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Ideal Story: Helping the Owner of a Dealership Software Company Retire with Peace of Mind

Not every business owner has the inclination to keep running their operation forever. In cases like that, retirement is a perfectly viable option. However, there is a caveat – the business has to end up in the right hands, and the owner’s wishes have to be respected.

This was the dilemma faced by Dennis Haefner, the founder and ex-owner of Ideal – a dealership management software vendor based in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Haefner had always planned to leave the business behind by the time he was 70 to focus on other activities, but he didn’t want to do it carelessly.

That’s why he chose to work with Perseus, an operating group of Constellation Software Inc., to set up a bright future for Ideal and a financially secure retirement for himself.

“I heard horror stories about buyers backing out or changing their agreement terms at the last second,” he said. “Perseus wasn’t like that, and I trusted them.”

Providing Dealers with the Tools to Manage Their Business since 1985

Ideal is a prominent dealership management software provider for outdoor power equipment, powersports, marine, RV, agriculture, trailer and golf car dealerships. Its core offering is a system that consolidates all dealership processes and departments, allowing dealers to streamline their work and focus on growth.

The company was founded by Dennis Haefner, in partnership with John Herman, back in 1985, and for a time, operated from the backroom of Herman’s outdoor power equipment shop.

“I was working full-time at Rockwell International at the time,” said Haefner. “So, for a while, Ideal was just a side project – until I quit my job in 1989 to devote all my time and resources to it.”

Haefner was eventually able to buy out Herman’s share, becoming its sole owner.  As of today, the company maintains close relations with over 1,100 customers and has partnerships with many key industry suppliers, like Brunswick, Stihl and others.

Leaving the Company for Good

Despite facing numerous challenges, such as maintaining a consistent flow of sales during seasonal downturns, Ideal was able to become one of the most recognized software brands among the outdoor power equipment dealers. The next big challenge for Haefner was to make sure he could sell the business without compromising its integrity or ruining the lives of his employees.

“I thought 70 was a good age to retire,” said Haefner. “That was my plan all along. I wanted to sell the business outright, cash out 100% and be done with it, so I could move on and spend my time travelling or getting involved in other ventures.”

Succeeding at Retirement and Business

To ensure he could sell Ideal for a reasonable price without squandering its achievements, Haefner turned to Perseus due to its extensive industry experience and willingness to work with him until a satisfactory agreement was reached.

Making a good deal

Haefner knew right away that he would get a good deal with Perseus. At the time, Perseus and Constellation Software already owned over dozens of software companies, many of which were focused on dealership management software, just like Ideal, so it was clear that they were serious about the business. He also knew that Perseus wasn’t going to bungle the deal at the last moment, which gave him peace of mind.

That trust has paid off. After numerous revisions, Haefner and Perseus were able to come to an agreement that satisfied both parties – and Perseus stayed true to its word.

“I decided to move forward with the deal as soon as all the financial aspects made sense to me,” said Haefner. “Once I knew that  I could live off the money Perseus would give me, I was ready to sign off on it.”

Driving a smooth transition

The shift in ownership from Haefner to Perseus took no longer than expected – about a year – and it was relatively smooth as well.

“My attorney said it was the smoothest sale process that he had ever experienced,” said Haefner. “Once everything was in place, I walked out the door on November 30th and Perseus walked in on December 1st. And I never looked back.”

Haefner was still getting a few questions here and there about the business throughout the first year following his departure, but it didn’t take long for him to be left completely alone. Today, Haefner has no ties to Ideal on the business level at all.

Taking care of the employees

While securing a sound retirement was one of Haefner’s big priorities, he also cared deeply about his employees – particularly the ones that had been with the company for a very long time – and he didn’t want them to lose their jobs.

“I wanted the business to succeed for their sake,” said Haefner. “Most of the employees stayed on, and I still keep in touch with them.”

What’s in Store for the Future?

While Ideal and its employees can look forward to new opportunities and growth, Haefner gets to do everything he’s always wanted but couldn’t due to time constraints.

“I am travelling, spending time with my grandkids and taking care of my 86-acre land surrounded by trees and water,” said Haefner. “I’m busier than ever, and I couldn’t be happier.”

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