Seller Insights: Brent Smith of Southern Lighting Gallery
In 1999, Brent Smith and his partner saw the opportunity to change the Augusta lighting market and opened Southern Lighting Gallery. Brent loves a challenge, and he was inspired by the determination it would take to build a business from the ground up. Over 20 years and two acquisitions later, Southern Lighting Gallery is thriving in both the Augusta and Charleston areas following their sale to Saylite in spring of 2022.
What was it like to be a business owner for over 20 years?
It’s not all fun and games, and you definitely navigate through a lot of challenges. It’s also not all about numbers. You learn to deal with human resources and other challenges. Some situations are really scary, but as long as you don’t give in, fear can be a great motivator. In the long run, you work hard and hard work will overcome a lot of obstacles.
As the owner of SLG, what were some of your greatest accomplishments?
We’ve had some long-term employees – some of them have been here from the start, or joined us shortly after opening. We didn’t experience much turnover, and some people even left for a while and came back to work for us. On the business side, we really have been a market leader. We went through renovations, acquired our rival competitor in Augusta and a showroom in Charleston, and even won some industry awards. So we’re proud of that.
How did you know that it was time for you to sell?
When I was a kid, I really loved a challenge, and certainly growing a business is full of challenges. I eventually ran out of gas, and I wasn’t as motivated as I should have been. I wasn’t doing things as an owner to grow the business or innovate, so I knew it was time to step aside and let someone else take the company where it needs to go.
What were your goals going into the sale?
My main goal was to find a buyer who would take good care of the employees, and I was pretty adamant about leaving things the way they are – if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, you know. Obviously, I also had some financial goals, and I think FourBridges did a great job negotiating the terms of the sale. And they knew I wanted to assist in the transition, so they made it so I could stay on until the end of the year and possibly stay involved in some way after that.
Did you consider selling without an advisor at first? If so, what changed your mind?
We had some people inquiring about buying SLG and kicking the tires, and through that, I saw how much I didn’t really know. I knew I would need assistance to appropriately value the business and to find legitimate buyers who are going to pay a fair price, but I didn’t know how to do that. That’s why I looked to FourBridges for their services.
Is there anything that you wish you knew before you initiated the sale of your business?
Not really, because I knew it was going to be a long and tedious process. I guess I didn’t realize the full extent to which the buyer would be really looking under the hood and digging into my business, but that’s part of the process that you have to accept, and you have to be accommodating to the buyer.
What was the most challenging part of selling your business?
During the sale itself, it was hard to be patient. Navigating through the different offers and due diligence can be frustrating, but as Ralph said, you just have to keep your eye on the prize.
After the closing, I still have a bit of a challenge. Eventually, when I’m gone, there’s going to be a void and I have to figure out how to fill that void. My goal was to free up some of my time, but it’s going to be hard to let go and accept less responsibility. It’s also going to be hard to decide where I’m going to go next, but that’s still kind of far down the road for now.
How did FourBridges guide you through those challenges?
They did a great job preparing me for the sale and letting me know what to expect, and of course, they knew how best to present my data, the market value of my business, and the ins and outs of negotiating an acquisition. They were a great buffer, and I trusted them to look after my best interests. If I had done it alone, the buyer’s agent would only have looked after the buyer’s interests. But FourBridges had my back and got the deal done.
Why did you choose to partner with FourBridges over other firms?
A good friend of mine had sold his business with FourBridges, so I reached out to them. They explained their whole process and led us down a path to success. In a way, it’s a leap of faith, but they did a great job.
Do you have any advice for other business owners who are considering selling their business?
You need to understand the difference between what you think your business is worth and what the market thinks it’s worth. I think FourBridges got us the maximum value, and we didn’t leave any money on the table. So my advice is absolutely to engage the services of someone who’s going to look after you and your best interests so that you’ll get a full, fair price.
Now that Southern Lighting Gallery is sold, what’s your next move?
Part of the reason I sold was that I was ready to be off of a structured schedule and have less of a routine and fewer commitments. It’s going to be nice not to have a schedule for now, but I’m not sure what I’ll do next. I don’t know if I want to start another business or not, but that’s going to be my next challenge in life – just figuring out what I want to do.