Herman and Ray Mainwold built up their remodeling business to appeal to an elite clientele who paid an average of $45,000 per kitchen makeover in recent years.
Their company, Mainline Kitchen & Bath Design Center, has recorded $1.25 million in annual sales in recent years and turned a profit.
But when the brothers, ages 75 and 80, decided to retire this year, they couldn't find a buyer for the company they've operated for 51 years.
It's a common scenario for even the most long-lasting and successful small businesses, especially in the last few years as lenders have tightened credit for new entrepreneurs, said Linda Bowyer, an associate professor of finance at University of Toledo who works with the Women's Entrepreneurial Network Training Center.
“I see an awful lot of people interested in owning their own business. Part of that might be the economy, part of that might be a sense of frustration with corporate America,” added Dr. Bowyer, who headed UT's Small Business & Entrepreneurship Institute for the last six year. That doesn't, however, always translate into the right person, with money in hand, to buy businesses when the owners wish to sell.
After a planned sale of the Mainwolds' business fell through - in part because the prospective buyer feared he didn't have the expertise necessary for all aspects of the work - the brothers decided to auction off their assets and close the doors.
Proceeds from last week's auction didn't come close to the brothers' asking price for the whole business on Bancroft Street. But they had stopped taking new orders in January and were ready to travel and spend more time with hobbies.
“It was the only way to put an end to it,” Ray Mainwold said of selling the assets at auction.
Bill Chapin hopes that isn't the fate of his business, the Frame Shop on Adams Street. Last month he enthusiastically celebrated the 50th anniversary of the business, which he has operated for 20 years.
But about the same time he started telling customers that he hopes to move to Arizona and spend more time painting. If a buyer came along, he would sell the 1920s building and contents and walk out the door, he said.
“I kind of picked up the baton from someone who owned it when I came and I would love it if someone in their 30s would pick it up,” said Mr. Chapin, who is in his early 50s. He and his wife, Tish, who also works in the business, have been spending increasing amounts of time in Scottsdale, Ariz., a Phoenix suburb, where they own a home, and where Mr. Chapin hopes to start a business.
For someone interested in framing and art, buying the business - which includes the Town Gallery art shop - would be far easier than starting from scratch in a new location, he said.
Mr. Chapin believes an established business name and good location are assets. But Dr. Bowyer said small businesses that depend largely on the creative talents of the owners, as the Mainwolds' and Chapins' do, shouldn't expect a lot of cash for their customer lists and business name.
“Sometimes [with] those kinds of businesses, what people are buying is his expertise. And if he's not there anymore, what are they buying?” she asked.
Undoubtedly a buyer could be found for most small businesses if the owners are willing to keep them on the market long enough.
But Mr. Chapin said that although he'd love to see the Frame Shop continue even after he leaves, he will sell assets like the Mainwolds did if the process takes too long.
“I'm not going to sacrifice my intentions just to stay here and wait for a buyer,” he said.