The Life Cycle of Acquisition-Based Companies

A few years ago, I was discussing this phenomenon with the CEO of one of our clients. His company had grown almost entirely through acquisition, and for several years the company had experienced revenue growth rates exceeding 20%. However, the company had plateaued with respect to earnings, and looking at their overall performance it became clear to him (and to the Wall Street analysts that watched his company) that a great deal of money had been left on the table. Working with that CEO, I developed a model called the ACL Life Cycle. Understanding and using the ACL Life Cycle has proven enormously beneficial to clients depending on an M&A strategy for continued growth.

The ACL Life Cycle

The ACL Life Cycle describes the maturation process of companies who grow substantially through acquisitions and mergers. Using the ACL model, we can clearly identify the company’s current position. Knowing that position, and then looking forward at the company’s financial objectives through the lens of their business strategies, the specific actions that are needed become clear. Those actions can then be formed into an executable plan with associated performance measures, and managed through completion to bring the overall enterprise to heightened levels of financial performance. It is important for acquisition-oriented executives to understand the major phases and characteristics of the ACL Life Cycle.

Businesses who have survived one or more acquisitions and/or mergers are usually left with some degree of disintegration among their processes and systems. A company’s success in reaching the financial objectives of the merger or acquisition is directly correlated with the degree to which that disintegration has been replaced by a set of business processes and information systems that are common enough to generate enterprise-wide leverage. Implicit in that commonality is enterprise-level direction and guidance, manifested in company-wide business strategies and performance measures that align all of the combined business units. These businesses move, in this post-acquisition or post-merger environment, from an acquisition-based operating model to one characterized by shared services and a general commonization, to a stage where the enterprise “whole” really is able to become something greater than the sum of its business unit “parts”. It is more than the typical cost-reduction synergy anticipated in most of these transactions; it is a new platform for innovation, and an even higher level of innovation-based leverage.

Companies who experience substantive growth as a result of business acquisitions typically follow the ACL life cycle. ACL in this context stands for: Acquisition, Commonization, and Leverage. Many companies never leave the first stage of this maturity scale, and still more remain at the second stage. The most successful companies are usually those who recognize the importance of moving through all three stages, and consistently implement a structured process for doing so.
All companies experience pressures that push them toward decentralized operations, including idiosyncrasies of specific market niches served, the uniquenesses of isolated business processes, unusual needs of specific customer populations, and Uncategorized organizational entropy. At the same time, most of the companies that are successful in achieving the financial performance objectives established for the newly merged enterprise manage to overcome those challenges, electing to pursue the advantages of leverage, including:

  • broad synergistic brand recognition, enabling cross-selling, bundling of products and services, and improving revenue
  • interchangeability of business process resources, enabling the company to reduce its asset base
  • commonality and scalability in equipment / skills / facilities, facilitating innovation and growth into additional markets
  • higher utilization of business assets, reducing unit cost
  • lower levels of redundancy, resulting in reduced operating costs

These companies also typically find that maintaining compliance with financial reporting standards such as Sarbanes-Oxley requirements are enhanced as a result of strengthened internal controls.
Some companies make a deliberate decision to remain “holding companies”, which simply buy and sell diverse businesses that have only marginal relationships with one another. These conglomerates prefer to manage the portfolio through buying and selling components, and allowing the leadership teams at the individual companies to manage ongoing operations from strategy through execution. A few of them have been quite successful, and this article is sometimes not as directly applicable to those at a corporate level. It works very well, however, for their major divisions. Companies that benefit most from understanding the three stages of the ACL Life Cycle are those companies who have decided to focus on a single core industry – Aerospace & Defense, Automotive, Chemicals and Polymers, Textiles, Electronics, Telecommunications, Consumer Products, Medical Equipment producers, Healthcare providers, and Financial Services providers are all good candidates. 

The Acquisition Stage of the ACL Life Cycle

Companies in the Acquisition Stageof their life cycles are usually focused on revenue growth, and capturing market share. They are characterized by high levels of autonomy in management, in the reporting of site-level data to the corporate parent, and in the design of their business processes and systems. Companies who remain in this stage for long periods of time following acquisitions usually act as holding companies, with the corporation allowing individual divisions or sites to operate almost as independent companies with their own P&L, strategic plans, and market-facing branding. Often, companies in the Acquisition stage lack a common vision of the future of the overall business, and tend to operate at cross-purposes among the operating units. They sometimes even compete against one another for the same customers. They share little operating information, making it nearly impossible to coordinate and deploy “best practices”, effectively distribute work load, utilize general market intelligence, and grasp other elements that could provide corporate-wide leverage of the businesses’ assets and resources. A few industry-specific examples here should help to illustrate the situation:

Manufacturing companies in the acquisition stage are usually characterized by redundancies in raw materials, equipment, staffing, and other business resources. Because manufacturing companies are relatively material-intense, a great deal of cost can be tied up in raw materials, work-in-process, and finished goods. Since acquisition stage companies have so little visibility between business units, there is little opportunity for them to reallocate these assets in order to use them effectively. As a result, the most costly resources remain the most underutilized. In addition, acquisition-stage companies have not centralized the management of even commodity-level business processes, such as finance, human resources, and information technology. This lack of centralization leaves additional inefficiencies in place around accounting staff, employee benefits provider subscriptions, business software applications, data centers, and computing equipment. 

