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Due Dilegence 101 Or What You Do Not Know Can Kill You! - Part 1
Due Diligence Defined:
Financial Statements - What to look for:
Add Backs: If you bought the business through a business broker you should have received the business financial statement with a separate worksheet showing adjustments to those statements. These adjustments show the owner's benefits received from the business besides the profit and salary he receives. These can also be defined as personal expenses that need to be added back to the profit. Depreciation, incomes taxes, interest expense are add backs that are not personal. Personal includes such things as family auto expenses, owner life insurance, owner health insurance, business entertainment that was not really spent on clients, business trips not really for business, home office expenses, family cellular phones and much much more.
Make the seller show you the details on some or all of these expenses to verify that they are really personal and not actually business expenses that shouldn't be added back to profit. Spend time asking detailed questions with the general ledger in front of you. Go through individual charges and what they mean, until you fully understand what is being added back and why.
The second reason for checking inventory is that if a seller doesn't take inventory at least yearly and adjust his inventory value in his accounting records, accurately, the profit figure you are receiving will not be accurate. As a rule, the higher cost of goods sold, the lower the profit. Some business owners reduce the inventory value on the books, intentionally, to a lower value so as to make the business show a higher cost of goods sold, which then creates a smaller taxable profit. If they do this year after year, the profit may or may not be accurate for the current year. It might take a CPA to figure this one out for you, if you do not have a background in retail.
Seller owns a dry cleaner. The buyer and seller have opened escrow and the deal is subject to a 15-day physical observation period. The seller doesn't want the buyer to find out that business volume is very slow. The seller tells all his friends to bring their dry cleaning in to the shop for a two-week period, at no charge. They bring in the clothing, get it cleaned, pick it up and pay for it. Later the business owner meets the customers and reimburses all of them for the cost of their dry cleaning. The day after escrow closes all that business traffic stops. Think it never happens? The same is true of restaurants. Seller tells all his friends to bring all of their friends in for a free meal. Customers pay the bill and some time later or at home, the business owner reimburses all the customers for the cost of their meals.
Actual time sellers spends working:
Find out what job functions the seller does:
Verification of things that are not on the Financial Statements:
The balance of this article will discuss how a buyer might do their "Due Diligence" for different types of businesses. These types of businesses include Restaurants, auto repair shops; real estate services contractors, non-real estate repair/ services, and retail stores.
Restaurants come in two categories. 1. Fast food-counter sales. 2. Sit down. Fast food restaurants have computerized cash registers that record the sales into its computer, which has a memory. This memory has daily totals going back to the beginning of the computer's history. Most owners close out their cash registers at the end of the day and print out the tape of each day's activities. This does not automatically wipe out the information for the day. The computer does, I am told, have a delete button on it allowing the owner to wipe out the full memory in the computer, in the event of an audit. I have also been told, but do not believe, that an electrical blackout can wipe out the memory in the computer and that is why one seller said he couldn't give me access to this information.
If we are talking about a sit down restaurant sales information, you can use the daily order ticket, which are then imputed into the computer. This gives 3 sources: tickets, computer and daily tape totals.
When this information is not available, for any reason, an experienced restaurant consultant can tell you the sales activities just by inspecting the restaurant and counting the number of customers eating at 4 key times in a day, and on several key days per week. Then the consultant can figures out what the average sales ticket amount is. With this information like magic the consultant knows the gross sales figure, for the year.
A double check procedure for restaurant consultants is to then look at the food purchases and its costs and can confirm that it matches the actual sales figures. One consultant that was hired to review a Johnny Rocket restaurant for $7,000 did the audit and put together a marketing program for the buyer. The marketing program included delivery and catering. Both of which do not normally show up on the computerized cash register.
Restaurants - Franchise:
Some franchises do not hook up to the individual franchise computers and do not do audits regularly. This allows the franchise to report reduced income to the company and the IRS. In case either comes to audit, they press the delete button on the computer. If you as a buyer can get access to the computer you know the numbers are correct even if they are not complete. It is impossible for the staff or the owner to change the computer records. The information can only be deleted. Again catering and take out may not be on the computer. Theft from employees can only be in the form of 1. Employees that give free food to friends. 2. Employees not ringing up an order, which is difficult when businesses put up signs saying, "If you do not get a receipt, your order is free."
Some sellers are so paranoid of the IRS, they are not willing to show anyone their private records or computer tapes for fear that the buyer could be an IRS agent. My personal opinion, and what I advice sellers to do, is to get their books legal and honest and hire themselves a top notch CPA, like Donald Trump, and use every legal trick in the book. Martha Stewart didn't go to jail for inside trading. They got her on lying. There are legal ways to avoid taxes so that fraud is not necessary. If you cannot find a good accountant, I will recommend one.
If you ask someone "Are you a government employee or IRS agent?" and they lie to you; that might be considered entrapment and a good possible defense in court. But, I ask you. Is it worth the grief?
The normal action of sellers, in this situation, is to require that the buyer take the business based on the recorded records and guess as to how profitable the place really is. This is a very difficult situation for the brokers and buyers, since sellers do not price their business based on these reported numbers but base their price on the real numbers.
I hope this is of some help to you in doing due diligence on a restaurant you might be interested in buying.
Auto Repair Shops:
With the sales invoices an audit of income becomes simple. Since the sellers keep them in a manila folder by months, you only have to pick monthly folders at random and total the actual invoices. Then compare them to what the "State Board of Equalization" report says and calculate what percentage of the total was declared. If you do this for a few months, a pattern will develop. Some sellers have even run a calculator tape of the month's activities and/or written it in a private ledger. You can check the actual invoice tapes against the private ledger records to confirm the private ledger information is correct.
If you are going to buy a business with your hard earned money, you want to make sure you get what you paid for. Many people believe it is all right to cheat the taxman but otherwise are very honest citizens. Others feel it is all right to cheap any poor sucker that comes along. Don't be a sucker, do your due diligence and get what you paid for.
Then build your new business into something you can be proud of and enjoy. While building your new business make a point to study everything you can about Tax planning, tax avoidance and reducing taxes legally. I started in College learning about the tax codes, and there are so many ways to save taxes legally, you would never believe it. You will sleep better at night, I promise you. Then 10-20 years from now when you want to sell your business, you can ask top dollar and get it. This because a buyer can do a simple due diligence and know that your business is doing exactly what your books say you are doing.
DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE and buying your own business can be a pleasant and rewarding experience!
Willard Michlin is an Investor, Business Broker, California Real Estate Broker, Accountant, Financial Distress Consultant, Well known Public speaker and Administrative/Business Consultant. He can be contacted at his Ventura, California office by calling 805-529-9854 or by e-mail at Broker@kismetbusinessbrokers.com See other articles by Willard at http://www.kismetbusinessbrokers.com
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