Small Company Growth Trends

The median sales of a company going public has gone from an average $15 million in 1999 and 2000 to $164 million in 2004.  Smaller companies have decided not to go public as often as in years past, and they reap the quick – and cheap – money as a result of that decision.  The question is “why?”

A company with only $15 million in annual revenues would most likely not want to have an IPO and absorb all of the attendant costs and the on-going fees related to going public.  They also would not want to have to spend the money necessary to comply with the Sarbanes-Oxley regulations.  Smaller companies have to pay a hefty price to go public – and remain public.  In fact, a recent Business Week article reported that “Bankers expect a record number of U.S. companies to go private this year, topping last year’s 86.”

Many CEOs, in order to rapidly grow their businesses, merge or acquire other companies.  However, many of these do not work out and the acquired entities eventually get sold off.  But as long as mergers and acquisitions are in vogue, large companies will acquire smaller ones in an effort to grow as rapidly as possible.  Therefore, many smaller companies that won’t go public because of the costs and subsequent compliance issues will be absorbed by larger companies.

The trend today, at least in manufacturing, is to provide complementary services.  For example, General Electric manufactures aircraft engines and medical equipment, but they also provide financing and maintenance services for the things that they manufacture.  These ancillary, but complementary, services are big profit makers.  Small service companies that provide these services may be excellent acquisition targets for manufacturers.  If smaller companies want to grow, adding complementary services such as GE does may be the best way.

On the flip side, many large companies are divesting themselves of companies that don’t fit into their core strategy.  For example, McDonald’s purchased Boston Market and several other food franchises in an effort to continue their growth. McDonald’s discovered that they were much better off focusing on their core business than they were trying to grow new concepts.  It is believed that these other franchises will be sold or they may already have been.  Smaller companies may want to divest themselves of products or services that aren’t complementary to their core business.

Some companies have almost reinvented themselves by adding new, more profitable, and “sexier” services or products.  This can increase the value of the company.  Smaller companies, because of their size and the fact that they usually have one manager, can shift quickly.  They can get rid of products or services that don’t generate commensurate profits, or add new products or services that can add to profits, much more quickly and efficiently than their larger counterparts.

Small companies, at least for the short term, will not be likely to go public, will be able to shift gears quickly to improve profits, but may also become acquisition targets by larger companies.