Telecommunications companies in the acquisition stage also have unrealized opportunities for greater leverage from their business assets, but these more often take the form of redundancies in network equipment, network coverage, retail outlets, partner agreements related to the sale of their products, and interconnection agreements with other carriers. In addition, acquisition stage telecom companies often have a substantial amount of unrealized leverage in the lack of integration among the data bases and information of their various divisions that could enable shared service operations for commodity-type processes such as billing and cross-selling of products and services. Like manufacturing companies, telecom companies in the acquisition stage also typically have unexploited opportunities around the consolidation of data centers and related equipment and staffing.

Healthcare providers in the acquisition stage usually find opportunities in different areas of their businesses, because of the differing cost structure of their operations. The bulk of their costs and their opportunities while in the acquisition stage of maturity in the ACL Life Cycle are related to employee salaries & benefits, and to medical supplies and drugs. It is less common for these businesses to be able to effectively share inventories and equipment, since the nature of their business is rooted in community health care that requires local service provision. The opportunities that do exist, which are typically not exploited well in acquisition stage health care companies, are related to centralizing commodity type business processes such as finance, human resources, and information systems, and leveraging required service and supply procurement across the enterprise. 

Financial Services providers, such as banks, brokerages, credit unions, financial planning companies and tax & audit services exhibit yet another cost profile, with the largest elements typically including personnel and occupancy costs. In these businesses, like health care provision, being where the customers are is critical. The companies’ ability to understand the changing demographics and match up their branches as well as their skills to the targeted customer base is often a differentiator between the companies that succeed and those that fail. Financial services providers who are still in the acquisition stage of maturity in the ACL Life Cycle often do not have the commonality in fundamental business processes and systems to readily reconfigure their operations to meet the changing needs of their marketplace. Their acquisitions or mergers have enabled them to grow horizontally, typically into adjacent markets. However, lacking an adequate foundation of commonality in processes and systems, there is substantial money left on the proverbial table as a result of ineffective resource deployment, and delays in the reporting of operational performance data that would enable the company to be more responsive. These companies also fail, in their acquisition stage, to take advantage of their larger purchasing power to gain leverage around purchased services spanning items as diverse as employee health care and branch-level office supplies.   

The Commonization Stage of the ACL Life Cycle

Companies in the Commonization Stage of their life cycles have usually awakened to the value of focusing on Return on Net Assets (RONA) and Return on Invested Capital (ROIC). In order to begin to capture improvements in these areas, companies in the Commonization Stage often turn to shared service models of operations for selected business processes and systems. Strategies and performance measures begin to crystallize around common themes that span multiple operating units or divisions. Among the areas of focus for a shared service model in this stage are Finance (A/R, A/P, General Ledger, and Financial Reporting), Human Resources (Payroll, Benefits, and Employment Records), and Information Technology (Computer Hardware, Network Administration, and selected Software Applications Management). Some companies in the Commonization Stage also move Procurement and other aspects of Materials Management to a shared service model, enabling the corporation to more effectively leverage its broadest possible purchasing power.

Manufacturing companies in the commonization stage of maturity typically have shared services in place for commodity types of business processes such as finance, human resources, and information systems management. As they advance through the commonization phase, some of them also begin to pull together a common platform for procurement, encompassing at least their most costly and common raw materials. A few in this stage reach a point where their data center
operations are completely centralized, and may even be outsourced to a third party like CSC. Toward the end of the commonization phase, centralization of work deployment and capacity utilization as well as process quality emerge as companies begin to deploy common processes and systems in customer requirements management, enterprise requirements planning, manufacturing execution systems, and distribution management systems. 

Telecommunications companies in the commonization stage of maturity also typically have shared services in place for commodity types of business processes such as finance, human resources, and information systems management. As they advance in maturity through this stage, telecoms also become aware of the available leverage in centralizing the management of some of their most valuable assets. However, unlike the manufacturer’s raw material focus, for telecommunications operations those elements are things like spectrum licenses, network equipment, connection agreements, partner agreements, distribution centers, and retail outlets. Centralizing the management of those assets to identify overlaps and redundancies enables telecoms to emerge from the commonization stage with much more effectively leveraged business assets, providing broader market coverage with a lower total asset base and generating much higher earnings on that consolidated foundation.

