September 3, 2014

William Bruce, Business Broker, Takes Lumpy with the Lean

spotlight

William Bruce started his career as a business broker 28 years ago when his first sale was a Hallmark Card and Gift Shop in Mobile, Alabama. He’s never looked back. Since then, he’s brokered literally hundreds of sales from ice cream stands to large manufacturing plants. Here’s a bit more of his story.

HOW DID YOUR BUSINESS GET STARTED?

That’s an easy one. Bruce majored in business and economics at Auburn University. He has always been intrigued by business, he says. So selling them for a living seemed to make a lot of sense.

WHAT SETS YOUR BUSINESS APART?

It may not be the sexiest differentiator in the world, but Bruce feels his experience sets him apart. It brings competence in his business…which he’s been at a while.

HAVE YOU EVER ALMOST GONE OUT OF BUSINESS?

Bruce has survived, but he tells similar stories to many other small business owners who survived the Great Recession:

“The Great Recession was really hard on the business brokerage profession. The International Business Brokers Association lost two thirds of its paid membership. Even if you had a buyer and seller for a particular business during the recession (which was rare), you couldn’t get the transaction financed. I personally had some really skinny years during that time but managed to survive.”

SO WHAT WAS YOUR BIGGEST WIN?

Bruce loves to tell this story. It’s not only about his experience, but about how investments in people, as well as in business, sometimes pay off:

“I’ve just been retained by a New York group which is putting together a national chain of urgent care centers. They have retained me to find centers across the country that might be available for purchase. Thus far, I’ve located 14 centers out west that we’re flying out to look at shortly. This engagement came from a former student of mine years ago in one of the courses that I teach for the American Business Brokers Association. He is now a real success story and is CEO of this large New York firm.”

YOUR BIGGEST RISK?

There aren’t really any big risks in the business brokerage industry…except maybe not surviving the lean times. Revenue is “lumpy,” Bruce says. The key is, live on a budget and don’t buy a Mercedes with that next big commission.

WHAT INTERESTING TIDBIT CAN YOU SHARE ABOUT YOUR BUSINESS?

Bruce has another story he likes to tell, too:

“The most interesting listing of a business for sale that I ever had was a “Gentleman’s Club,” otherwise known as a strip joint. It was a cash cow! One of the potential buyers who came to look at it was, in my opinion, a Mafia guy. It made for a very interesting meeting. He didn’t buy it, and I was really relieved when the business finally sold and my engagement ended. The buyers for that kind of business were not exactly members of the country club, if you know what I mean. Some of my co-brokers, however, did a good bit of “due diligence” in that establishment just, you know, to make sure it was a good listing.

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Image: William Bruce

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Shawn Hessinger - Editor


Shawn Hessinger Shawn Hessinger is the Editor for Small Business Trends. He is a journalist and social media networker with more than a decade of experience in the traditional newspaper business before moving to the digital world. He was the former community manager of BizSugar and the former community editor at AllAnalytics, a site dedicated to professionals in the business intelligence and analytics community.

3 Reactions

  1. Hmm I’ll be honest. Business brokerage is a new concept to me. I guess it is really something that does not only need experience, it also needs superior negotiation skills which William Bruce has.

  2. Fascinating story about the life as a business broker. It was funny to read about the sales of the so called “juice bar”… ;)

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