A recipe for growth
Chef Low Cal (CLC) is a pre-revenue, startup that has invented a natural zero-calorie flour substitute which can be used in place of up to 70% of a recipe’s flour requirement.
Chef Low Cal was started by co-founders with little food industry experience, but with a mission to develop a great-tasting diet bread. Maven was introduced to CLC thru an investor connected to a Bain alumni. Maven was engaged to help CLC develop a road map for success. Recognizing that the business lacked sufficient funding to take on a project of this size combined with the promising and interesting nature of the business, Maven proposed to conduct the work for a mix of equity and cash.
The roadmap for success addressed a wide range of questions for how CLC should proceed:
- What business should CLC be in? Ingredient supplier to bakeries, licensor of technology to bakeries, or a CPG bread brand?
- Which markets are the most attractive and how should we sequence an approach to each market? The bread market is quite diverse and the technology also applied to pasta, pet foods, and a variety of other food products.
- Within the priority markets, which companies should be the focus of business development? Differences in product line and approach to product development made some companies a better fit for the CLC product.
- What should a business development process look like? How do you get a new ingredient introduced into the product development process?
- What resources (people and capital) will CLC need to execute the go-forward strategy?
This project is ongoing, but initial steps have been taken to build CLC’s long-term success including the hiring of an expert in food technology science as well as an independent evaluation of the product. The information from the third-party laboratory will help the team to develop a strong pitch for seed investors as well as a go-to-market plan.
Maven Associates works on projects of various sizes and complexities, but in all of them, it works closely with the management team to chart an exciting path forward.
A rugged strategy and value improvement project
BOH, established in 1998 and based in Fort Worth, TX, manufactures and distributes durable shipping containers with secure interior storage units. The shipping containers are used for moving/storing various parts, tools and equipment during military deployments around the globe. BOH containers are shipped via ground, sea or air and enable military units to deploy on short notice and be up and operational quickly.
BOH is well-respected and its rugged, mobile, customizable storage systems are considered essential for Army installations all around the world. However, as the future of war shifts, BOH wanted to ensure it would grow and develop products to meet future military needs.
Having worked with its investment firm, Anchor Partners, on a previous project, Maven was engaged to help assess organic growth and potential acquisitions. The Maven team was able to hit the ground running based on its past experience with this company and industry.
As BOH looked forward, it saw growth opportunities, but wanted to better understand how different growth opportunities would impact its future valuation. Through one-on-one interviews with industry experts, bankers, brokers, PE firms and future buyers, Maven was able to identify various levers (end markets, customer concentration, EBITDA margins, etc.) that would impact the future valuation. Understanding the details of each “valuation lever” enabled BOH to adjust its strategy and to focus on activities that would benefit it in the long term. (Read more about how Maven approaches Valuation Projects.)
There are few situations in business that are new, and there is tremendous value in evaluating various competitors strategies. Companies can benefit from understanding the hard learned lessons that led to different companies successes. With this in mind, Maven reviewed the several competitors in the military supply space to determine elements that made them each successful as well as reviewing their strategies. The lessons learned during this research informed later recommendations, but first it was important to understand the future of warfare, in general.
The future of warfare
BOH’s core product feeds perfectly into the Army’s current operations. Large base installations in the desert delivered by sea on Navy vessels. Through secondary research and validated with expert interviews with former Generals, Maven identified several expected shifts in future warfare. While there would be changes, one thing would remain constant – equipment (tanks, planes, drones, etc) would need to be maintained in the field. And BOH’s core product would be in demand, though in formats different than today. It was important for BOH products to adapt to this change to meet future military needs.
Based on its findings, Maven recommended a growth strategy approach that combined organic and acquisition targets. Organic growth opportunities included product features important in new combat situations as well as business development in other branches of the military such as the Air Force. Additionally, acquisition targets were determined based on a list of criteria and a short list was provided to the team for further discussions.
The three phases of this project helped craft a go forward strategy for BOH. By understanding what will drive future valuations, how similar companies had succeeded and failed and where the market is headed, the Maven team was able to help the management team chart a course for future success. With the new strategy in place, BOH will be in the right place at the right time with the right product.
Preparing for strategic growth and optimal exit opportunities
Anchor Partners (Anchor) worked with Maven after purchasing several businesses to strategize both a path forward and to better understand how to improve the future market value of the businesses.
Maven’s relationship with Anchor was well-established, as they’d worked together previously on several different companies.
When an investor wants to sell a business, they do everything possible to make the business as attractive as it can be to potential investors, especially as they get closer to exit. The actions taken are, often, cosmetic. Think of it as a real estate agent hiring a home stager to make a house look as lovely as possible, without fixing the foundation cracks or drafty windows.
Private equity firms typically look at various data points to determine the value of a business. Lower customer concentration, growth in end markets, and higher EBITDA margins all lead to higher exit multiples. Preparing a business for sale within 12 months of the sale means that an investor can do very little to substantially change those variables—which means it can do very little to increase the sale price of the business. But by being thoughtful and working proactively to learn which issues will increase or decrease price at the earliest stages of the investment, a company can work proactively to build a business that’s highly valuable to potential buyers.
