As retirement loomed, Casey Thomas knew he would eventually have to sell his animal hospital of more than 30 years. He spent seven years preparing to sell his business without an inkling of who would actually buy the Junction City, Kan., veterinary practice.
“My wife and I knew we were entering the latter days of my practice,” Thomas said, “and we knew we wanted to keep the business strong until we sold it.” They updated equipment and technology, modernized procedures and capabilities, all in preparation for a mystery successor.
But Thomas didn’t make his desire to retire known until he received a postcard from the University of Kansas RedTire Program. “It was exactly what we were looking for — exactly what we needed at the right time,” he said.
After months of due diligence and negotiations, RedTire brokered its first official match, February 2014, closing the sale of Flint Hills Veterinary Hospital, to Julie Ebert, Kansas State University alumna and fellow doctor of veterinary medicine.
“Vets are well trained in medicine and surgery and, to a certain extent, business management,” Thomas said, “but most of us rarely sell a practice until we’re ready to retire.” RedTire provided not only an introduction to a willing buyer, but also gave Thomas a structure to begin negotiations, he said.
The Redefining Retirement program, known as RedTire, matches graduates of Kansas Regents institutions with business owners who are looking for a successor. The initiative, operated by the KU School of Business and its Center for Entrepreneurship, focuses on small- and medium-sized businesses in rural Kansas.
“You hope that when you nurture a business for 30 years, you’ll find a successor who will come in and provide clients the level of care that they’re used to, and I’m sure Dr. Ebert will do that,” Thomas said.
RedTire addresses a major challenge for small businesses in rural America by matching businesses needing replacement management with qualified candidates. The program helps both parties navigate the transaction and provides business counseling as new owners grow the business and create jobs.
“We are overjoyed by the completion of RedTire’s inaugural transaction,” said Wally Meyer, director of KU’s entrepreneurship programs. “Flint Hills Veterinary Hospital provides an essential service to the Junction City and Manhattan communities and we’re thrilled to provide support for these veterinarians so they can realize their respective goals of retirement and business ownership.”
Thomas said RedTire played a critical role in making the transaction happen. “RedTire took us from a place where we didn’t know each other, didn’t know much about the sale, to where we were ready to make the agreement formal,” Thomas said. “I truly believe that, without RedTire, this deal would have never happened.”
“As a public institution, we are committed to the growth of Kansas,” said Neeli Bendapudi, dean of the KU School of Business. “As a business school, we are proud to find private sector solutions to social challenges. RedTire typifies entrepreneurship in action.”
RedTire is currently assisting 20 business owners as they seek new ownership to preserve their businesses in communities across Kansas. The program is a free service and is financed by the KU School of Business and a grant from the Economic Development Administration. Since launching in 2012, RedTire has been called a “national model” for addressing rural small business succession planning by Forbes.
Thomas has simple advice to other small business owners looking to RedTire for succession planning: “Build a healthy practice and you’ll have a healthy sale.”
For more information, visit RedTire.
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