Selling Aquascape

I began discussions with a publicly traded company, with almost a billion dollars in sales, to acquire Aquascape. Although I have always said I had no desire to sell my baby, I felt I might as well hear what they were saying. They are loosely related to the water feature industry and told me straight out that their only interest of entering our market is if they could acquire us. Their roll-up strategy is to acquire the top player in an industry or no one at all. They had the cash and they wanted to know if I was interested. The year was 2006, I told them thanks, but no thanks. The next year our sales peaked. Had I sold at anywhere close to the numbers we had discussed, multiple managers could have become millionaires and I would have been set for life.

Mistakes happen and opportunities get missed. There is no such thing as a rewind button in life and we aren’t born with crystal balls. But if I could go back to the year 2005, the year we moved into Aqualand, with the hindsight that I now possess here is what I would tell myself. “That building you dreamed so much about and you have just moved into doesn’t have the right bracing. A big storm is going to come and knock Aqualand down in 2011 so you might want to fix that!” Then I would tell my wide-eyed naïve self that “the economy is going to collapse and everything you worked so hard to create would be on the verge of collapsing with it. Don’t wait so long to make the hard choices; you’re going to have to make them anyway so get to it!”

Finally I would say to myself “you made the right decision not to sell the company.” If I had heard my slightly older, much wiser self tell me those things back in 2006 here’s what I would have avoided. Seeing my roof collapse, complete bewilderment, along with a lot of other people regarding what was going on in the economy, and subsequently my business and most importantly validation that selling to a large, impersonal, corporation was not the best choice for me, our people, or the industry.

The last five years have been anything but easy. But it’s because they have been so hard that they have also been so rewarding. First and foremost I see a Senior Management team that’s been forged by fire. We are infinitely stronger today, from a leadership perspective, then when the waters were calm. And as for the rest of the teammates on the bus, they are in the right seats doing the right things even if that means doing more with less than they did before. Those rotten apples that we really didn’t know how rotten they were when skies were blue, have long ago been tossed out of the barrel. Finally, every single new hire, to a person, has been the right piece to the puzzle making our team stronger, closer, and more effective today with just over half the people we had when “things were good.” Simply put, had we not gone through what we went through, we wouldn’t be where we are today.

Where we are at today is we are still in business, still the most innovative and certainly passionate company left in the water feature industry. Many competitors are gone and many more that are left aren’t “Fit for the Fight.” Aquascape came close to joining them. Had I cashed out I might be sitting bored on a boat somewhere but Aquascape, my baby, would exist no more. That large publically traded company that was on a buying spree in the mid-2000s was on a selling spree the last few years.

Maybe I could have bought it back for pennies on the dollar after the aftermath. But what I would have been buying was the tools, molds, and products, not the people I rely on so much today. Instead, I’d rather look at the rejection of a big buy-out in 2006 as an investment into the people, our company, and an industry that is going to pay far bigger dividends in the long haul. Take the money and run might be some people’s motto. As for me and my team, we are going to keep running to our big, hairy, audacious goals for Aquascape and the industry we love.

Hope you do the same!