South / Regional Reports

Exit Strategies Vary For South Carolina Contractor

GREENVILLE, S.C. - Retirement is not a word in Tommy Dutton's vocabulary. But selling a business is something about which he knows quite well. At age 50, he has done it twice.

"It's one of the things you build a business for," Dutton said. Selling a business is the exit strategy, he said in a profile prepared for the franchisor Aire Serv.

Dutton's exit from Dutton Refrigeration, an independent commercial refrigeration business in Greenville, S.C., was said to be a lot different than the sale of his Aire Serv Heating & Air Conditioning franchise.

After successfully growing Dutton Refrigeration, heating and air conditioning work became a popular sideline to the business. So Dutton purchased an Aire Serv franchise in 1995 to separate and build that part of the operation. He was one of the first investors to purchase an Aire Serv franchise, but things went so well that he even borrowed a lot of Aire Serv's principles for managing and expanding his commercial refrigeration business.

Four years later, Dutton decided to sell the independent operation. He hired a broker to find a buyer and found that he had to communicate the value of Dutton Refrigeration even if he was not at the helm.

"As a buyer, someone always wonders, ‘How much of the business is the owner? How many of the customers are loyal just to the owner?'" Dutton said.

He did find a buyer with the right offer, so then he was able to focus all his attention on the Air Serv business.

As Dutton's franchise and the national Aire Serv network expanded, the value of the Aire Serv brand proved to be a sound investment. Then, one day, Dutton's operations manager, Mark DeFilippo, approached him about buying his franchise. Although Dutton had not planned to sell the franchise so soon, it was an offer that looked attractive.

"Being part of a national company, I think I had a lot more to sell the second time around," Dutton said.

Less than three weeks after the sale, Dutton and his wife Patricia purchased a second home in Las Vegas to be closer to a daughter, son-in-law, and two granddaughters.

But Dutton isn't on vacation for good. A new Aire Serv franchise has opened in Las Vegas and Dutton has been asked by Aire Serv's corporate headquarters to help the franchisee on a part-time basis.

Publication date: 01/24/2005

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