Same Business—New Owner

Four business owners reveal what it takes to purchase an existing enterprise and bring it to new heights.

Starting a company is always risky business. Buying an established company? We asked these five business owners about the ups and downs of buying someone else’s business.

Corporate Audio Visual Services, Elmsford
Founded in 1985.
Purchased in 2006 by Joe Guilderson

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How did you come to own an audiovisual company?
When my wife and I moved from Boston to Westchester, I began working for Corporate Audio Visual’s founder, Lou Mazza, whom my wife’s father knew. We clicked, and he was looking to retire, so I was the right person in the right place at the right time.

How did you finance the purchase?
It was all personal funds.

What changes have you made to the business?
The company has always focused on providing high-quality audiovisual services for corporations. When I took over, we began targeting event-planning companies and fundraising organizations, which produce larger-scale events. Our usual crowd now is three hundred to four hundred people. We branched out into different technology offerings, too—we added high-definition video capability, line array speaker systems, and LED lighting technology. We also now do ‘permanent installations’—installing plasma screens, videoconferencing, and microphone capabilities in corporate conference rooms. We’ve also begun doing maintenance and repair services for audiovisual equipment.

Did these changes boost business?
It is about thirty percent greater than it was in 2006. We were up as much as fifty to seventy-five percent before the economy tanked. We’ve grown from seven full-time employees to eleven, and we just opened a Boston office.

What challenges did you face in taking over the business?
Cash flow, of course. Personally, I had to overcome my lack of technical knowledge and get used to a new role. As CEO, you have to be the bad guy sometimes.

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Anything easier than you expected?
The decision to keep the company’s name. Name recognition was the number-one thing we had, so I knew there was no way we would change that.

Topps Bakery, Bronxville
Founded (circa) 1927.
Purchased in 2006 by Heath and Jacqueline Lachman

How did you come to be owners of Topps Bakery?
Our neighbor’s daughters worked there, and one day they told us the owner wanted to sell. The next day, we had a meeting with the broker handling the sale, and five days later we owned the bakery.

How was the bakery faring at the time?
It was in decline. Another bakery in Bronxville had recently closed, and Stew Leonard’s and Costco had just come into the area.

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What did you keep? Change?
Most of our kitchen employees are the same; we have bakers who have worked here for fifteen years. And the original recipes have all stayed. But we renovated the entire space, added a line of candy and gifts, and replaced outdated equipment.

Any aspects of the business take you by surprise?
We were blindsided by how many ‘hats’ you have to wear. We did not expect to spend so much time on HR, for example —hiring, payroll, paperwork, etc.

Any advice for those thinking of purchasing a business?
Be budget-conscious. You have to make hard decisions about whether or not it makes sense to spend the money.

Westchester Skating Academy, Elmsford
Founded in 1996.
Purchased in 2006 by Shane Coppola, now CEO of American Skating Entertainment Centers, which owns 12 other rinks

What made this a good business to purchase?
I liked Westchester Skating Academy as a customer—my kids went there for hockey and skating—and that is always the number-one consideration for any business: are the customers happy? Also, the company has a good geographic location with access to major roadways in a densely populated area, and the right demographics for hockey and skating.

How did you finance the deal?
A combination of financing and personal money. The previous owners had some remaining bank debt—we took that over and used equity for the balance.

What changes have you made?
We’ve put in place a rigorous budgeting process and added some specific systems and processes. Physically, we’ve changed everything from installing new floors to upgrading locker rooms. My wife also added programs such as our mini camp for three- to eight-year-olds. The mini camp attracts kids who aren’t yet into hockey or skating—a great marketing program.

What stayed the same?
All of the key employees. That consistency is key to the rink’s success.

Any advice for other would-be business owners?
Don’t be afraid to pull the trigger. I probably knew about half as much as I should have to purchase this business.

Salem Wine & Liquors South Salem
Founded 30+ years ago.
Purchased in 2008 by Elyse Saber-Goldstein’s family.

What made you want to purchase a wine store?
I have an extensive background in retail—my family owned one of the community’s biggest hardware stores in the city, I run another business of my own, and I’ve always been focused on service. Salem Wine & Liquors was a wonderful little store, and we wanted to continue it, but in an upgraded fashion.

How did you upgrade it?
We added many lines of wine and liquor to our offerings, made the interior more warm and welcoming, and began doing wine-tastings and events. We actually started a ‘Recession Busters’ section of low-priced wines about a year ago, and it’s been very popular.

How did you finance the purchase?
We used family equity.

What challenges did you face?
Not as many as I expected, honestly. We started off making very little money, but it’s gotten better and better

Future plans?
We want to be the new Zachys.

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