Ah! The year 2000 was incredible!
I realized that I had lived in two different centuries and two millennia! As a child, we didn’t have cell phones or computers – we played outside and hunted gophers and rabbits. Imagine a 12 year old walking into the local hardware store today with a .22 rifle slung over his shoulder and buying two packs of long rifle bullets!
It used to be a simple world compared to this world with computers and the Internet. We had just avoided the computer crash of the year 2000 and knowledge of just about everything was now at our fingertips – I’m not sure that’s such a good thing.
What a dilemma I had in the spring of 2000! I had a fantastic job at Dodge City where I was well paid, with good benefits and a company vehicle. Suddenly I got this call from the owners of Parr Auto Body asking if I was interested in buying their business. I was really taken aback – I had no money, how could I even think of buying a body shop?
Well Pride wouldn’t let me admit it was really a pipe dream, so I made them an incredibly low offer – basically what I offered them for half the business 12 years earlier – and they said yes! Shit ! Now what was I going to do?
Remember: I’m a builder, not a maintainer. Dodge City was in good hands, Terry Hrabowy, the assistant manager, and Mitch Paradis, one of our key guys at the back, were ready to step in and frankly, they topped anything I’ve ever done. Both men were solid and with a great crew, I knew Dodge City would be fine.
My challenge was “where am I going to get the money!?” variety. I literally had no extra money – my wife had been a stay-at-home mom for most of the last twelve years and we were a single income family.
In fact, my wife was working at Kelly Services to improve her office skills. She had quit a job that had a word processor in 1987 and now found herself forced to learn Microsoft Office! She had just landed a steady job at a local dairy, but now they were planning to close that factory and lay off everyone. One of the concessions the dairy made was to provide employees with career counseling. So she asked if we could see someone for help buying a business and they agreed.
They made an appointment with Coopers and Lybrand (now known as PricewaterhouseCooper PwC) so my wife and I could get some financial advice. When we arrived at their office, the receptionist escorted us down the hall to a desk indicating that the occupant specializes in bankruptcies! Ouch! It wasn’t what I had in mind, but he calmly explained to me that it was better to see him at the start of a business than to meet him at the end. I feel bad for not being able to remember his name, but I met him several years later on a flight to Vancouver and thanked him profusely for his advice and ideas.
He told us that money was not really an obstacle; there’s plenty of money for sharp young entrepreneurs. The challenge is that so few of them take the time to prepare their sales pitch for the money people. He explained that I needed to take the existing financials, figure out what I could realistically bring to the business in terms of incremental sales, and then come up with a two- to five-year plan with budgets and cash flow projections.
The good news is that I had 18 years of experience in independent workshops, dealerships and heavy trucks. So I knew what it took to create sales and build a competent team around me. The sad news was that the store had struggled for the past three years and finances were trending down. The first banker I spoke to fired me from his office. He said he already had several body shop clients, and they were all lost causes! If I produced 50% of the money, he would consider it. So much for that.
In a way, I was happy. Now I could go to the owners of Parr and explain to them that there was no way to get a bank loan and that I could just go back to my job in Dodge City, period. Interestingly, I had attended a business networking breakfast group and shortly after being shut down by my banker of choice, I met a new young man at our breakfast. I asked him for his name and occupation, and he told me his name was Doug and he was a commercial loan officer for TD Bank. What a coincidence! I asked if we could meet to discuss a business idea and he quickly agreed to set up an appointment to see him a few days later.
When I went to see Doug, I explained that I had no money, but I had some ideas on how to handle this if we could find a workable deal. He was very impressed with my two to five year financial plan, and he checked me out with the other breakfast club members to make sure I was credible. Interestingly, there was a government guaranteed loan program that only required a 10% down payment if I purchased hard assets. Another amazing coincidence.