For KLC Financial, a Minnetonka-based organization providing specialized lease solutions to commercial businesses and vendors, relationships and integrity have always come first. They knew, when it came time for them to look outside the company for an acquisition partner for their growing business, that finding the right partner – and the right legal team to guide them through the process – was crucially important.
We sat down with Founder Marc Keepman and CEO Spencer Thomas to learn more about the process of being acquired by Gulf Coast Bank and Trust and how Avisen’s Todd Taylor helped them prepare for and navigate the sale itself.
What inspired you to found KLC Financial and what sets KLC apart from other financial institutions?
Marc: I started KLC back in 1987. In fact, we just passed our actual anniversary date, so it’s officially been 35 years in business. Then, Spencer joined me 21 years ago and that’s when we really took off and started to build the company up.
The inspiration, for me, was wanting to have my own company. I wanted to run it the way I thought it should be run, to make it a good place for people to work, and to be known in our industry for our ability to get things done.
Spencer: As for what sets KLC apart and makes us a special place, first and foremost it’s the relationships. We’re a people-centric business. That includes our team, our customers, and our stakeholders. We’re focused on building relationships with the right people. We’ve got the right people in the right seats in all areas.
Additionally, it’s our service. Providing high quality service to our customers, partners and to our team. It’s important to us that we deliver a solution-based approach – not just a product.
Marc: Spencer and I have both been part of companies in the past where it wasn’t that way – where the most important things are the owners and what they get out of it. We purposefully took a different approach and wanted to be inclusive. You could say we evened the playing ground to give everyone an opportunity to succeed as part of KLC. We think that makes it a better experience for everyone.
How would you describe the work KLC does?
Spencer: We provide flexible equipment financing solutions to the small and medium-sized business market. We do that with a platform of being competitive and efficient. Having good people, efficient processes, and providing quality service really is our competitive advantage.
When I think about that question, I think back to all the small businesses we’ve helped get started and grow. We get to work with entrepreneurs who have a dream and we help them get the equipment and capital they need to move down that path toward realizing their dream. That’s the special part of what we do. It’s making an impact on so many people’s lives.
Marc: We also created core values with our management team. The core values are being creative, innovate. We act with care. We are passionate and driven to win. We are resilient and persistent, and we make dreams happen. We did this with the Entrepreneurial Operating System, which helped us link these values up with our business goals and our strategy to get there. It was also important to us to get buy-in from our whole management group, which we did.
Spencer: These are values that we’ve thought through, we live by, we do business by, and we hire by.
What have been some of the highlights of watching KLC Financial grow over the past 35 years?
Marc: One of the big ones for me has been seeing people come in to the business fairly young – Spencer was only in his 20s – and to see them grow. To watch them mature and grow as human beings, into adults, husbands and wives, parents, on top of their growth with the company.
Family is really important to me. On top of that, I think we encourage people to find their values and pursue them. It’s been great to watch people grow, the success rate has been enormous.
Spencer: It’s also been fun to watch our business and our clients’ businesses grow. We set a plan for the company back in 2016 to take on a new growth-oriented strategy in order expand. It involved new systems, streamlined processes, new technology, and new capital. I have enjoyed the challenge of executing through that initiative while continuing to hit our new milestones.
Marc: Making this change was a big investment on our part, in time and money. It was a realignment of investment, really. We decided to invest strongly in technology and how it can be used to capture data from the whole organization and provide feedback to our employees at all levels. It’s helped us give support when it’s needed and to find efficiencies we didn’t know existed. We essentially started using the same tools that companies who are much larger than us use. It’s helped us leverage our strengths. We kept the same people, we just learned how to use new tools. We went big and it’s worked out.
What was the process of looking for potential acquiring partners like?
Marc: Ten years ago, we had people tell us they were interested and we didn’t really want to pursue it at that time. Then, more recently, people continued to tell us they were interested in investing in or buying the company. This time, we took it more seriously. As we grew, we knew we would need more capital and I was looking for ways to retire while leaving the company in good shape.
We were contacted by a bank over a year ago. We went down the road with them to see if it would make sense and decided for a number of reasons that it didn’t. But it showed us what we needed to adjust about our way of doing business and reporting on that business. When the next opportunity came along, we were more prepared. On top of that, they were the right people for us to work with. It just fit well from the beginning and all the way through. It worked well for everybody.
Spencer: When we took on this growth strategy, part of that included preparing ourselves for a possible acquisition, significant credit facilities, or capital investment. That meant adopting updated best practices, as well as getting our internal affairs in order and documented, so we would be in the best position to bring in capital as opportunities arose. It was really helpful to have done that.
