Oak Park company took time to vet before selling to PE

Originally published in Crain’s Detroit Business October 11, 2015.

Before selling to a private equity firm, Mopec Inc. co-owner Rick Bell made sure he did his homework first.

“There are so many private equity groups out there, you have to be careful that they’re well-funded and are who they say they are,” said Bell.

Mopec is an Oak Park-based maker of pathology and mortuary equipment. The company provides items such as body trays, autopsy saws and bone-cutting instruments. Bell and fellow co-owner George Hallman founded it in 1992.

As the company grew, it became harder to manage and support.

Bell and Hallman began thinking about selling, but they didn’t want to do it carelessly.

“The business grew beyond our capabilities, and we weren’t willing to grow and invest in new technologies,” said Bell.

“It was time to pass the company on to somebody who had grander visions and can run a larger corporation.”

At the time of the sale, Mopec had about 80 employees and a network of over 40 different independent representatives to whom the company delivered equipment and supplies.

“It was a tremendous responsibility,” said Bell. “The reps were counting on us all the time to perform at a high level.”

Bell also said managing many employees was difficult, especially when it came to demoting or firing.

“I didn’t want to be the person that affects somebody’s life like that,” said Bell. “In order to run a larger corporation, you have to be able to make tough decisions and not let your personal emotions stop you.”

Through the help of Mopec’s CPA, Bell and Hallman hired NuVescor Group LLC, a Grand Rapids-based brokerage firm, to help vet buyers.

“A business broker will give you realistic numbers and offer suggestions on how to get the maximum value for your business,” said Bell. “Everyone thinks their business is worth more than it actually is.”

Although Mopec was getting a lot of offers, Bell wanted to find a Michigan-based company that wouldn’t move the plant.

He also investigated how private equity firms treated employees by calling and interviewing companies bought by private equity groups.

After about a year, they found Grand Rapids-based Blackford Capital LLC. Bell and Hallman chose the firm because of its Michigan Prosperity Fund, which promotes its aims to protect and create Michigan jobs.

“Blackford seemed to be committed to growing the company,” said Bell. “They had some experience in the medical industry and had a large portfolio.”

In 2013, Mopec sold to Blackford. The sale price wasn’t disclosed but was under $20 million. It took about six months of negotiations to finalize the all-cash deal.

“I strongly recommend having very clear, concise contracts with people you’re selling to,” said Bell.

Initially, Bell and Hallman were to stay at Mopec and manage the company. They later decided to have Blackford bring in their managers and fully acquire the company.

“We would have been employees at Blackford,” said Bell. “I’m happy the way it worked out, instead of having to work for somebody else when you worked for yourself all these years.”

Bell said Blackford spent a lot of time investigating Mopec as well. The process went more smoothly for both parties because Mopec was up-front about its finances and had no debt or other surprises for Blackford.

“If I did it again, I’d be more prepared for an emotional roller coaster,” said Bell.

“Your company is your creation. It’s very difficult to let go.”