Randy Rua Randy Rua

Navigating Your Future as a Metal Former: Exit or Expansion

March 28, 2024

nuvescor-mergers-acquisitionsFor many metal fabricators, the market is booming; consolidation presents a unique opportunity for small and medium-sized businesses to capitalize. Whether seeking to maximize return through a sale, or expand reach through acquisitions, fabricators should review this list of key steps toward navigating this dynamic landscape.

Trends in the Market 
The U.S. fabricated-metal-product manufacturing market comprises some 13.5% of manufacturing businesses with annual revenue between $5 and $20 million, according to 2023 figures from Data Axle. That’s around 12,500 shops focusing on everything from sheet metal work to ball and roller bearing manufacture and electroplating, anodizing and coloring. And, according to a recent Mordor Intelligence report on the market, "The North American fabricated-metal-products market is valued around $43 billion in the current year and is anticipated to register a compound annual growth rate of more than 4% (through 2029)." 

The wave of consolidation underway right now will be a 10-yr. trend. That trend sets the stage for fabricators to explore opportunities and considerations for either exiting the business or expanding operations.

Tip #1, the one thing promising to boost a company’s value and help identify find the right target or buyer, and complete a smooth transaction: Whether considering an exit or expansion, don't wait until the last minute to start planning. Proactive preparation can significantly increase a company’s options and ensure a smoother process.

A Tale of Two Owners
In my experience, many business owners underestimate the preparation needed for a successful exit or expansion. They assume they're ready, only to discover during the planning process that years of groundwork remain. On the other hand, owners who integrate their long-term goals into daily operations ensure that every decision, from customer diversification to technology investments, aligns with their strategic plan. Those owners experience smoother transitions and often secure a more attractive valuation.

So, what does preparation look like? Ahead of any potential transaction, begin by understanding the variety of buyer options.

  • Strategic buyers may place a premium on a company’s technology and customer base, while private-equity (PE) firms might be more interested in consolidation opportunities. Company owners must decide on the outcome they’re looking for in order to make the decisions that will make the business attractive to the kind of buyer being sought. A strategic buyer could be another metal-fabrication company looking to expand its reach or acquire new locations; cultural fit and compatibility of operations are crucial considerations.
  • PE firms likely are interested in the potential for consolidation. While they might offer a higher price, it's unlikely to be all cash, and they often require the seller to retain some ownership and stay involved for several years.
  • Internal buyer: A business owner might prefer to sell the company to someone within the firm—a manager or key employee, for example. While such a smooth handover to a trusted individual seems appealing, challenges often arise around financing. If the internal buyer lacks sufficient funds to cover the full purchase price and requires a significant amount of financing, it can keep the seller tied to the success of the business and hinder his ability to retire or move on. Even worse, if financing limitations aren't addressed upfront, deals can fall apart, causing disappointment and damaging the relationship between seller and buyer. 

Consider Modernization and Automation

Many potential buyers prioritize businesses that have invested in newer automation technologies, such as fiber laser cutting machines and automated bending equipment. However, fabricators should invest in new technology and in training their workforce, to ensure operations are running smoothly, well in advance of gauging potential buyer interest.

Also, check your financial readiness. Buyers often rely on bank financing to complete acquisitions. Having clean and well-organized financial statements can significantly improve a company’s chances of a successful sale. It can be helpful to present financials that meet bank requirements while establishing robust internal controls and recordkeeping. This transparency showcases a firm’s health and fuels a smooth financing process for the acquisition.

Preparing for Expansion
In some cases, fabricators want to grow the business and reach more customers, perhaps to ensure the company is large enough to attract the right kind of buyer. The current fragmented nature of the metal-fabrication industry presents a unique growth opportunity for companies looking to expand their reach and capabilities through strategic mergers and acquisitions (M&A).  Again, planning ahead is your friend. Not all acquisitions are created equal. Selecting the right target company is critical for maximizing the benefits of a merger or acquisition.

Here's the approach:

  • Look for complementary capabilities. Don't just look for bigger; look for better. Identify targets that possess capabilities that complement your existing offerings. This could involve specialized skills that broaden your service portfolio, geographic reach that expands your potential customer base, or technological expertise to streamline production and enhance efficiency.
  • Assess customer diversification. Avoid putting all of your eggs in one basket. Target companies with customer bases that differ from yours to mitigate risk in the event of a downturn in a key customer market, and open doors for cross-selling.
  • Focus on financial feasibility. Acquisitions require significant financial investment. Focus on financial due diligence, consider different funding strategies, and don't forget the integration costs after the acquisition to ensure a smooth and successful transaction that fuels your company's growth.

Beyond the Financials
Successful integration also requires looking beyond the price tag. Among key nonfinancial factors that deserve careful evaluation:

  • Management-team strength: Inheriting a skilled and experienced management team can be a significant advantage for a buyer. For the best results, assess the expertise of the target company's leadership, its track record and strategic vision. 
  • Cultural fit: Company culture significantly impacts success. Consider shared values, as well as leadership and communication styles. Develop a plan to address potential cultural clashes and retain valuable employees.
  • Business compatibility: A successful acquisition hinges on the strategic fit between buyer and seller. Evaluate product/service overlap, customer-base compatibility, operational alignment and potential integration challenges.

An Advisor’s Role

An advisor with experience in the metal fabrication industry can help navigate the complexities of mergers, acquisitions and business sales. Among the core tasks advisors take on:

  • Company valuation
  • Buyer selection
  • Vetting potential buyers
  • Deal structuring
  • Financial and legal guidance. MF

Randy Rua has orchestrated hundreds of successful business merger and acquisition transactions. He is the President of NuVescor, a trusted advisor for manufacturing business owners navigating the M&A process. 

Industry-Related Terms: Anodizing, Bending, Core, Electroplating, LASER
View Glossary of Metalforming Terms

Technologies: Management


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