Selling a small business
Holiday sales are brisk at Hearthside Books’ Nugget Mall store. Co-owner Deb Reifenstein chats with a customer about his family as she rings up a sale.
Reifenstein and Susan Hickey co-founded Hearthside in the summer of 1975. Their first shop was located in the Merchant’s Wharf building in downtown Juneau. It wasn’t too long before they moved to the corner of Franklin and Front Streets. Not long after that, they opened the store in the mall.
Hickey says they’d both been teachers in the Juneau School District before deciding to give the book business a try.
“We came up with this idea: It’d be fun to run our own business for a while,” she says. “We always thought we’d go back to teaching. But we just really enjoyed the creativity involved in owning your own business, being your own boss. It was great. We’ve each raised our children running the stores. The flexibility is there.”
Hickey and Reifenstein are retirement age now. Over the years they’ve discussed selling the business, and finally decided to put Hearthside on the market in February. Reifenstein says it’s time to do something else for a while.
“My husband is retired and he’d like to travel more frequently,” she says. “And I’ve got grandkids in town. So, lots of things on my bucket list to do still.”
Unlike Hickey and Reifenstein, Becca Gaguine is only 28 years old. Just like them, Gaguine’s at a place in her life, where she’s looking to sell her business, B’s Bakery and Bistro. In August, Gaguine gave birth to her first child.
“With the new baby and running a business, I’m not able to take care of it the way that I used to,” Gaguine says. “And I want to make sure B’s is well taken care of, and right now I’m not the person who can do that.”
Gaguine started B’s in 2011, selling sandwiches and cupcakes out of a food cart in front of the state capitol building. A year later, she moved into a small shop on 2nd Street, though her kitchen was still a food truck in the parking lot next door. Earlier this year she ditched the truck and installed a full service kitchen in the shop.
Gaguine wants to find a buyer who can carry on what she started.
“Someone who preferably has some sort of experience,” she says. “And at the very least, a strong passion for, you know, cooking and baking, and people skills.”
Hearthside and B’s are two of a handful of businesses known to be for sale in the Capital City right now. Others include the Southeast Waffle Company in Auke Bay and Rainy Retreat Books downtown.
Ian Grant is assistant state director for the Alaska Small Business Development Center, part of the University of Alaska Anchorage.
“There’s probably other business that aren’t publicly for sale that are also happening right now,” Grant says.
He says businesses – especially small businesses – have life cycle stages. He calls them the think, launch, grow, reinvent and exit stages.
The small business development center works with owners on strategies for each of those stages. For instance, he would help an owner get their books in order and come up with a plan to keep the business running while it is for sale.
“A lot of what becomes overwhelming for businesses that are starting to sell, is that they don’t have a team working with them to do that,” he says. “So when they go to sell the business, a life event happens. And then when you go to sell a business, that life event is taking up your time and it becomes even more difficult to sell if there’s some kind of a downtrend in the business.”
Gaguine says there’s still room for B’s to grow, while Hickey and Reifenstein say Hearthside is as strong as it’s ever been. Besides books, they also sell a fair amount of children’s toys. The Internet has also leveled the playing field for independent book stores competing with big box booksellers.
“There’s a huge resurgence now in the growth in the independent bookstores in this country,” Hickey says. “It’s growing again and it’s really exciting to see.”
Hickey, Reifenstein, and Gaguine say they’re willing to hold out until they find the right buyer. They all say their employees are among the most important considerations when it comes to selling their businesses.
Hickey says Hearthside is looking for someone who lives in Juneau or is willing to relocate. The book store is an active presence in the community, hosting author readings and book signings and selling tickets for concerts and other events. Plus, Hickey says running a small business is a hands-on job.
“I think it would be very difficult to live elsewhere,” she says. “But that’s the fun of it.”
B’s just went on the market and Gaguine says she hasn’t fielded any offers yet. She’s asking $65,000, about what she says she put into the business. Hearthside wouldn’t disclose what they are asking, but Hickey and Reifenstein say all offers are being considered.