Remember the rollup? In the late '90s, financiers were high on buying dozens of small companies and squishing them into one publicly traded concern. Although rollups bombed on Wall Street because they couldn't grow as fast as their stock prices demanded, they're quietly thriving again--this time funded by groups of private investors looking for value and income. In fact, says investment bank Howard,
Lawson & Co., private dollars are pouring in at three times 1997 and 1998 levels, when rollups were hottest. "As long as the economy holds up, there's more and more demand for small and middle-market companies," says T. Patrick Hurley Jr., a Howard, Lawson partner. What's more, business owners who sell out today are being paid nearly all in cash, as opposed to the stock-and-cash deals that once dominated. "Before, when you sold for six times operating income, you took some stock that many people saw decline in value," says Hurley. "Today you're not dependent on someone's ability to issue stock to get paid." Want to get rolled? One way is to get your name out through a business broker. You might start with the International Business Brokers Assn. (www.ibba.org).