Selling a business

Greg Auten knew for a while that one day he was going to sell his business, Auten Poultry & Food Service.

But first, he had a few things to accomplish.

Auten wanted to make sure his business attracted serious potential buyers. So he focused on growing the meat and food distributing company from $15 million in sales to $60 million over a 10-year period.

He also had to make sure he had the right buyer. That search took almost five years.

In 2005, the determined business owner reached his sales goal. That July, Auten sold the family business to Glover Wholesale Co. — an Americus-based competitor that owned Columbus' Glover Sol Loeb. The company's name was changed to Glover-Auten Foods.

It takes time for a business to be ready before placing it on the market, said Kevin Wilkerson, owner of business broker company Vail Business Associates.

Just like Auten, hopeful sellers should give themselves a good amount of time to make the business as attractive — especially financially — as it can be to buyers. Wilkerson recommends at least three years.

"They should start sprucing up their business, getting it the way they want it, so it's prepared (and they) get the most out of their business," Wilkerson said.

Fortunately for Auten, he picked the right time to make the sale, and things have worked out quite nicely.The combined company now offers more products than before — 7,000, to be exact. And it now operates with 70 trucks — 40 of them headquartered in Columbus.

What's more, Auten — who stayed on board as vice president and director of purchasing — said the company is well on its way towards raking in more than $100 million in sales this year."We've been able to do things that neither of the companies could have done (alone)," he said.

Almost identical

Before the company was ever known as Glover-Auten Foods, it was known as Auten Poultry & Food Service.Auten's father, Larry, founded the poultry distributing company in 1965.

Greg Auten spent much of his life working for the family business. In 1980, he started off as a delivery person. Through the years, he worked in the warehouse as well as the purchasing and sales department.

Auten took the reinscq as president in 1992. At that point, the company — which distributes products to independent food service businesses including restaurants, schools and grocery stores — had grown. It had added other meat and grocery items to the original poultry offerings.

Auten began discussing the company's sale with potential buyers as early as 2000.One option was to sell it to Auten's biggest local competitor, Glover Sol Loeb.

Living in a city with a small-town feel allowed Auten to know his competition well. Glover Sol Loeb was a part of Glover Wholesale Co., which was owned by Bill Harris. He is the father of David Harris, who was then-president of Glover Sol Loeb and based out of Columbus.

Auten was drawn to Glover because of its similarities. It offered the same products, served some of the same customers and was focused on growing the company, just like Auten was.

In recent years, Auten's company had bought out three local competitors. Glover had purchased the same number — two in the local market, and one non-local.

"It was so strange to see a company that was almost identical," Auten said.Both distributed meat and grocery items, but Auten Poultry & Food Service meat sales were stronger. Glover Sol Loeb trumped Auten in the grocery realm.

"Our strengths were their weaknesses, and their strengths were our weaknesses," said David Harris, now president of Glover-Auten Foods.

When looking for potential buyers, Wilkerson said sellers should keep an eye out for a couple things.A business owner should confirm that a potential buyer really does have funds to purchase and carry out the business.Also, the buyer should have the capability.

"Do they have the business ability, the personality, to be able to really run the business?" Wilkerson said. "That doesn't mean you have to run it exactly the way they ran it. But you've got to have the capability."

The business should be in good shape as well. Prior to the sale, business owners should make sure the company's financials are in order, Wilkerson said. They should also work on diversifying their customer and supplier bases.

More to offer

Harris said consolidating has made things more efficient. It has also upped their purchasing power with increased volume.

He said the sale was a good decision for both of them.

"Our industry is consolidating," he said. "So it's either buy, be bought or be left behind."

Glover-Auten Foods operates in six Southeastern states, from Virginia to Florida.

The Columbus facility ships out 70 percent of the company's volume, while the remaining comes from Americus.Auten said it was a little strange not being the head honcho anymore.

"It's good and bad," he said. "You go from being the boss to now, I'm not the boss."

But as a minority owner, Auten is able to work fewer lesser hours — a 40- to 45-hour work week rather than a 60- to 70-hour week.

"It kind of wears you out after a period of time — to make all the decisions, always having an answer," Auten said.Auten said the larger company has a lot more depth in its management group, and decisions are made by different people.

It also has allowed him to focus on his specific duties, rather than wearing a number of different hats and "hope you do a decent job at it."

"I'm definitely not as stressed out as I used to be," Auten said.