I give Todd Taylor from Avisen credit for helping steer us in that direction so that when the opportunity came along, we were in the right position to pursue it. We looked at what we would need to do to be ready for this type of chance – adapt to new technology, bring in new people, find new customers – and we did that. We still needed to find capital and we were fortunate to have a company we know reach out and express interest. Because of that prep work, we were able to move quickly and secure the opportunity.
Marc: Relationships are very important to us. Whether it’s with our employees, customers, banks, vendors, everybody really. We knew the people from Gulf Coast Bank and Trust for 20+ years, so we had a friendship and business relationship, with understanding and trust in each other, which I think gave us a firm foundation to start the acquisition process.
How important was it for you to find the right acquisition partner for KLC?
Spencer: It was paramount, it was easily the most important thing.
Marc: I totally agree. We talked to other people who we didn’t move forward with because it didn’t feel right. This time it did. They came through with what they said they would every step of the way.
Spencer: What’s cool is, a few months after acquisition, we’re still keeping momentum and we have been able to keep almost the entire team together. We’re continuing to move forward with the goals we had set prior to acquisition. Gulf Coast Bank and Trust has been extremely supportive. I think now about how important that was, because it could have been so different. It’s easy to not realize how important finding the right acquisition partner is. We were really fortunate, lucky, and blessed to get it right.
How did you meet Todd Taylor from Avisen Legal?
Spencer: I met Todd because we have children the same age. I think our daughters were on the same soccer team ten or so years ago. We met, stayed in touch, and built a good relationship. It was always friendship first, but he’s such a great resource. I can call that guy any time of the day, any day of the week and he always has a few minutes to listen and give sage advice. That led to the business relationship.
I had a someone ask me yesterday “what’s the secret, how am I going to be successful?” And I said, “Look, it’s about relationships first, then passion and hard work.” Everyone at KLC and everyone we’ve worked with at Avisen has those three things.
Marc: You have to pick good partners. People like Todd have a high degree of integrity. It’s great when you can start as a friend, become business partners, remain friends, and continue to do business together down the road. We’re finding the same thing with Gulf Coast Bank and Trust. We started as friends and associates 20 years ago, and that grew into a strong relationship.
How did Todd and the Avisen team help KLC prior to and throughout the acquisition process?
Spencer: Todd and the whole team, as we built the company, they’ve been available and helped us with all types of corporate legal work. They’ve always gave good advice that we did our best to follow it. They really helped us get our house in order so we were in a good place, legally-speaking, for the acquisition.
Todd was extremely involved throughout the sale process. As entrepreneurs and business people, there are things we’re good at and things we aren’t. Certainly, legal work is complicated, so having their Mergers & Acquisition experience was really important.
Marc: Todd said at the beginning this is going to be a lot of work, but I want you to know I’m taking care of you and I’ll make sure you understand everything along the way. And I think he came through with everything in that category. Like Spencer said, we could call him any time and he’d answer questions and get right on it.
Plus, for the amount of work they did, it was a very fair deal. We’re so happy with the work done. We’re definitely happy customers.
Spencer. We feel very confident that, with Avisen’s help, we’re in a good spot.
What excites you the most about this new partnership with Gulf Coast Bank and Trust Company?
Spencer: It goes back to the people. They’re a high quality, talented group of business people. It’s been a pleasure to get to know them, and I’m excited to get to know the rest of their team as we move ahead. The plan was never to find an acquirer and be done. The plan was to grow and expand, to find more opportunities for our people, partners, and new customers. I’m excited to realize that plan and those goals. We’re really well positioned now to continue to move forward in a meaningful way. It’s going to be a fun ride.
Marc: I think our confidence level in having our team essentially in their employ now feels even better now than when we put the deal together. We’ve certainly entrusted things to the right people. It’s a good feeling, being able to sleep at night knowing things are in the right hands.
What advice do you have for other business owners looking for legal guidance when it comes to mergers and acquisitions?
Marc: Find and hire a good attorney team, of course. If we were to do this all over again, we’d use the team from Avisen again. We know how each other operate. They’re very capable, trustworthy people. They say what they’re going to do, and they do what they say. It’s worth spending money to get good advice and protective services. If you’re looking at doing this, do it the right way. Don’t pull up short on not getting good representation.
Spencer: On top of that, I’d say get Avisen involved early — way before you think. When you very first have the thought that you might entertain acquisition offers, that’s the time to reach out to your attorney. Get organized. Be proactive. Spend the money to do it right. You don’t miss an opportunity because you’re not ready.