Originally published in the Bozeman Daily Chronicle's monthly Business Journal, February, 2017.
Christopher Gregory is one of the principals of Fortis Group, a newly formed business brokerage firm. Fortis Group operates out of Bozeman offices with its parent company Compass Advisors. Both businesses assist in the sale of businesses, with Fortis specializing in the sale of smaller market businesses, of which Montana is largely comprised.
Q: How did this business get started?
A: Our parent company, Compass Advisors, was started in 1991 by Mark DeGroot, and since 2005 has been run by his son Bryce DeGroot. Since inception, Compass has assisted businesses transitioning to new owners. Throughout the years, their focus became middle market businesses, of which there are fewer in Montana. The need for assisting ownership transition for Montana small market business owners continues. My background as a small business owner helps me understand the needs of our clients. Bryce and I have known each other many years, always looking for an opportunity to work together. This past summer things aligned for us and we launched Fortis Group.”
Q: Have you had any successes since starting the business?
A: Yes, we were pleased to facilitate the sale of Montana’s oldest confectionery (95 years old) for a second time, first as Compass Advisors and now Fortis Group, and transition to a new owner. It was a great win for everyone and the transaction was completed in six months. We also provided long term consultant services to a premier rodsmith in the fly fishing industry and business valuations to clients in several different industries.”
Q: What defines a “smaller market business”?
A: Our typical clients are business owners who offer services to the local market, for example a main street fly shop owner who started and ran their business for 20 years and is now looking to retire and wants to sell to an individual who will continue the business. Typically, the businesses generate up to $3 million in revenue a year, although this isn’t a hard, fast rule.
Q: How did you end up in Bozeman?
A: I came to Montanan in 1998 to attend Montana Wilderness School of the Bible (in Augusta, Montana) from Lancaster, Pennsylvania. After graduating and meeting my wife in Montana, we decided to stay. We moved to Great Falls where my wife’s family lives. I launched my construction business, Worthington Homes, there, and made regular trips to Bozeman to visit friends. When we finished our last century-old home renovation about five years ago, we were ready for a change and made the move to Bozeman. After an active duty assignment with the U.S. Navy, I landed here at Fortis Group.
Q: Does Fortis Group specialize in a specific market segment?
A: We emphasize business verticals that are strong in Bozeman: outdoor recreation, outdoor retail, technology, and service industries. But our services can be applied to any smaller market business. We strive to provide excellent service for any business needing these services.
Q: What can business owners do if they are thinking about selling their business?
A: Most importantly, get started early before they are ready to sell their business. We’re happy to sit down and have an initial discovery meeting to learn more about their business and goals. We help our clients determine the right timing, sale readiness, and value growth opportunities. We commonly see businesses that rely too heavily on the owner for the day to day operations. So, it’s important to have a business that has transferable value. Another key consideration is to have clean business records and financial statements that accurately report the true business earnings. To help our clients prepare, we provide business valuation services, exit planning and value growth consulting, as well as brokerage services for an external/internal sale of their business. We want to help owners in any way through this oftentimes life-changing experience.
Q: What are your strengths in this business?
A: With a naturally easygoing demeanor, I strive to create an atmosphere of confidentiality and trust that business owners have come to rely on as they make this important, and many times emotional, change in their lives. I am always looking for ways to improve and I value pursuing excellence whether working with a business owner, my Navy shipmates, raising my children, or being a husband.