The Story Behind the Sale: Bill Etscorn and Sons Auto & Collision
Bill Etscorn Sr. started his auto business in 1947 as a one-bay station at the corner of 18th and Oak Street in Louisville, Kentucky, where he earned a reputation for high-quality service while navigating partnerships with brands like Marathon Oil and Phillips 66. After running the shop for over thirty years, he sold the company to his son, Bill Jr., in 1979. The pair had spent years working alongside each other.
Under Bill Jr.’s ownership, the company began to expand, with an additional auto service center opening in 1979 and an independent collision center opening in 1984. Decades passed, the company’s reputation grew, and Bill Jr.’s three sons eventually took over the business.
Under third-generation ownership, Bill Etscorn & Sons continued to thrive. Thanks to a reputation for trustworthy service, in the 2010s the business was one of the largest independent shops in the state of Kentucky.
Then, in the early part of the decade, the collision repair market began to consolidate. Amid increasing national-level competition and decreasing margins, the three brothers began to question the future viability of the industry – and of the business their family had worked so hard to build.
The Etscorns knew that, in order for their business to continue thriving, it needed to rapidly grow. “We felt that if we didn’t get bigger, in two or three years we’d fall into the lap of one of the bigger players without being able to capitalize on the value we’d built,” says Bryan Etscorn. “We didn’t want that to happen.”
The family began considering the possibility of finding an acquisition partner to enable growth. And they started looking for an advisor to help them analyze their situation and navigate the next steps.
That’s when they found Robert (Bob) Fowler of Kingsmoor Advisors.
After corresponding with Bob via email, the Etscorns spoke with him personally and came away impressed.
“Bob has great character and composure,” says Bryan. “He’s acceded to the highest levels of business, but he can relate to anyone.”
The Etscorns and Kingsmoor Advisors agreed to work together to chart the next steps for the third-generation business.
Through analysis of the family’s business context and deep expertise in industry consolidation trends at national and regional levels, Bob was able to affirm the brothers’ intuitive assessment: if they didn’t find an acquisition partner, their hard-built business would likely face declining margins and value over the impending decade.
The almost-certain result would be an eventual, inevitable sale where the family’s return on the business would be a fraction of its one-time value.
Once the necessity of an acquisition was determined, Bob helped the Etscorns to comprehensively articulate their goals for the business. Current financial performance, status, and outlines of a fair expected return were documented.
“We didn’t really know what we should be getting paid (for the business),” says Bryan. “But Bob knows the ins and outs of the industry. He was able to tell us where we were.”
In addition to charting realistic financial expectations, Bob was able to help the Etscorns articulate another important goal: the continuation of their family’s legacy. The Etscorns wanted a partner that would be able to continue to uphold the brand’s high quality of service that their grandfather had started.
Throughout the process, Bob also helped the family to navigate the complex emotions that come with selling a family business. In the Etscorns’ case, things were made even more complex as the three brothers were required to come to agreement on goals and terms.
“Bob helped the three of us to work together and leave emotions behind,” says Bryan.
Based on the goals the Etscorn family set, Bob was able to work with them to identify potential acquisition partners. The objective was to find a fit that could meet the Etscorns’ desires on both financial and legacy levels.
After an analysis of consolidation options and careful consideration, the Etscorns were able to find a partner that valued their family’s legacy and was able to exceed their financial expectations.
“We partnered with a group that will continue what we started,” says Bryan. “They believe in integrity. The transition has been good.”
Throughout the process, Bob provided a powerful voice in support of the Etscorns’ interests. He was involved in negotiations with the acquiring firm’s highest-level representatives, adding expertise and authority to the Etscorns’ side of the table that they otherwise would’ve lacked and ensuring that the family received fair terms for their business.
“During those conversations,” Bryan notes, “Bob’s expertise was invaluable.”
After working with Bob and Kingsmoor Advisors, the Etscorns’ end result has been a deal that has significantly improved the family’s financial prospects, upheld the legacy of their business, and given them long-term peace of mind.
“Our lives have changed for the better,” says Bryan. “I get to enjoy being around my brothers. We have peace of mind for our business and our family.”
Asked how he views his relationship with Bob and Kingsmoor Advisors as he looks back on the process, Bryan pauses, is silent for a moment, and then offers this:
“I’ll consider Bob a true friend for the rest of my life.”
Are You Considering Selling Your Business?
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And we can help you.
Over more than 30 years, we’ve completed over 100 transactions totaling over $5 billion. We’ve successfully navigated the process again and again, allowing us to identify the factors that lead to success from both sides of the table: we’ve bought businesses, which allows us to strategically approach engagements from a buyer’s perspective, and we’ve sold businesses to maximize returns. Most importantly, we develop meaningful and lasting relationships with our clients to empower them with the expertise they’ll need for success.
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