By: Aaron Claxton and Mena Arsalai
Selling a California pharmacy is significantly more complicated than the sale of other businesses. In addition to all of the typical business sale considerations, pharmacy sales require approval from the California Board of Pharmacy (the “Board”) of any transfer of 50% or more of the beneficial interest in that license prior to the closing. Additionally, due to the highly regulated nature of pharmacies, both on a state and federal basis, the pool of prospective buyers is dramatically smaller than with other businesses. Below are a few of the most important areas to be considered by pharmacy owners before moving forward with selling their business:
It is critical for sellers to leave themselves a long runway to complete their transaction. Licenses are not transferable to new owners. Therefore, buyers must seek a new license before the close of a transaction. The Board requires approval of changes in ownership before the change occurs. Additionally, change of ownership applications must be filed with the Board at least 30 days prior to closing. If a change of ownership application is not approved by the Board pre-closing, the Board may impose fines and issue citations to the parties. A temporary license should be considered where closing timelines are compressed and may be issued at the discretion of the Board based on the specific facts of the transaction.
The sale of a pharmacy corporation can be structured as either an asset sale or a stock sale. An asset sale is where certain business assets are acquired by the buyer and the seller maintains ownership over the corporation and the remaining assets. In a stock sale the buyer acquires all of the shares of the corporation and takes over complete ownership of the business. In general, a stock sale is preferrable to a seller because the buyer takes over responsibility for the entire business. Conversely, buyers generally favor asset sales because they can pick and choose the assets they want and the seller remains responsible for any skeletons in the closet. In either a stock or an asset sale, the parties will need to work together to clarify who is responsible for what after the sale.
It is important for sellers to understand that they remain on the hook for any pre-closing licensing issues with the Board. For example, if a seller had failed to satisfy a required notification requirement to the Board and this failure comes to light post-closing, the Board may impose a fine on the seller. Therefore, a careful review of any potential license issues is critical prior to any sale.
● Tax and Legal Advisors
Sellers can find themselves with a surprise tax bill where taxes are not a primary focus of the transaction. Experienced tax advisors can be invaluable when sellers evaluate potential deal structures. Tax advisors should be brought into the mix early so that sellers can make fully informed decisions relative to the tax impact of the sale of their business. Additionally, sellers should retain their own, independent legal advisors to guide them through the complex selling process. Too often sellers rely solely upon the buyer’s advisors for crucial legal advice. It is a mistake to assume that buyer-paid attorneys, no matter how well-meaning, can fairly, and aggressively, represent sellers’ interests as well.
Like many businesses, a successful pharmacy is the result of years of work and relationships that the business owners and their teams have cultivated over time. Because of this, the hand-off period can be critical to the ongoing success of the business. The parties should work closely to clearly determine the post-closing role, if any, of the seller. Moreover, considerations should be made on whether there will be a change to the Pharmacist-in-Charge (“PIC”) position post-closing. California law requires that the Board be notified within 30 days of when a PIC ceases to act as the pharmacist-in-charge, and a replacement PIC must be approved by the Board. Additionally, consideration should be made as to whether the buyer will continue operating at the same location, or if a change of location will occur. Under California law, a change of location must also be approved by the Board prior to any change. Therefore, it is important to have these discussions early as the ultimate decision may be based on a third-party landlord.
Who will buy your pharmacy? Current employees and business partners can make attractive prospective buyers as they already are up to speed on running the business. Marketing to employees and partners is generally permissible. Alternatively, you may consider selling to a large pharmacy chain. Business brokers can be helpful in identifying additional buyers outside of a seller’s network.
If you are considering selling your pharmacy, you are not alone. Contact the experienced health care attorneys at Wilke Fleury LLP to help navigate you through the sale of your business.