than 30 years ago, William Ward Wicht spearheaded the founding of
The University of Southern Mississippi's award-winning All-American
Rose Garden, an icon of the university's Hattiesburg campus that
draws admiring visitors year-round.
Today, Wicht's grandson, William Ward Wicht III, hopes
to do for small business in South Mississippi what his grandfather
did for roses - help it grow and blossom.
The younger Wicht, a Hattiesburg native and a resident
of Ocean Springs, opened his own franchise of Sunbelt Business Advisors
two years ago, which has offices worldwide and now in Hattiesburg
and Ocean Springs. Sunbelt offers services to those interested in
selling their business or in owning their own company by providing
them opportunities to take over an existing business. The company
also values businesses and handles the complete sale transaction
from start to finish
Wicht believes South Mississippi is one of the best
places in the nation for small business development and the area
provides a plethora of opportunities for him to do what he enjoys
- help people achieve the goal of owning their own small business.
"It (small business) drives America," Wicht
said. "A small business can grow faster than a big business,
because it has fewer obstacles for development."
Wicht learned the values that make any business, small
or large, a success from his late grandfather, who served as president
of the Hattiesburg Rose Society when the rose garden at Southern
Miss took shape. The elder Wicht was also a business owner, with
a variety of interests that included beekeeping, a roofing company
and an insulation company, known locally as Wicht Insulation.
More and more people are examining the possibilities
of owning their own small business as a way to maximize their earning
potential and as a shield against the effects of outsourcing and
uncertain economic conditions that have harmed larger businesses,
as well as the movement of many other industries overseas, he said.
"When the (national) economy falters, small business
is what picks it up. It can be a shelter and haven (economically)
and more and more people are taking advantage of the opportunity."
Dr. Harold Doty, dean of The University of Southern
Mississippi College of Business said a firm like Sunbelt that provides
opportunities for small business growth can help the state through
lean economic times. "A real advantage for Mississippi with
this type of service is that small business and entrepreneurial
activity is a primary source of economic development and growth,
and can help lead our state out of problems like our current state
budget crisis," Doty said.
One of the keys to making South Mississippi fertile
for small business is Southern Miss, where Wicht attended college.
He also earned degrees in international business and engineering
from Auburn University and Mississippi State University, respectively.
"(Southern Miss) is an economic engine not only
for Hattiesburg but South Mississippi," Wicht said. "In
addition to providing resources and expertise from its faculty and
students in the College of Business, the university as a whole also
adds to the quality of life in our region through its cultural and
educational offerings, and helps make it a great place to live and
Owning a small business can also help a person achieve
his or her earning potential as opposed to working for someone else.
"When you work for someone else, often you hit an artificial
(earning) ceiling or salary cap," Wicht said. "No matter
how much harder you may work, you can't go further. Owning your
own business allows you to have more control over those factors."
Founded in 1979, Sunbelt is the largest business brokerage
in the United States. The company has approximately 360 offices
and more than $1 billion in transaction values annually. Wicht's
offices handle transactions of businesses with annual sales ranging
from $100,000 to $50 million.
Sunbelt provides an information bank of potential
acquisitions and education for new business owners, as well as assisting
in finding financing for the purchase, among other services. "We
work with a lot of first-time buyers and entrepreneurs who need
assistance from professionals through the process," Wicht said.
The company also helps educate potential entrepreneurs
about the myths about starting or purchasing a business, including
what Wicht said is the false notion that the full asking price of
the business has to be paid up front, or that the asking price is
Wicht encourages buyers to learn the seller's motivation
for putting their business up for sale and determine if it's a viable
investment. "It's important to understand that--to test them
up front about why they want to sell," he said. "Get into
the (financial) books of the company. See if it can support you
and your family."
For those who want to sell a business, Wicht encourages
them to consider helping finance the purchase. "That tells
the buyer that they believe in the success of their business."
Hattiesburg businessman Chris Happ took advantage
of Sunbelt's services when he sold one of his restaurants, Cane
Creek, so he could devote more time to his family and his other
restaurant, Chesterfield's, a longtime favorite among area residents.
"I wanted to spend more time with my kids and
devote more of my energy to Chesterfield's, plus I had begun building
a new house," Happ said. "They (Sunbelt) do a really good
job, and the whole process went rather quick."
Happ said Wicht and his associates were professional
and handled a majority of the details of the transaction, including
providing information for potential buyers in a confidential manner
to prevent any rumors that Cane Creek was closing. "It was
more of a situation where they met with the people (who wanted to
purchase Cane Creek) and they took care of everything. They just
called me a couple of times with questions. I had listed it with
someone else, but nothing came of that, and then I got a recommendation
for them (Sunbelt) and that worked out real well. They were just
Jennifer Larson was ready to pursue new professional
interests this past summer, but had mixed emotions about giving
up the popular Gulf Coast restaurant that she and her business partner,
Patty Jenkins, started 15 years ago.
Larson and Jenkins opened Toucan's Mostly Mexican
Café on U.S. 49 in Gulfport in 1989, and over the years enjoyed
a healthy business and a loyal clientele, including Pine Belt residents
traveling home from visiting the Gulf Coast. And although they were
ready to make a break from the restaurant business, a strong sense
of attachment to the eatery made the decision difficult for fear
it would close forever.
"We didn't want to see it go away," Larson
said of Toucan's. "It was like our child. We wondered, 'What
would we do?'"
A call from Sunbelt Business Advisors intermediary
Ben Bulot inquiring if Larson would be interested in selling Toucan's
provided an opportunity to turn the restaurant over to someone looking
to own their own business and still keep the cafe open.
The reasons business owners sell vary from customer
to customer, Wicht said. "We help a lot of people who want
to retire, and on occasion, we have people who want to sell because
of illness, divorce, or who need to cash out the value of their
company. Others may be seeking an investor to help them grow their
business, or like in the case of Chris (Happ) may want to spend
more time with their family and concentrate on one of their other
Often Wicht and his associates work with clients with
an emotional attachment to the business that they began from the
ground up. As Larson and Jenkins indicated, making the break can
be difficult. However, finding a new owner can mean an improvement
in the company if the buyer has more resources to grow the business,
or in the case of Toucan's, keeps a well-known venue from closing.
"It's like sending your child off to college,
when you've raised your business from nothing to something and then
decide you want or need to sell it," Wicht said. "But
sometimes it turns out better for the company to divest."
Larson said Sunbelt and its staff helped her and Jenkins
match the restaurant with a suitable owner by screening potential
prospects, allowing her to solicit a buyer confidentially without
putting a 'for sale' sign out or advertising.
Openly advertising the restaurant could have disrupted
its day-to-day operation and unnecessarily upset loyal customers,
Larson and Wicht said.
"I was very happy with their service," Larson
said. "They also sent information about it (Toucan's) to the
local Gulf Coast Restaurant Association publication (without revealing
the name) which kept people from calling the restaurant to 'tire
kick' it or just to shop around."
The transaction allowed both Larson and Jenkins to
determine the best fit, through Sunbelt's screening of qualified
buyers, before disclosing a financial statement about the restaurant.
Kevin Moore, who purchased Toucan's, said the major
advantage of using Sunbelt was that it gave him an opportunity to
acquire a business that was already up and running, allowing an
entrepreneur like himself to know what he was getting into rather
than starting a business from scratch.
Moore said the transaction was a smooth one, and he
felt that the commission he paid was well worth the cost. "They
gathered the information I needed to make the purchase on a timely
basis and were very professional," he said.
With any transaction between buyer and seller, Wicht's
primary goal is customer satisfaction on both sides. "We like
to see win-win situations."