The personal touch

Mergers and acquisitions firm focuses on discretion, integrity and face-to-face meetings with their dealer clients.

When it comes time to sell, a dealer principal wants to be assured he or she is dealing with a firm that understands them, will act on their behalf with discretion and integrity, while getting the maximum value for their store. Many buyers value that approach too.

Mergers and acquisitions firm Templeton Marsh says it does just that — partly because they really do understand what it’s like to be a car dealer.

Samir Akhavan, the company’s Co-Founder and Managing Partner, has been a dealer principal himself for more than two decades, and has more than 40 years experience in the auto retail industry. Akhavan bought Town and Country BMW in 1978, and in 1994 when he sold it as the Town and Country Group, it had grown to be one of Ontario’s largest auto groups.

In an interview, Akhavan said one of the things that sets his firm apart from others is their ability to keep deals confidential. “One of the things that fundamentally differentiates us is our extreme and almost paranoid insistence on discretion,” said Akhavan. “Integrity and discretion are very important to our business. It will take you 35-40 years to build a reputation and one conversation, one deal to totally screw it up. And we don’t want to do that — and we haven’t done that.”

He said if you visit the company’s website you won’t see a listing of any of the dealerships they have for sale. “The reason we don’t do that is because in my experience, dealers who are looking at potential lists can sometimes put two and two together,” he said.

That can pose a number of challenges for the selling dealer, including having other dealers call the store to try to lure key employees to their dealerships. “So by not having anyone know what we are doing, there is zero chance of poaching,” he said. “Our obsession about discretion and being tight-lipped has actually
done well for us.”

The company also doesn’t advertise when it makes a sale. “Our view is that if a selling dealer wants to let people know he’s sold, he will tell people and they’ll know. And if he wants to ride into the sunset quietly and doesn’t want to tell anyone —  then it’s not our place to tell people.”

Akhavan said before the company agrees to represent a seller, a member of their team will visit the dealership and get to know them better. This has taken Akhavan to far-flung places like Elliot Lake, North Battleford Saskatchewan, Thompson Manitoba and all parts in between.

“We will go there because that’s where our clients are, and that is where we get to meet them, get to know them and understand their business,” he said. “It is going to be difficult marketing a dealership if you’ve never seen it, if you’ve never met with your clients, if you haven’t had that personal face-to-face interaction over a cup of coffee or a hamburger.”

Once they get a feel for the opportunity, in consultation with their clients, they come up with a list of two to three buyers that they consider the best fit. “We take the deal to those buyers, and in the years that I’ve been doing this, with the exception of one deal where the OEM exercised their right of first refusal, we’ve actually closed every deal that we’ve done.”

He said that’s because the firm knows what they are doing, but more importantly they know what certain buyers are looking for. That’s because they constantly talk with them and ask them things like: Which brands fit your current portfolio? Which brands don’t? Where do you want to grow? How do you want to grow? What are you looking for in your next acquisition?

Akhavan said the smaller size of their firm allows them to customize their approach, and be a lot more nimble and able to adjust and adapt. “I take a very hands-on approach with my partners. I get involved in almost every deal.”

The firm also has a reputation for telling it like it is. “We take pride in telling our clients what needs to be said — not what they want to hear,” said Akhavan, relaying a recent story where he turned down a client’s offer to sell their store because he advised them it would be worth a lot more in a couple of years. He said when he returned home a few hours later he got a call from the dealer saying: “Samir, thank you. I appreciate the candor. I appreciate the approach you took to handling our business and our request to sell.”

Templeton Marsh has been operating across Canada for more than 12 years, and collectively their team has managed more than 100 buy/sell deals with more than $850 million dollars in total acquisition value.


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