Healthcare companies in the commonization phase of maturity find substantial benefit in the commonization and centralization of their commodity type processes and systems.  This is primarily because of the impact on cash flow and earnings when the employee base is reduced through shared services, and employee benefits and supplies are both leveraged in terms of the broader purchasing power of the company following a business acquisition of significant size. However, there is also an especially rich opportunity available to healthcare companies in the commonization stage that stems form the leverage available related to insurance coverage – not for the employees directly, but covering the potential liability of the company itself. This category of cost is typically about the third largest slice of the pie, and significant reductions there can translate quickly to a meaningful earnings impact. 

 Financial services providers in the commonization stage of the ACL Life Cycle, like healthcare providers, often find substantial benefit in the commonization and centralization of their commodity type processes and systems. With roughly half of their cost of operations wrapped up in employee salaries and benefits, there is an opportunity for meaningful impact on cash flow and earnings when the employee base is reduced through shared services, and employee benefits and supplies are both leveraged in terms of the broader purchasing power of the company following a business acquisition or merger. The next significant area for financial service providers in the commonization stage is the capability for rapid reconfiguration of the business based on enterprise-wide visibility of operational data and market intelligence.

The Leverage Stage of the ACL Life Cycle

Companies in the Leverage Stage of their life cycles are usually embarked on a fierce drive toward adding real value. They are relentless in their efforts to fully utilize the assets of the entire corporation, driving out redundancy and its associated costs. They are then able to pivot on the fulcrum of those more agile processes and systems to implement innovations that foster organic growth resulting in greater market share, greater revenue, and improved earnings for their shareholders. Leverage Stage companies also establish a structured and repetitive process of assimilating new businesses, gathering and incorporating market intelligence into company-wide strategies, and innovating on the basis of these new combinations to capture additional market segments. These companies are characterized by coordination and centralization of major business functions such as the planning and allocation of R&D, production work, inventories, raw material purchases, personnel, and factories & equipment. They centrally manage a broad spectrum of common business processes and systems, including customer requirements management, product data management, enterprise requirements planning, manufacturing execution systems, and logistics management. They are constantly changing, evaluating and configuring business assets to meet future market needs, acquiring and developing new businesses, and shedding assets that no longer fit their evolving model.

Manufacturing companies in the leverage stage of maturity typically have shared services in place for most of the critical business processes of their company, having reached beyond the commodity level processes and into those which deliver the most value to their customers. Examples include sales & marketing, order entry & customer service, capacity planning and management, production scheduling and shop floor control, and distribution requirements planning. As they move through the leverage stage of the ACL Life Cycle, some of these companies leverage the commonality of their processes and systems to produce innovative new products and services, identify additional market opportunities, and develop industry-changing relationships that reach through their supply chains. 

Telecommunications companies in the leverage stage of maturity also have shared services in place for most of the critical business processes of their company, including the seamless provisioning (often called “flow-through provisioning” by industry insiders) of all telephonic services to customers stemming from a single telephone conversation responding to an individual inquiry about a service. This type of capability is only enabled when all of the information from what have historically been disparate data bases is available in an intelligent form through excellent systems integration, based on exceptional levels of commonality and strength in enterprise-wide business processes.

Healthcare companies in the leverage stage of maturity have typically discovered and implemented leverage-based improvements in their major cost structure elements as a result of enterprise-wide information visibility flowing from systems integration and centralized management of critical business processes. Health care companies generally also have uniquely challenging business conditions related to three other areas where leverage level operations can be a powerful tool. 

The first of these areas is employee safety. Most health care organizations are spending a substantial amount of money in this regard, with training and documentation of company polices and safety-related practices requiring an increasing amount of company attention. The integration of systems and commonization of processes in a leverage stage health care company offers opportunities to more quickly incorporate internal best practices, externally imposed business requirements, and feedback about lessons learned across the entire health care organization regardless of geographic dispersion. Commonization and centralized management here can result in substantially lower cost, and more importantly, substantially higher and more uniform levels of employee safety. 

The second area is bad debt. The integration of customer data, and effectively interfacing a common set of enterprise-wide processes and systems with outside service providers such health maintenance organizations and insurance carriers, substantially reduces the amount of bad debt in leverage level health care companies. 

The third area, and perhaps the area of richest opportunity, is the area of patient medical information. This area is tricky because of legislation related to patient privacy and guidelines recently established for the maintenance and communication of patient medic
al information. However, one of the fundamental challenges faced by health care providers is the absence of available medical history, particularly when a patient is admitted to an emergency room or urgent care facility. Particularly when a patient is unable to respond to questions directly due to an incapacitation illness or injury, time can literally mean life or death. Making all necessary information available to the physicians and other health care professionals involved as quickly as possible is extremely important. When critical business processes and information systems for the management of this information are brought to an effective level of commonality, the rapid dissemination of the needed information can be greatly improved, while patients’ expectations around the privacy of their information are still met. 