The first phase of strategy Maven executed for Anchor was to reverse the traditional process by researching, shortly after Anchor purchased the new businesses, which data points would be most important to potential future buyers. With this information in hand, Anchor has a lead time of years—rather than months—to build a business that will be most attractive to potential buyers.
The second phase of strategy was more traditional: Maven worked with Anchor to find ways to scale the business effectively. Maven did this by researching where the businesses currently fit in the market and by strategizing where there were potential growth opportunities, and which practices should be more integrated.
The questions Maven worked with Anchor to answer illustrate an important reason to work with a third-party consultant: sometimes it’s more profitable and efficient to rethink how things are always done.
A privately held transportation and logistics company.
Starting in 1980, Dupré has provided services to a range of industries including energy, chemicals, consumer packaged goods and manufacturing. In the past 30 years, Dupré has grown to become one of the top 50 logistics companies in the United States.
Like many companies of its size, Dupré has experienced periods of rapid growth followed by challenging plateaus. By 2009 it had grown into a $120M business, but found itself at a plateau and in need of strategy and priority adjustments. In early 2010, the Dupré Executive Leadership team made the difficult decision to seek an external advisor to help chart a strategic course for the coming years.
Over a six month period, Maven Associates worked with the broad management team at Dupré to develop a detailed corporate strategy that would help guide the company past the plateau and into a period of growth. Components of the corporate strategy included a review of broad industry trends, a detailed customer survey and customer segmentation, an analysis of customer-level profitability and development of a prioritized set of growth initiatives. The final outcome of Maven’s strategic plan was a detailed set of recommendations the Dupré team was able to begin implementing immediately.
Over the subsequent 4 years, Dupré has experienced a new period of rapid growth with revenues reaching $220M in 2014.
The number one provider of software to the long term care industry in North America.
Located in Toronto, Canada, PointClickCare (PCC) is the number one provider of software to the long term care industry in North America.
PCC’s cloud based software is a comprehensive billing and operations platform for skilled nursing, assisted living and critical care facilities. PointClickCare is a portfolio company of JMI Equity.
PCC is the dominant player in the long term care software market. It’s software is used by most of the largest long term care facilities in North America. In contrast, PCC had historically struggled to grow the independent (single facility) segment of the market. Maven was engaged to help the PCC executive team develop a strategy for increasing the growth of that independent market.
The project centered around a large scale survey of all long term care providers, both large and small. The goal was to understand, at a detailed level, how the needs of large long-term care companies differed from smaller companies.
Through analysis of the survey, the team was able to provide practical recommendations for changes to pricing, marketing, product configuration and implementation that led to significant growth.
Feasibilty of at-home heavy metal testing
Western Slope Laboratory is a specialized reference laboratory that designs and produces high-quality Laboratory Developed Tests (LDTs).
When a family member faced chronic pain doctors were having difficulty diagnosing or treating, a friend suggested heavy metals testing. Doctors rarely order or conduct heavy metals testing, because symptoms are common to many illnesses. The family member did request heavy metal testing, and discovered high levels of NICKEL. Treatment was then identified and completed, and the family member’s symptoms disappeared.
Seeing the ease of testing, and the potential for at-home sample gathering, Western Slope Laboratories wanted to evaluate the feasibility of such a service. They engaged with Maven Associates to evaluate the potential market opportunity and develop a launch roadmap. Over several months, the project team conducted targeted market research including discussions with potential customers, identified the market-bearing price point, and detailed a phased-launch plan.
The Western Slope Laboratory team then took the plan, and 18 months later, MyBioIntel Heavy Metals Test was introduced to the market. The at-home testing kit allows customers to order the test online, collect a sample at home, and then send the sample back for certified testing. The results are delivered in such a way that the patient can understand them, and in a form that doctors can provide guidance for the best course of action based on their unique genetics and health situation.
Recognizing the value of using profit opportunities to drive growth.
For over thirty years, Publishing Concepts Inc. (PCI) of Dallas has partnered with top-tier colleges and universities, including Harvard, Princeton, Texas A&M and Iowa State to support their alumni membership efforts. Its services include alumni data collection, alumni directory publication, apparel sales and innovative fundraising programs.
When PCI acquired its largest competitor, their size doubled, and the PCI management team recognized the value of having an outside perspective to create additional value from the acquisition. Additionally, the team understood that profit identification could self-fund future growth initiatives making the new business even stronger. Its owner was a Stagen Business Leadership Program alum and knew Mark Hess well and wanted Maven’s specialization in assisting niche companies to guide PCI through the process.
Maven and PCI agreed to begin with the profit identification process. Recognizing that companies often have profit optimization ideas not yet explored, Maven facilitated a brainstorming session with PCI to bring those ideas to the surface. Those along with the Maven’s thoughts were prioritized. Maven then analyzed the top ten ideas to better understand their full potential.
