• Jim Matalone on Starting and Running Ashby St Outdoor

    This week’s podcast guest Jim Matalone talks about starting, running and selling Ashby St Outdoor, an out of home company with 1,908 faces in Arkansas, Kansas, Oklahoma and Missouri.

    Talk about the formation of Ashby Street in 2011.

    Before Ashby St I had been running Next Media Outdoor which was owned by a radio platform…while we were building an outdoor platform and growing value the radio platform was slowly declining.  From that experience I learned that I needed to go out of my own and start an outdoor company where there was nobody but me and the investment money to worry about…I started looking for money…It’s easier said than done…PE firms want to see a deal first…the people that are selling want to see that you have money behind your.  It’s a little bit the chicken and the egg story.

    I cold called Ryan Fowler who had a company in Northwest Arkansas called Fowler Media.  It was a nice really well-built outdoor plant, very strong real estate portfolio.  And what caught my attention was…when I heard the average rates he was getting for static faces it was 20% higher than I was used to…that stuck out…we negotiated a price point pretty much that first day.  Getting the money and getting the deal together took another three or four months.

    On Ashby’s lead investor Tinicum

    A great investment group.  I really got lucky there…There was equity money there but everybody was really cautious with it…What made Tinicum the perfect partner was they had been looking at outdoor for about four years…The Tinicum folks are going to be knowledgeable about any investment before they put their money in it…What I really liked about Tinicum was their pockets were deep enough where this acquisition wasn’t going to be it.  We could go after Fairway or Clear Channel.

    What was Tinicum’s due diligence like?

    I felt like I’d been put through the ringer.  They called every single reference that I gave them…I did a pretty in depth psych profile.  They wanted to know how I was going to run a company…They didn’t take what I said at face value.  They called former employees, former equity guys, they called everybody.  No one’s going to BS their way through that screening process.

    What were some operating steps you took during the seven years operating Ashby St to maximize its value.

    Digital deployment was a big part of our strategy.  Every year at Ashby our growth was driven by digital…we probably deployed between 40 and 50 organic digitals…we were prudent in each one we deployed…we almost always exceeded those projections…My overall growth plan was maintain static revenues and grow digital.  And we did that almost every single year.

    The second thing we did was by working with John at Apparatix that maximized our efficiency…We helped John expand how Apparatix could be used…John started writing for Nextmedia because he was in Fort Collins and we had a billboard plant in Fort Collins.  We needed a software package and the stuff off the shelf was really expensive and John said I’ll develop this from the ground up.  He wrote this to my specs…I didn’t want a software for real estate, a software for sales.  I wanted an all-encompassing operations system…John did that.  He spent three years in our office in Fort Collins…learning how our business worked…When I started Ashby I said let’s implement this here…with Apparatix the bigger you are, the more efficiencies it creates…If we convert a static to a digital it will show as a digital on the website.  The inventory is all married up there….On the sales side it communicates with the sales contact system and the proposal system.  Our sales people know up to the minute…I can see why a board isn’t selling.  Maybe we’ve got it priced too high…I can tell how many proposals have been generated on a specific piece of inventory so I can say it’s not priced too high, we’re just not pitching it enough…It was a big part of our efficiency…

    Tomorrow Insider will print Matalone’s comments on acquisitions, selling to Lamar and what advice he has for the out of home industry.  

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