Building your company’s value for the future

After 15 years of writing this column, Bob Cronin of The Open Approach is hanging up his pen. Here he offers four ways to add value to your business.

Back in 2009 when my first Labels & Labeling column
appeared, our industry looked a lot different. Local and
regional entrepreneurs ran the show, technologies such as
RFID and QR codes were iffy, and digital printing was a ‘specialty.’

Mergers and acquisitions (M&A) were on everyone’s minds, and we wondered how the huge strategic deals (Multi-Color buying Collotype, Fort Dearborn grabbing Renaissance Mark, and York Label gobbling up a bunch of others) would affect the marketplace.

And thus, I was enlisted as your pundit for everything M&A.
Fast forward 15 years, and the momentum hasn’t stopped.
Although we’ve had a couple of brief stalls due to lending changes and Covid-19, the energy, excitement, and interest around the Labels and packaging market have only accelerated. Moreover, the billions brought into our industry from private equity (PE) over the last several years have kept us front and center as a target for worldwide investors.

We are now in a different place. The industry has consolidated, transforming what was an extremely fragmented marketplace into a group of larger, specialty-focused leaders. We have a few small, geographically dominating enterprises, but we have more businesses that are soon-to-be national or global players. PE has changed our industry and the way companies need to operate to compete.

In writing my final column for Labels & Labeling, I want to first
express what an honor it has been to be here. My agency, The Open Approach, has been introduced to and supported all types of owners through this column. We have been proud to have advised and/or represented many of you in your transactions. And we are happy to provide our expertise to you down the road.

As we look to the future, perhaps our biggest change is in timing. We used to recommend a six-month acquisition and two-year exit plan, but the fast-changing dynamics and increasing regulations across manufacturing have truncated such schedules. When you start considering a move, be prepared to act quickly.

With PE owning many of our larger businesses, we know they
will continue to seek acquisitions to grow revenue, as well as ways to exit to benefit investors. Their significant stake in our business means that many of the market’s M&A moves (and your company’s opportunities) will involve them.

The labels and packaging industry is still an outstanding place
to own a business. However, to succeed in today’s climate, you must position yourself to build value. Here are the four ways to accomplish this:

1. Understand and adapt your business year to year.
Competitive forces, technologies and buying dynamics change rapidly. Work to continually align yourself with positive growth factors, whether through new equipment, employee training, sales techniques, or simply a different mindset. Make sure any adjustment is embraced by staff and promoted to customers and prospects.

To succeed in today’s climate, you must position yourself to build value

2. Determine your key strengths and weaknesses and
constantly work to improve on them. Know where you excel
and fall short at all times and empower your people to help you grow stronger. Compare your assessments with outside evaluations (customer surveys, online reviews, consultants, etc.) to make sure your view is realistic.

3. Be constantly aware of your customer mix and their
potential issues. Your top (and most valuable) customers will
change over time. And sometimes, the change will come fast.
Stay abreast of customers’ industries and their trends and
influences. Find ways to help them address their issues. This will transform your company from a provider to a partner and secure their long-term loyalty so you both thrive. Rebalance your mix if you find heavy concentrations in any specific area(s).

4. Dedicate time to build the skill sets and aptitudes of your
employees. One of our biggest near-term issues is finding the next generation of people to run our organization. Building a business always begins with and depends on people. We, as leaders, need to champion a more focused effort on hiring, training and providing a career that causes top talent to join and stay with our operations.

In closing, I want to extend a very special thank you to Labels & Labeling and its outstanding editors who have allowed me to connect with you through this column over the past 15 years.

Hopefully, my contributions have helped you better understand how to use M&A to grow your business. More importantly, thank you to Janice O’Driscoll of Carient
Communications for being my associate in making these stories into true communication vehicles. Janice has been more than a support to me; she has been an inspiration.
Though I’m signing off here, I’m still available to discuss any of your questions or opportunities. I remain an advocate and active participant in the great labels and packaging industry.

Drop me a note if you’ll be attending Labelexpo Americas and would like to meet up. Thank you for reading my articles. I wish your company continued success.

Bob Cronin

Bob Cronin

  • M&A columnist