Financial services companies in the leverage stage of maturity, like health care companies in some ways, must balance the needs of differing local customer geographies against the advantages of centralized management in critical business processes and systems. There is real value in allowing some latitude to local branch officers and customer-facing staff such as loan officers to accommodate the unique circumstances involved in specific cases. However, these companies often find that a significant advantage of the leverage provided by enterprise-wide commonization of processes and systems is the ability to see the nuances of differing markets at a corporate level, and recognize broader trends among those different markets more quickly and clearly than they could before. This improved visibility, in turn, enables management to reconfigure their service offerings, redeploy resources such as sales dollars, and organize sales campaigns for those specific markets more quickly than they could previously.  

The best of these companies, regardless of what industry they occupy, utilize their common platform of processes, systems, and information to understand the needs of their customers in unique ways, and fluidly translate those needs into the features of their products and services. A few, at the very top of the game, come to understand the customers’ needs even before the customer recognizes them, and when necessary they reconfigure their entire business to meet those needs, gaining unassailable competitive advantage. The enterprise-wide leverage they achieved as a result of carefully and skillfully handling the post-merger or post-acquisition integration of processes, systems, and data provided the platform from which innovation launched them to new levels of performance. Examples could as easily be provided for companies in pharmaceuticals, retail operations, or the food & beverage industry. The lessons learned and the techniques vary a little, but the principles are the same.

Real Estate Services – Business Immune To Internet?

Real estate services business is one of those verticals with an overwhelming number of websites. There are thousands of websites with apartments and villa listings. But does it really mean that this internet model of business generate a proportionate amount of revenue? Well, not really!

By many ways real estate services is one of those businesses that are ideally suited for a net based model. On one side you have a seller who wants to sell his property and other side you have a buyer who wants to buy a similar property. The seller lists the property for sale on a website. Prospective buyers finds it on the site and if found suitable, the buyer and seller come to an agreement for sale. No searching for agent, no commission. It all looks so simple. But it seldom happens that way.

The sale of a property incurs an agent commission of 2.5 to 6% (depending on your country, region, agreement with agent etc) of the sale price. The above described scenario means only a small listing fee to be spent by the seller. Consider the online recruitment business where a similar situation exists. It has done very well unlike real estate websites and sites like monster.com and hotjobs.com have a high brand recall. But a similar success is not found for real estate services websites. Spare a few like loopnet.com and costar.com which has found success in the commercial real estate sector. The truth of the matter is that the real estate multiple listing service (MLS) and agents tightly guard the seller data and other information. However, some other reasons also exist.

A real estate listing, unlike a job listing, needs to provide more information to look credible for the buyer. Collecting the required data, pictures of the property, (even videos some times) recent sales data, above all removing outdated data from the database, all this needs money to be spent.

Not all those who buy and sell property are negotiators. The agent claims to be one and normally takes such a role. But on most cases, they just make both the buyer and seller feel good about the deal. Both parties feel they negotiated and got the best deal. Also, not everybody wants to publicize that their property is up for sale, especially for commercial properties. An agent is entrusted to find buyers for the property.

There can be a solution for most of these issues. A real estate website can still provide the first level of information to seller. At least it can narrow down the search to a few properties of ones choice. With a little effort one can get additional information necessary for deciding the suitability of that property against your requirements and budget. As for confidential listing of property, this can be incorporated in a website. For example, KeralaListings.com a property marketing company hides the seller data and other traceable information from a property listing if tagged ‘confidential’ by the seller. This listing appears in search results for the given parameters and the prospective buyer can email the seller of his interest in the property.

As real estate websites adopt steps, to provide information which is updated and verified, this business model will gradually pick up. Though the cost of maintaining such sites is slightly more, this should gradually increase public trust on this model. Even with all this, the cost of property transaction can reduced considerably. Not to mention about the time saved for finding a property.

Can An Auto Detailing Company Make Sales On Cyber Monday – Yes Indeed

Just because you operate a mobile auto services business doesn’t mean you can’t make money online. You’d be surprised. Take Cyber Monday for instance, that Monday after Thanksgiving where online sales are always the greatest. People are shopping for gifts, and what a perfect gift an auto detailing coupon or gift certificate might make for someone. Think about that. If you hand out flyers to your customers, why not put a small advertisement on the back of the flyer reminding people that they can order a gift certificate online, and if they order on Cyber Monday you will give them a discount.

Best of all, you get the money today, but you generally won’t have to do the work until after the first of the year. Interestingly enough, often after the first of the year fewer people get auto detailing services because they’ve run out of money, the weather isn’t so hot, and they have to wait until they have some more spendable cash. Other times they’ve overrun their credit card balances, and they can’t afford expensive auto services at that point. May as well keep your detailing business busy in January and February when the business slows down and all those gift certificates and coupon come in.

It might even pay to announce these gift certificates and coupons on your social media websites or social network page. Tell your friends to tell their families and give discounts for customers that buy gift certificates for others. After all, if someone likes your services so much, that they are willing to buy detailing services as a gift for someone else, they are probably inline as one of your top referral clients. There’s nothing like voting with their dollar for who they believe has the best services, do you see that point?

