t believe the number of buyers that they had in their pool, ready to spend money,” Jim said. “Frankly, that buyer pool is one big thing that sets them apart from anybody else. They’re also very honest people who give a lot of attention to detail. That’s how we run our business, too.”
The Firm’s professionals also provided guidance for the Delmonts once the offers started coming in to help ensure they got the best deal possible.
“We told Jim even though we came to you with this one buyer, you don’t want to put all your eggs in one basket,” Sells said. “When you get several buyers and several offers, the seller doesn’t feel like they got stuck with an offer. That’s why we tell them don’t take your first offer, let us work harder and let’s get you at least three LOI’s [letters of intent] before we select the buyer.”
Jim and Missy ultimately had their pick of 10 offers and negotiated to be retained, as the President, for a period after the sale to continue providing leadership. It took just 45 days from receiving the winning offer to closing the deal. Despite this accelerated pace, Jim said he never felt like anything was not being given its due attention.
“The Firm’s sense of urgency is something like I’ve never seen. They are on it. They’re on top of it,” Jim said. “They are very to the point, very direct. Our weekly scheduled deal calls were less than an hour and they had an agenda for every call; very well-organized, very procedurally based. They answer their phone and text messages any time of the day.”
Also in This Issue
- Inspiring Women in Business
- The Gift of Freedom & Time: How one sale opened the doors to greater family ties and fun new projects
- Post-Sale Prosperity: Angela Ye - Now it's her turn!
- Programs for Women in Business
- Grit & Grace
- Learning from a Pro: Angeal Boone, C.P.A.
- From Land-Locked Business Owner to Ocean-Based Retiree: The move from Ohio-based owner to Florida-based beach bum
- Real Estate Guru to Health Services Buyer: Adding a new career path while focusing on further growth opportunities
- Silver Linings From COVID-19: Succeeding in a "Corona Economy"