Small Business Transactions Beat Pre-Pandemic Levels in Q4
U.S. business-for-sale transactions bounced back 14% in 2021 against ongoing COVID-19 fallout, hiring challenges, and supply chain disruptions. After modest gains to start the year, transactions accelerated 28% in the fourth quarter, eclipsing the pre-pandemic levels of Q4 2019. This end of year rally brought annual small business transactions within 11% of 2019, bringing optimism for a strong 2022.
A total of 8,647 closed transactions were reported in 2021, compared to 7,612 in 2020, with 2,364 occurring in the fourth quarter. In addition, sale prices grew 16% year-over-year, as buyers competed for a limited supply of strong performing businesses. This according to BizBuySell’s Insight Report, which tracks and analyzes business-for-sale transactions and sentiment of business owners, buyers, and brokers.
Businesses that sold in 2021 continued to be those with strong financials. As the pandemic lingered, buyers gravitated to businesses with reliable sales. Savvy entrepreneurs also sought out discounted businesses that offered prime real estate and other valuable assets despite poor performance.
The business for sale market demonstrated slow, yet steady growth over the course of 2021, particularly in terms of buyer demand for financially healthy businesses. Furthermore, despite 51% of surveyed owners being negatively impacted due to COVID-19 in 2021, key financials of sold businesses in the first quarter were the highest since BizBuySell began collecting data in 2007.
According to BizBuySell’s Small Business Survey, 60% of buyers indicated profitability and strong financials as a purchase requirement, followed by trained and skilled employees (37%), great location owned (38%), and great location leased (36%). Eighteen percent (18%) desired a business discounted due to poor financials. Regarding the type of businesses buyers were seeking, the service sector was the top preference (37%), followed by restaurants (26%), and wholesale distributors (25%). The most popular included pandemic-resistant businesses such as liquor stores, gas stations, auto repair shops, and ecommerce businesses.
Buyers Face Limited Inventory as Owners Delay Exit to Focus on Recovery
While 2021 was a record-breaking year for small business sale prices, it was also a year for many owners to remain on the sidelines until financial performance improved. According to BizBuySell’s small business owner survey, roughly half (52%) of small business owners say they were negatively impacted by the pandemic in 2021, while the other half were either positively impacted (25%) or not impacted at all (24%).
Even with President Biden’s American Rescue Plan Act, which expanded the PPP program and introduced other federal aid programs, recovery has been uneven. While many businesses have wooed customers back through outdoor seating, delivery, or virtual options, they still face challenges. Whether through staffing shortages, supply chain delays, or COVID-19 surges, the pandemic continues to impact many businesses.
While restaurants, retailers, and delivery services have been among the most visibly impacted by the labor shortage, the fallout is more widespread. Whether it’s a shortage of drivers unable to move freight, or no one available to answer phones, most business are facing these challenges.
Sixty-four percent (64%) of applicable owners surveyed say they have been impacted by labor shortages, of these, 59% say the situation is not improving or getting worse. Business brokers echo this sentiment, with an overwhelming 59% saying the labor shortage is the biggest threat to small business today with Covid restrictions a distant second (15%).
Furthermore, supply chain disruptions are leaving business owners to face inventory and material shortages, sales losses, and shipping delays. Seventy-five percent (75%) of applicable owners surveyed said their business has been impacted by supply chain issues, with half of those saying the issue is either not improving or getting worse.
Small businesses have been further strained by inflation raising overhead costs, forcing many to either raise prices and pass additional costs onto their customers or cut back on operating expenses. Roughly 72% of applicable owners say their business has been impacted due to inflation, with 76% saying it has not improved or is getting worse. This can make it increasingly challenging to attract customers and remain competitive.
Pent Up Supply of Businesses for Sale Expected, Fueled by Baby Boomer Retirees
Over 78% of business brokers say they expect more sellers to enter the market in 2022, with 25% saying they expect significantly more sellers. Furthermore, brokers expect an increasing number of Baby Boomers to enter the market. Just over the past year, brokers attribute 45% of their sellers to Baby Boomers who are too burnt out to continue.
Demand for existing businesses is expected to continue into 2022 as more entrepreneurs seek to acquire profitable businesses from retiring Baby Boomers. While some will be corporate refugees and first-time buyers, many are also existing owners looking to expand, as well as retirees looking for a second career. The majority business brokers (73%) expect an increase in the number of buyers hitting the business for sale market in 2022.