Now then, when someone orders a gift certificate online, you should send it out right away to the person who purchased it. This way they can get it to whoever they want. You should use card stock paper, a nice envelope, but unsealed. This will allow them to see what the gift certificate looks like before they put it into the envelope and send it or give it to the final recipient. I recommend using calligraphy type font, and it might even make sense to go down to one of the office stores and get special paper, or special certificates for this purpose.

I always recommend printing your logo on the certificate, and a phone number at the bottom, along with your website. Sometimes a recipient of a gift certificate will give it to yet a fourth-party. What do you care, you’ve already got the money. This is a good way that an auto detailing company can make money on Cyber Monday. So, please consider all this and think on it.

Removal Company For Removals to Portugal

Portugal stands as one of the most popular overseas locations for Britons moving abroad. It is geographically diverse and has a laid back attitude towards life so it’s no wonder that two million of us visit annually, many of which decide to stay over and make Portugal their new home.

Portugal is a country on the Iberian Peninsula. Located in south Western Europe, Portugal is the western most country of mainland Europe and is bordered by the Atlantic Ocean to the west and south and by Spain to the north and east. The Atlantic archipelagos of the Azores and Madeira are also part of Portugal.

Portugal’s economy is based on services and industry such as software and automotive. Business services have overtaken more traditional industries such as textiles, clothing, footwear, cork and wood products as well as beverages such as wine, beer, juice and soft drinks. The country has increased its role in the automotive, mold-making and software sectors. Services, particularly tourism, are playing an increasingly important role.

It comes as no surprise that more and more of us are now trading in our lives in the UK for a fresh start in this beautiful country. The weather is better, the lifestyle is relaxed and the people are friendly. If you are one of the many people who are hoping to move out of the UK for a new life in Portugal then there is a lot of planning to be done and there is a lot of research to be carried out.

The advantages of living in Portugal are extremely high and far outweigh the disadvantages; in fact I would suggest there are only two slight disadvantages, the first being the language is complicated and difficult to learn as most people struggle to get past the basics but you will find that English is widely spoken anyway. The second is that house prices can be extortionate as they have risen dramatically. These are however minor problems that are easily overlooked.

Moving abroad to any country is not something that can be done within a few weeks and moving to Portugal is no different. You need to have planned your move well in advance, at least up to a year as there are a lot that needs to be done. You have aspects to sort out both in the UK and over in Portugal as well as sorting out personal paperwork to do with your passport, visa and your job over in Portugal if you have one lined up. One other consideration that you have to make is how you are going to move all of your personal belongings and household items over to Portugal. You will need to enlist the help of a removal company in the UK who performs international moves.

Take your time when you are looking for a removal company to ship all of your belongings over to Portugal. You need a removal company who is established and who has a lot of experience in performing international moves to various parts of the UK.

Once you have found a removal company that you are happy with you should make arrangements to have your belongings shipped over to you so that it coincides with your flight over to Portugal.

The Easiest Way to Write, Publish And Be Selling Your First Kindle eBook in 30 Days or Less

Who else would love to write their first eBook this month? Are you a coach, consultant, teacher or trainer who would love to see your first book published, downloaded and discussed around the globe?

The truth is, most online entrepreneurs crave the attention, the affection and the publicity that publishing a book will bring, but don’t have the stamina and persistence to get to the finish line.

After all… writers block is probably the biggest enemy for “REAL” writers who want to self publish, how much harder is it for online entrepreneurs and marketers who want to publish purely for publicity purposes, right?

I’m going to give you a really simple “secret” strategy that will help you overcome this obstacle, and if you follow my directions, you’ll have your first book ready to be uploaded within 30 days. (works in just about any niche you have PASSION or genuine authority or expertise)

The secret is simple.

Codify and collate questions from your community, into content.

For example, the Tumblr platform has baked this into their platform incredibly well, and as a result, some of the most popular Tumblr’s are now very books to boot.

How so?

The “Ask Me Anything” and “Submit” feature allows other readers from around the web to submit questions, thoughts, opinions or stories… and due to the viral nature of social media, and built in beauty of blogging around a topic that people share passion and a sense of purpose… you can get an AVALANCHE of submissions in YOUR niche, very quickly.

Next –

You simply take the best questions, content and submissions, and codify it into a structure that works as a book. It really IS that easy, and if you have a popular blog or Tumblr now with lots of existing readers, you can literally do this in a weekend. (especially if you are in an emotive niche where people like to share)

A great example of this?

There are a bunch, but one of my favorites is the “Clients from Hell” blog. Not only have they created a world famous blog around a pretty common shared experience by service professionals (difficult clients) they’ve turned the blog into a brand, a business and a blooming bank account to boot! (with a whole store set up around T-shirts, Mugs, and other branded goods that creative professionals buy by the busload)

Their book… and blog is ALL user generated content. Anonymous people submitting their horror stories working with clients, or short blurbs about difficult customers. It’s very entertaining, a lot of fun, and one of the most popular books (and brands) in the industry.

