FourBridges Seller Insights: Joe Buckley of Dixie Labels
When big retailers like WalMart began mandating that their vendors use barcode labels, Joe Buckley saw an opportunity. At the time, he was working as a distributor, buying and reselling labels, but he knew that the opportunities were much greater in manufacturing. In the early ‘90s, Joe teamed up with Rusty Baxley to form Dixie Labels.
Dixie Labels thrived by working with local industries in the Calhoun and Dalton areas to provide product barcodes and eventually inking labels. Like most other businesses, they struggled through 2007 and 2008, but they came out even stronger and were able to make huge capital purchases, like a digital press. After 28 years of building customer relationships and hard work, Rusty and Joe were ready to sell their business and looked to FourBridges for guidance.
What was your biggest accomplishment with Dixie Labels?
That’s a really easy one because we were able to build a family here. Our employees all came to us with various needs, and through meeting those needs, we created close business relationships and friendships with people who’ve stayed here for years.
I’m also proud of how well we maintained our customers. Some of our main customers have been with us for over 25 years. We very rarely lost a customer, and if we did, it was through no fault of our own. We were very service-oriented and that’s how we built that business.
We didn’t always necessarily make the best business decisions because we based it more on taking care of our customers. In the long run, that level of care paid a lot of dividends. So, for me, the long-term relationships with both customers and employees have been the greatest reward.
How did you know that it was time to sell?
Being that I was 55 and he was soon to turn 65, it was just time. In the spring of 2019, I started thinking about what was next. Long ago, my partner and I agreed that if one of us was ready to sell, the other would honor that desire. I told Rusty that I just had a feeling that it was the right time. And while I obviously didn’t know Covid was coming, it turned out I was right. We sold in October of 2019, and then five months later the whole world changed.
What were your biggest goals for the sale?
As we started the process, I relied on my faith. I just prayed for one thing. My only focus was on making sure the sale was good for everyone involved. I prayed that it would be a blessing for our employees at Dixie, a blessing for the people that bought Dixie, and a blessing for my partner and me. And all three of those were accomplished. So the goal was just for it to be good for everybody.
Did you ever consider selling the business on your own, without help?
Yeah, for sure. In early 2019, we had a company reach out about an acquisition. We always had companies send us emails and show interest, but this was different. There was an actual person contacting us from a company around Knoxville that was interested in us. I had started pondering a sale then, but I wasn’t pushing for it yet.
We agreed to meet with them, talked to them, signed an NDA with them, and kind of went through a little bit of a process. They ended up making another much larger acquisition, so our situation was quite squished at that point. Still, that kind of whet the appetite of getting serious about selling, and just that short engagement showed us how much work it would really be.
To gather the data, present your company, and fight for the right sale price while also trying to keep the business afloat would pull us in too many different directions. It just became really clear to us that we’re a small business with only 30 employees, so the task was going to be too daunting without professional help. Ultimately, we decided that risk and reward weren’t worth it.
We also felt like the guys at FourBridges understood the intricacies, challenges, and heavy lifting that’s required to sell a business, and with their expertise, we were confident that their help would bring in an offer that more than offset their fees, which is exactly what happened.
If you could go back and tell yourself one thing before the sale, what would it be?
One word: perseverance. It takes tremendous perseverance to sell a business. It’s your company, which is kind of like your baby, so that led to a lot of highs and lows throughout a very emotional process. At times, I was disappointed in the way that I let it really get me, or bother me, so I would remind myself to trust the process and ride out the highs and lows.
How did FourBridges help you weather these emotional highs and lows?
Andy was just very patient, and he has dealt with so many partnerships so he knew how to navigate our situation. When neither of us knew what to do or we had a disagreement, the FourBridges team had the wisdom and the still voice to calm us down. I could talk about my frustrations or concerns but I never had to engage with them because Andy and FourBridges were there to sort it out for me.
What made you want to partner with FourBridges?
We looked into three different companies, and all three were very professional and had impressive plans, presentations, and references for good deals they’d closed. For us, the deciding factor was that FourBridges is local. We’re a local company, and we’d always built our business with an emphasis on selling local. So, for us, it was important that they were in our backyard, they knew this area, and they just meshed with us.
Also, they made us feel very comfortable that a company our size wasn’t too small for them. We were an $8 million company, which isn’t that big in the grand scheme of things. I know FourBridges have done much larger deals, but I felt like they didn’t treat us any differently than they would a $50 million company.
What advice would you give someone that’s considering selling their business?
Hire somebody like FourBridges. I mean, there’s just no question because the value is multi-layered. Gathering the information and data alone is no small task, and as Andy and Andrew reminded us, that wasn’t even the hard part. They asked us hard questions and helped us to think deeply about aspects of our business, which was well worth it in the end.
After the information dump came the most valuable asset that FourBridges offered. When the data was ready to go out and present to potential buyers, they found matches and came back with five or six companies that were interested in us. But at that point, it got even more intimidating. You’ve got dinners, presentations, and meetings, and you’re juggling these companies without knowing which is going to be the right fit. FourBridges facilitates all of the scheduling and stress so that you can bring your A-game at every meeting.
Once you decide which offer to accept, the process really starts. The buyer has to take a really deep dive into your business and make sure it’s all you presented it to be. And again, Andy and Andrew were always there through that process to keep the communication going, and not let us or them get stuck or get sidetracked. I just can’t imagine doing all this on your own while still running a business.
How are you spending your time now that you’ve sold your business?
The amazing thing is they wanted me to stay on. I agreed to stay for two years and work as a general manager, which was great for me. I felt committed to making sure people at Dixie were treated right and fairly after the sale. The transition was challenging, but it was great to watch the growth and expansion of Dixie Labels.
The guy who bought the company is a very good businessman, and he’s become a friend and somewhat of a mentor to me. So when our agreement was about to run out, he asked if I would like to stay on to do sales and manage some of my long-standing client relationships.
In all honesty, I expected to move on and find something else to do, but Covid changed all of that. I haven’t felt comfortable jumping into a new business with everything still going on. Instead, I’m just enjoying myself here in sales with my family and friends at Dixie, so it’s a good time.