During the six-week profit hunt, the Maven team followed a proven Bain methodology to deep dive into PCI’s business, processes, and cost structure. Maven returned to the team with business cases built for those opportunities that showed the greatest potential for improved profitability. The five highest potential ideas spanned a range of business areas, and included; a redesign of the customer call center experience, improved sales team effectiveness, refined pricing strategy, improved P&L tracking for better management decision-making, and improved marketing efficiency.
Once the profit improvements were identified and handed off for actioning, Maven was then able to begin to uncover the growth opportunities.
Maven often applies a Profit From The Core approach to growth initiatives. Profit From The Core is a business book written by Bain partner Chris Zook which outlines several Bain methodologies for uncovering growth opportunities. This main focus is leveraging existing strengths and core founding principles of the company before looking more broadly. Dismissing core strengths during growth initiatives is common among mid-market businesses. As an outsider, Maven considers all options and brings in experiences from other companies and industries. Similar to the process employed during the profit hunt phase, Maven brainstormed and prioritized the big opportunities and then went away to determine the best growth opportunities. They returned with a business case and roadmap to capitalize on those options.
The top five growth opportunities recommended were to add more SKUs and reduce delivery times for the apparel business, to include personalized alumni stories in the alumni directories in an effort to appeal to the changing audience demographics, improve fundraising efforts, and new activities to increase alumni organization membership. Beyond the ideas and the business case delivery, Maven added value by providing a roadmap and metrics for success, as well as project management and accountability to see the projects through completion.
Publishing Concepts Inc. understood that profit and growth go hand-in-hand with profit improvements funding growth initiatives. It also understood that it required an outsider’s perspective to filter the less rewarding and to highlight those likely to succeed. This two-pronged approach catalyzed the business following a major acquisition as well as set it up for continued organic growth.
Profit improvement for an aerospace and defense manufacturer
For more than 40 years, the Cherokee Nation Industries (CNI) family of companies has operated as government contractors in aerospace and defense manufacturing.
CNI supplies valuable parts to organizations such as Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Sikorsky and NASA’s International Space Station. Operating out of manufacturing facilities in Stilwell, Okla., Pryor, Okla. and Tahlequah, Okla., CNI’s aerospace and defense manufacturing businesses provide electrical, electro-mechanical, interconnect solutions, distributing, kitting and manufacturing cable and wire harness assemblies for commercial and military aircraft as well as various missile and unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) programs.
For several years, CNI’s profitability was not meeting expectations. Maven was engaged to provide recommendations to CNI management on how the business could improve profitability. In the first phase of the work, a comprehensive profit diagnostic was conducted across the entire business where the Maven team identified 25+ profit improvement opportunities. In the second phase of the work, the 10 best opportunities were refined and action plans for achieving the results were develop in conjunction with the CNI management team.
A $1B big box retailer focused on the home décor market.
Located in Dallas, TX, At Home is a $1B big box retailer focused on the home décor market. With 123 stores in 30 states, At Home dominates category selection in home décor.
Average stores have 120,000 sq ft of retail space and carry 50,000 skus. Originally operating as Garden Ridge Pottery the company was purchased by AEA Investors in 2011 and has undergone a massive turnaround and transformation. It was renamed At Home in 2014 and went public in 2016.
At Home has been a remarkably successful turnaround. Part of that success was having a solid 5 year plan and executing on that plan. As 2016 came to a close, At Home was nearing the end of their original 5 year plan and needed to look forward to the next 5 years. A key part of that forward look was having a strong understanding of the competitive landscape.
Maven Associates was engaged to develop detailed profiles of 20 competitors and to assess where At Home stood in the broad competitive landscape. Thru a combination of online research, store visits and extensive interviews, Maven was able to provide a clear view of At Home’s position in the retail home décor market. Several opportunities to close gaps with competitors were identified and prioritized.
Nation’s premier manufacturer of luxury recreation and pleasure cruising boats.
Located in Neodasha, KS, Cobalt Boats is the nations premier manufacturer of luxury recreation and pleasure cruising boats.
With boats ranging in size from 20ft to 40ft and an average selling price of $120k, Cobalt’s distinctive boats can be seen on lakes and harbors throughout the world. A second generation family business, Cobalt Boats is the perfect blend of manufacturing prowess and artisanship.
The market for stern drive boats (ie boats with the motor in the boat and prop in the rear of the boat) has been in a long-term decline with boat ownership shifting to pontoon boats and outboard motors. Cobalt was looking for an outside advisor to help them chart a course for the sustained profitable growth of the business.
Maven Associates completed an extensive strategic review of the boating market and Cobalt’s position in the market. Thru customer interviews and a large customer survey, research and analysis on the boating market and conversations with the Cobalt dealer network, Maven was able to develop a strategic roadmap for the executive team.
“We wanted outside help in building a growth strategy. They challenged our thinking and provided pragmatic and actionable recommendations. We enjoyed working with the Maven team and highly recommend them.”
Paxson St. Clair
CEO, Cobalt Boats