I’ve seen this done by psychics, mediums, personal development coaches, online entrepreneurs, designers, credit repair counselors, spiritual teachers and just about every other type of “publisher” you can imagine.

The good news? you can do the very same thing with WordPress, or any other blog platform that accepts submissions, and the truth is… you can do the same thing with Twitter, Facebook, and social media that allows you to accept content from your community.

It’s creative – and cool, and pretty darn easy to establish yourself as a bonafide writer, publisher, expert and authority site in just about any niche you choose… including the one that MAY make you rich!

Best 2012 Halloween Costumes for Boys

If you are looking for the best 2012 Halloween costumes for boys, we have some ideas for you to get started. Depending on the age of the child, you are going to most likely want to get some input from them on what they want to be – unless they’re a baby, of course. In all seriousness, involving the child in the process of picking a suitable Halloween costume can go a long way in making sure they have a lot of fun on the big night, which is what it’s all about – not to mention the candy.

  • Spiderman Costumes – The Amazing Spiderman was big this year, and as in years past, you can expect many boys to want to become the wisecracking Spidey. The good news is that there are quite a few great – and relatively cheap – Spiderman costumes available.
  • Batman Costumes – Another Superhero that’s huge again this year is Batman. As with Spiderman, the popularity of this costume means there are going to be a lot of different options for you as a parent. From simple plastic outfits to complex costumes with a separate Batman mask and accessories, there’s something for every budget.
  • Historical Costumes – Not every boy is going to want to use a historical figure for a Halloween costume, but this can be great in many different ways. For one, not a lot of other kids are going to have the same costume most likely if you go with a George Washington, Ben Franklin or some other historic figure – Caesar anyone?
  • Homemade Costumes – If you are on a budget or just like to be creative and spend quality creative time with your children, homemade costumes for Halloween can be a great idea. You just want to make sure you involve the boy in every step of the process so he is happy with the outcome and will want to wear it on Halloween night!
  • Soldier Costumes – This is one that is relatively easy to put together cheaply. A little camo and some other accessories – no guns! – and you can have a great looking solider whether it’s a sailor or someone in the airforce or marines. Camo face paint really puts the final touches on this great costume idea.
  • Fireman Costume – Being a civil servant or first responder like a fireman on Halloween is a lot of fun and may be an indication of a future career path for your little one. There are a lot of great accessories you can get to make your costume really stand out from all the others. Don’t forget the cute fireman’s hat and boots!

After you choose which costume you want, it’s all about saving money. Next, we have some tips to make sure you get the most for your money when buying a boy’s Halloween costume this year.

  • Shop Early – One of the best things you can do is shop early. If you were thinking smart last year, you bought your costumes a day after Halloween when they went on sale. Even if you didn’t do this, the earlier you start shopping – even during the final summer months – the more you are going to be able to look around and find the absolute best price.
  • Shop Online – Speaking of finding the best price, another great idea is to make sure you do most of your shopping online. While there’s nothing more fun than taking a kid (or five) to a Halloween costume shop (sarcasm!), there’s something to be said about shopping for a costume online. It’s easy, safe and convenient – and you can save money too.
  • Read Reviews – Finally, you are going to want to make sure you read reviews of the various costumes before you get out your credit card and make any purchases. There are quite a few places you can read reviews these days, but you should find a website you trust and stick with them and their recommendations for the best Halloween costumes for boys in 2012.

Halloween is all about having fun and being able to dress up and score a lot of candy. Picking out the costume should not be stressful or a headache! The sooner you start shopping for a Halloween costume, the sooner you’re going to be able to relax and just enjoy the holidays.

Bathroom Remodeling – Top 10 Tips For a Successful Bathroom Remodel

1.) Choose the Right Contractor:

Selecting the right contractor for a bathroom remodeling project in Dayton, Ohio is the crucial first step and can make the difference between a successful enjoyable process and a never ending nightmare of regret. Make sure the bathroom contractor you select is qualified and capable. Apples to Apples estimates often differ since outstanding quality and customer service costs more to provide you then low attention to detail and no customer service.

Remember often times in life you get what you pay for. Be sure to compare more then just Scope of Work when comparing estimates and investigate and verify their Better Business record.

2.) Proper Prior Planning:

Sound familiar from college? Well it applies to everything including bathroom remodeling. There is a lot of coordinating to be done in typically small spaces when bathroom remodeling. Sure a good contractor will do most if not all the coordinating for you but it is a good idea to go over the steps yourself prior to construction.

Planning the process yourself will not only allow you to be more educated about it, but also make you more informed and better capable of making good decisions with regards to your bathroom remodeling project.

3.) Functional Work Triangles:

Work triangles typically apply to kitchen remodeling but also have value when Bathroom remodeling. “Work triangles” refer to the distance between the functional amenities of your bathroom such as toilet, lavatory sink, showers and tubs, and storage. Creating the right amount of space between these items can make your bathroom functional and comfortable as well as create a feeling of openness and space.

