Two things have been in Alex Sams’ blood for generations: Athens, GA and deal-making. Alex’s great-grandfather, Walter Sams, owned the Coca-Cola bottling plant in Athens, now the thriving Bottleworks mixed-use space. Alex himself started out as a business broker in his twenties, bought his first business, then started another. Since then, he’s come full circle, now serving as the principal Athens agent for Walden, a woman-owned, Atlanta-based mergers & acquisitions company that helps people sell their businesses.
Sell Out, Don’t Burn Out
Once a business signs on to hit the market, Alex’s team thoroughly researches the business and creates a profile in order to carefully consider who might be a good fit as a buyer. Throughout the process, discretion is everything, and Walden implements strict confidentiality measures. The trick is to sell high, at a business’s peak performance. According to Alex, business owners often keep working until they are burnt out. Burnout makes for much less enthusiasm, so top employees have usually found employment elsewhere, and systems and business relationships have weakened.
The challenge for Alex is to get on the owner’s radar long before he or she decides to sell. Successfully selling a business takes time, preparation, and strong relationships. When Alex networks in the community, it’s not about convincing someone to sell their business (he abhors the thought), but rather to educate owners on what they can be thinking about now if they plan to sell even years down the road, or didn’t even know selling was an option.
To Alex, it’s incredibly disheartening when a successful local business that has been open for years just sells off its inventory and closes its doors. Alex adds, “That’s huge lost potential. In some of these cases the brand alone might have been worth $200k.” As a result, Alex believes an important part of his job is to educate the community on the options of business owners.
Success through Sincerity
Alex is the first to admit there are likely many people in his field that can close a deal faster, but for Alex that’s the wrong metric. “We’re talking about businesses that people have spent years building. I have deep respect for that, because I know the sacrifices made firsthand.” He attributes his sincerity to his success as a business seller.
Though his younger self might disagree, Alex also points to his decades of experience to explain the value he brings to the table. His mature perspective helps him read between the lines, see deal “potholes” early on before they cause problems, and keep a balanced outlook — all traits of a great deal maker.
Even if Alex could buy all the businesses he likes by himself, he still thinks he’d miss the fun of helping someone else take their business all the way to closing. Personal life aside, there’s not much bigger an event in life than selling a business; most business owners do it once, perhaps twice, in their entire lives. For Alex, that makes it a very special moment to be part of. “I have great respect for the owners because I know how incredibly hard it is to build a business, so it’s so exciting to see them happy.”
Not Whom You Know, But How You Know Them
Having been through it, Alex understands that the decision to sell a business can take years. That deliberation is why it’s key to develop genuine and trusted “non sales-y” relationships with people in the community. To develop these relationships, Alex first seeks to find common ground and he believes in quality over quantity:
Alex cares a great deal about public education, historic preservation, and art. He coaches soccer in Athens, firm in his belief that a team ethic and commitment to hard work are critical to future success. He’s also involved with the Athens Clarke Heritage Foundation, and has served as chairman of the Historic Preservation Commission, responsible for approving exterior designs of homes in historic neighborhoods.
Since it’s tough to walk up to someone at an event and start talking about historic preservation (maybe let people get through that first beer), Alex looks for connections in the crowd. He readily admits he has no gift for small talk, so he first thinks through how he might know people.
It’s not who who you know but how you know them. If I only meet three people in three hours, but I really get to know them and they me? That’s fine by me.