Steering to your first business

Crane, Rogers Material Handling

Crane installation, Rogers Material Handling

Mike Petryschuk has the staying power it takes to see through long-term projects.  Take the thousand-plus hours he put in restoring his 1969 Triumph TR6 –a red, white and chrome beauty proudly displayed on his cell phone.  (See before and after pictures of his restoration here.)

Even so, it required all his perseverance to ride out the economic downturn that hit soon after he bought Rogers Material Handling in June 2009.  The Cambridge, Ontario-based business provides sales, service and inspections of cranes, hoists and light rail systems in the Cambridge, Kitchener/Waterloo, Guelph, Stratford, Brantford and surrounding communities in south western Ontario and GTA.

When manufacturing production dropped, so did the industry’s need for new equipment.  “Nobody wanted to buy,” he recalls.  “If an item was at the end of its lifecycle and they could function without it, they didn’t restore or replace it.”

“It was tough.  Five or six of our good customers were forced to close their doors;  their equipment was either liquidated or left unused.”

Rogers Material Handling continued to book on site inspections as these are industry requirements, mandated by OHSA.  If they needed the equipment, then we did the service, says Mike.

The corner has now turned and for the last year, business has been strong, Mike reports.  He’s recently hired a full-time sales person who has “made contributions” and with his new office assistant primed to take over tasks like the scheduling and ordering of parts, he can shift his focus to growing the business.  Mike expects to diversify over the next five to 10 years with other product offerings.

One service he won’t be providing is telecommunications, which he’ll be leaving to “the other Rogers”.  Every so often, a cable subscriber calls Rogers Material Handling upset that “one of their trucks” is ripping up his or her lawn.  The red is a dead giveaway, Mike grins.

Be prepared for detours

Mike Petryschuk enjoys working for himself.  While business ownership was something he explored off and on, it took a couple of false starts and more than one detour before he reached his destination.

A professional engineer, Mike spent most of his career in the chemical industry running manufacturing operations for plants.  The downsizing of the industry in the early 2000s left him seeking new employment options.  Two businesses he was looking at didn’t pan out, so he picked up a job with an entrepreneurial company that promised him equity involvement. Two years later, the owner reneged, and Mike renewed his search for a business, this time with business broker Rob Mitchell, the owner of Sunbelt’s Guelph, Ontario, office.  Just as they got close to a deal, the owner backed out.  Mike secured employment with a waste processing facility in Brantford until they began releasing employees of short tenure.  It was back to Rob again, to pursue the material handling business that Mike had seen advertised locally.  It was a good fit, both agreed.

“When I first started working with Mike – I knew he was an entrepreneur at heart,” says Rob.   “So when we couldn’t negotiate a deal at the first company we worked on together – I was a little surprised when he decided to take a job.   But as it turns out – he called me again in a couple of years and was in the market again to buy a business.  This time we found a company he was interested in and a vendor who was great to work with.”

My experience was mostly in manufacturing, with a bit of sales, says Mike.  “As an operations manager, I ran maintenance so that kind of change didn’t’ worry me.  And it was the right size of business from a purchase point of view.  I knew I didn’t have the patience to start a business from scratch;  this one had an established cash flow.”

“Rob was quite a good rep,” Mike adds.  “He was open and easy to work with, treating both parties fairly and focused on getting a deal.  Lawyers want the deal to be risk free but entrepreneurs know that’s not going to happen.  Rob kept the process moving, helping where it was needed, and in the end, he got it done.”

Tips for buyers

We asked Mike to share with other potential new buyers what he has learned about buying a business.  These are some of his tips:

  • If you can stay away from banks and loans and avoid incurring debt, do so;  the debt will always have to be taken care of first.
  • Follow your dreams.  If you think you can do it and you want to do it, proceed with it.
  • Make sure your plan is sound. Hope for the best but plan for the worst.
  • Be prepared to spend some long hours in the early years.
  • Do your due diligence.  Don’t be afraid to hire a professional; you don’t want a bad debt or other surprises to turn up later.

By Karen Runtz

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