4.) Choose the Right Materials:

With the increased popularity of the big box stores came a gambit of new choices, consequently making selecting materials a nerve racking experience for some remodeling novices. A good contractor will help you select the right stuff for the right spot keeping esthetic appeal, texture, durability and cost in mind.

By properly installing the right materials, they should last the lifetime of your home. The right materials can make all the difference in the world and its painfully obvious when you select the wrong ones.

5.) Waterproofing and Concrete.

By properly waterproofing the concrete board it will create a durable long lasting medium for the tile setting. Reputable contractors only remodel bathrooms using moisture resistant drywall for dry painted surfaces, and concrete board for any areas to be tiled or exposed to wet conditions. However hanging cement board alone is not enough.

The joints and corners need to be taped and finished with ASTM approved mortar in a similar fashion as one finishes drywall. Doing this waterproofs the system allowing your walls to not rely solely on the finished tile for water proofing characteristics and, creates a second moisture barrier.

This simple, low cost step will add decades of time to your bathrooms life span. Ask your proposed contractors how they intend to waterproof the cement board. If they leave this step out of the answer, or say, “the tile is the waterproof system.” move onto the next guy.

6.) Get Great Lighting:

Proper lighting is essential for bathrooms. The right lighting can dramatically improve the appearance and function of your newly remodeled bathrooms. Utilizing a diverse selection of lighting such as 6 inch can lights, 4 inch cans lights, flush mounted lighting, wall sconces, under cabinet lighting, and vanity lights truly livens the space and adds a sense of elegance only great lighting can. The more lights and type of lights you use the more dramatic the aesthetic appeal.

7.) Select the Right Trim:

A bathrooms trim is very important. Types of bathroom trim include; baseboard, casing, chair rail, wainscoting, crown molding, and around mirror trim. The correct combination of trim separates good bathrooms from great bathrooms. There is a fallacy that all of a home’s trim must match. It just isn’t true. Upgrading a bathroom’s trim package can provide huge design dividends while remodeling a bath room and separate it as the most elegant room in the house, which it should be.

8.) Hardware and Fixture Fluency:

Not many things can destroy a bathroom remodel like mismatched hardware and fixtures. There are several finishes to choose from when considering which one is best for your project such as, chrome, brass, brass and chrome, nickel, brushed nickel, stainless steel, brushed stainless steel, antiqued bronze, brushed bronze, and oil rubbed bronze. It is imperative that all items in your bathroom have similar finishes. Disregarding this will confuse the eye, create an un-unified look and take away from your bathrooms appeal.

9.) Remember the Small Stuff:

The small stuff is commonly overlooked then thrown together in the end. One of the largest consumer complaints with regards to bathroom remodeling is that the contractors did not include, or forgot to hang the towel bars, robe hooks, toilet paper dispenser, and soap dishes. Excluding these items results in them being thrown together in an often times dysfunctional manner.

Including the small stuff in the initial prior planning process allows you to select and order the proper pieces for your project with matching finishes to you hardware and fixtures. Keep in mind brushed nickel from Moen does not always match the brushed nickel finish from Kohler and other manufacturers. Ordering all your stuff from the same brand at the same time in the beginning shortens total time for your remodel, assures finish matching, and adds value to your home’s bathroom.

10.) Don’t over Due It:

Bathrooms are typically limited by space regardless of their size. Cramming too many things into to your bathroom will not increase its beauty or function. Instead concentrate on selecting high quality products, proper design, and excellent installation. Quality over quantity is mode of best approach. There are thousands of great products available for bathrooms, try not to fit them all into your bathroom at once.

Also avoid too many accents in tile work. Often time’s people are taken away by the beauty of a mosaic pattern or tile trim detail and throw it up everywhere resulting in a busy almost dizzying effect. Focus on material cohesiveness and minimalist design and you’ll be amazed what you can come up with, without breaking the bank.

What Should You Ask Your Contractor About Your Bathroom Remodel?

One of the best ways to make a noticeable change in your entire home is to remodel one or more of your bathrooms. Although the process may seem a little intimidating at first, you can make everything go as smoothly as possible by asking the right questions before you get started. If you want to avoid unnecessary interruptions and confusions throughout the process, you will to make a list of important points to discuss with your contractor before they even start the job. Here are a few things that you should talk about:

What Type of Remodel Do you Want?

Before you even pick up the phone to start shopping for a contractor, think about what type of remodel that you want. A simple remodel can consist of a new coat of paint and new fixtures, while a complete bathroom overhaul is much more extensive. Decide how extensive you want your remodel to be, determine your budget and then call your contractor to talk about the specifics. They will be able to help guide you through the process from there.

How Much Will It Cost?

While this is a very important aspect of conducting a remodel, you should always make sure to balance cost with the quality of your contractor. You will want to choose someone who is reliable, skilled and has extensive experience working with bathroom remodels. That being said, make sure that you talk with your chosen bathroom remodeling company about the total cost of the project. They should be able to provide you with at least a very close estimate to what the total cost should be. Some will even provide you with a firm bid after doing a full assessment. Always be up front with how much you have to spend on any given project, so that you can be on the same page from start to finish.

