Updated: 3 days ago
It’s not every day that a billionaire flies into Haleyville, but that’s what fashion designer Tommy Hilfiger did when he wanted to consult with the women upholstering the interior of his private plane.
Hilfiger, who sold his fashion company for $1.6 billion in 2006, is still the company’s lead designer, so it was not a big deal for him to want to have his hands on the material.
And it wasn’t a big deal to the women owners/operators of Southern Air Custom Interiors Inc., who took the visit with the nonchalance of a test pilot, says Matt Bean, whose private equity firm, Lowden Street Capital, bought Southern Air on May 21.
Bean founded his company in 2017 with a unique market focus — very small companies located in rural areas.
“I have been thoroughly impressed with their work on private aircraft, client mixture, and high ethical standards, and I look forward to working with their team to streamline processes, increase efficiencies, and expand sales channels,” Bean says of
Southern Air Custom Interiors, a 27-year-old company, which is led by two women furniture upholsterers who have established themselves as a premier aircraft interiors operation for Cessna, Gulfstream, and Mooney owners.
The other two companies in Bean’s first investment fund are the Polar Bear Inn, a 43-room motel outside of Branson, Missouri, and Good Labor Jobs, an Alexander City-based, one-person online staffing and recruiting company that specializes in workers from Puerto Rico, placing them all over the country in jobs that include “landscaping, housekeeping, industrial, anything you can think of,” Bean says.
Bean is now building investment capital for a second fund. “Once we get the new funds, we will add five to seven new businesses, depending on their size,” he says.
Bean moved to Alexander City in 2018, after working for a private equity firm in the New York City area. He earned an undergraduate degree in engineering in Auburn, then an MBA at Texas Christian University, before moving to Connecticut to work in private equity.
Bean says he hunts for companies to acquire across the country but is more focused on the Southeast and Alabama in particular. He expects his second fund will include more Alabama companies because those are the ones that come across his desk more often.
Networking to find companies is one of his biggest challenges. They are not on the radar screen and he spots them, he says, by keeping in touch with chambers of commerce and the kinds of professionals who work with small companies, such as accountants and financial managers.
Markers he is looking for are companies that are adding liquidity, a repeatable sales process, and a high internal rate of return.
“One of our biggest advantages, when we come to the table, is that we have negotiating power, we have cash, can consult on the deal, and we’re not competing,” says Bean. “And a lot of time the business owners are receptive and help you take the company to next-generation, offering insights.
“And the community helps. You’re buying a company in a town with 10,000 to 20,000 people, and the people welcome you.”
More of an advantage than a challenge, he says, is the rural labor market.
“A lot of rural communities have industrial complexes, say an auto parts company or a mobile home manufacturer, where the workers are making $7.25 and $10 an hour starting. If you come in and buy a business with outside capital and have a vision where it can go, you can pull from that labor pool and say, ‘Come work for me, and I’ll pay you a lot more,’ and they see that as a real opportunity. People will jump all over that. They might get a chance to go into labor recruiting or build out a new website, and they see the opportunity, they finally have a chance do something that’s out of the normal for their community.”