From the Top

Features - The Top 100: Event recap

The largest companies in the industry came to Arizona for the annual Lawn & Landscape Top 100 event for education and to discuss how to better the industry.

November 1, 2022

Acquisition apex

Mergers and acquisitions won’t be slowing down anytime soon in the green industry.

Top 100 attendees gathered in Scottsdale for Lawn & Landscape’s annual event.
Photo courtesy of Gordon Murray

Lawn & Landscape hosted the 5th Top 100 Executive Summit and Awards in August in Scottsdale, Arizona. Below is a recap of a mergers and acquisition panel that took place at the event. To read about the event’s keynote presentation, visit bit.ly/top100keynote. For more panel coverage, visit bit.ly/llpaneltop.

As mergers and acquisitions continue to heat up the green industry, panelists at Lawn & Landscape’s Top 100 Executive Summit weighed in our where they see the market heading, how to get your business ready to be sold and how to approach acquisitions.

Ed Bates, VP of corporate development and M&A of BrightView, says there’s been no shortage of activity as of late, and Jerry Schill, CEO of Schill Grounds Management, predicts that activity will continue.

“There’s still a tremendous amount of activity but (industry wide) we’re down a little bit compared to last year,” Bates said. “It’s still very active and very robust.”

Bjorn Gjerde, CFO Senske Services, adds the due diligence is taking longer despite a continued upward trend in M&A, while J.T. Price, CEO of Landscape Workshop says private equity will continue to be involved in deals.

“There’s more and more private equity involvement in every industry,” Price says. “You’re just going to get more and more involvement in this industry.”

Price says there are some benefits to private equity entering the landscape market.

“It’s professionalizing dramatically,” he says. “But it’s a performance-based world…if my team and I don’t perform they will find somebody who will.” Schill adds that companies have to be willing to adapt and change, and in influx of funds will help grow the company.

“We’ve got a great private equity partner who’s great at having capital for us to go out and expand our business,” he says.

When it comes to being ready to sell your company, Schill says you have to make sure your quality of earnings are bundled up and you truly understand what your business is worth.

“Everyone probably thinks their business is worth a lot more than it actually is,” Schill says.

Bates adds preparedness is critical and having the financials clean and in order is essential.

“Get an M&A attorney as well,” he says. “Make that decision early on…it is a lot of work to go through one of these transactions.”

Good things take time

When it comes to acquiring a company, the process is important.

Schill describes it as a toolkit. Getting the leads and researching the pipeline of activity are the biggest first steps.

Bates says 80% of the deals BrightView do, they develop that relationship organically. And taking that time to build those relationships is vital. He says his longest deal took about three years.

“It was exploratory at first, and things just evolved over time,” he says. “When it came time for the company to make the decision — they were happy.”

Price agrees and says that while getting the deal done quick is great, but fast isn’t always better.

“It’s also so important to do what you say you’re going to do,” he adds.

Bates acknowledges there are challenges with every deal, but common hurdles to get past include branding changes and a lack of communication from the top down in companies being sold.

All the panelists say there’s no set timeline for a brand takeover, but it’s about being communicative and taking the proper time needed in each scenario to make the switch.

Gjerde says a good strategy is to set expectations on timelines early and that can alleviate a lot of issues.

Price adds another hurdle is people sharing news of the deals too early.

“You are inserting a larger amount of risk into the deal if you can’t keep your mouth shut,” he says with a laugh.

Schill knows from going through it himself the process is extremely personal. He says being transparent is critical yet have empathy for what the business owner is going through.

Once the acquisition is made two cultures must become one. That’s where post-merger integration comes in.

“It’s really important to have one unified culture — and the brand is just one part of that,” Price says.

Bates says he could have several meetings with a potential partner before the numbers even get talked about. Establishing parallels between cultures should always be the first step.

“It’s about fit, culture and alignment,” Bates says. ‘If you have those things, you have a really strong opportunity for success.”

The author is assistant editor with Lawn & Landscape magazine.