How Long Will It Take?

In addition to a cost estimate, you should also ask your builder for a time estimate. While a simple bathroom remodel could take just a few hours, a total overhaul could take several weeks. Because the bathroom is a very important room in your home, you will want to have a fairly clear idea of how long it will be until you can use it again. After you have an idea of how long it will take, come up with a plan to make sharing the other bathroom or bathrooms in your home much easier while you remodel.

In the end, completing a hassle free bathroom remodel relies on constant, clear and honest communication from both you and your contractor. To make sure that you are getting what you want, at a price within your budget, you must communicate these needs to them. Because your bathroom is such an important room in your home, you can’t afford to be vague, unsure or silent about any of the aspects of the remodel. If you follow these tips, and work closely with your chosen remodeling expert, you can expect a bathroom remodel that meets your expectations from start to finish.

Motor Traders Need Specialist Insurance

A bump here and a scrape there may not seem like the worst thing in the world, but when it comes to footing the bill to get these minor eventualities fixed, then it is a totally different story. While you want to move the vehicle on to a potential buyer, not many people are going to be too thrilled if they find that there is damage to it while it has been in your possession.

This is where having a good insurance policy can prove to be a godsend, as not only will it be able to fix the initial problem, but you will also be able to sell the vehicle once it get back from the garage.

The first thing to consider is what eventuality you need to have covered for your specific requirements. Many insurers will offer motor trade insurance in a range of different factors which will take into account the value of the car, what make it is and also your individual circumstances. The latter will include whether you are working for a major company or if you are simply a part-time motor trader that requires the cover policy for their own specific.

Insurers usually offer the protection over three different areas which are road risk only motor trade insurance, liability motor trade insurance and combined motor trade insurance. For those who are looking to safeguard against every form of eventuality should seriously consider the combined policy as this will offer you a comprehensive package for all your needs.

The combined cover ensures that you are protected in any form of action that includes money, liabilities, vehicles, tools and pretty much anything else you can think of. It is ideal for those who want their business extensively protected and also recognises a business premises as well as your home as a place of work so you can be flexible about where you conduct your company’s operations.

However, this level of cover may not be for you, and if not, you may want to look into liability motor trade insurance. This is specifically designed for those of you who have members of the public on your premises at any given time. Also with this level of protection it gives sufficient cover for when you are employing members of staff and will safeguard against any eventuality that should happen.

The road risk insurance policy covers a number of different circumstances with the third party only part being the most prevalent. This is needed when you are going to be driving a customer’s vehicle, perhaps when they have brought it in to be sold on. The law states that this type is needed for any motor trader that is looking to carry out a number of actions including buying and selling vehicles for profit or should restore or repair a car.

Insurance is a major aspect for any motor trader so don’t delay and make sure you seek out a quote.

How to Obtain Lower Rate Car Insurance

If you are paying too much for you car insurance, the easiest way to obtain lower rates is by switching to a new insurer. Yet, the hassles of switching to a new plan mean that consumers may look at ways to save money with their current insurer instead of switching. Read on and we will look at ways you can reduce your car insurance premiums, by offering you money-saving tips that you are certain to welcome.

Your Credit Score

That three-digit number known as your credit score can have a big impact on your insurance rates. In some states, insurers are allowed to determine rates based on your credit history and will write a policy accordingly. If your score is in the tank, consider working toward raising it first before making a switch. Clean up your credit and pay down your outstanding balances. You will be rewarded with a higher credit score and a lower auto insurance premium.

Raise Deductibles

As your car ages, your insurance cover should change as well. New cars should be fully covered and you deductibles low. You may even opt for gap coverage if you are leasing your car. For older vehicles, raising the deductible and even eliminating some coverage can save you a bundle. Your 10-year-old sedan with more than 150,000 miles on the odometer may no longer require costly collision coverage.

Point Reduction

For drivers with a spotty driving record, points can result in higher premiums and take at least three years to disappear. You can help move the process along by taking a defensive driving course if offered in your state. Such courses routinely wipe out three points from your driving record, an effort that is rewarded by insurers with lower premiums. Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles for authorized driving schools.

Insurance Companies

You have tried and tried, but your insurance premiums are still too high. Or at least that you think they are. At this point, you need to contact other insurers and give them information about your car including your current insurance coverage. Obtain quotes and then compare prices. If prices are 10 percent or more lower, than consider making a switch. You can also work with an insurance broker to help you find a better deal. Instead of dealing with one insurance company, this broker will pull up quotes from several companies. Brokers represent you, not insurers — hire a broker if you need help finding a better insurance plan.

Additional Savings

Insurers may offer additional savings based on other factors including multi-policy insurance, customer loyalty, college grades and your employer. If you are not certain about what discounts are available, simply ask. You may be able to shave off more money by qualifying for such discounts.