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Stark Capital Celebrates 20th Year Anniversary

Stark Capital Solutions, an industry-leading capital provider and M&A advisory firm, is proud to announce the celebration of its 20th year in business! Founded by Chris Stark in 2003, Stark Capital has focused predominately on working inside the Billboard Industry with all sizes of independent operators.

To highlight some of our amazing experiences in the industry over the past 20-years, this article is broken up into three sections – 1). Key milestones & memories, 2). Things that have changed, and 3). Things that have stayed the same.

Key Milestones & Memories:

September 2003: Incorporated Stark Capital Solutions, Inc. after 5-years of working at Midwest Bankers Group, leading the Media & Communications division in over 100 transactions and $100MM in deal value.

October 2003: First completed transaction – $30,000 loan to an independent billboard operator to construct a back-to-back static location.

January 2004: Renovated a historic office building where Stark Capital’s main office is still located today.

March 2006: 100 completed transactions – comprised of 69 loan transactions, 18 M&A transactions, and 13 private investments.

May 2009: Surpassed $50mm in total loan transactions.

October 2013: Surpassed $100mm in total M&A transactions.

February 2017: 250 completed transactions – comprised of 168 loan transactions, 43 M&A transactions, 31 private investments, and 8 expert witness/report cases.

June 2018: Craig Berry joins Stark Capital as Vice-President.

May 2022: First 9-figure M&A transaction with Lamar’s acquisition of Burkhart Advertising.  Stark was Lamar’s exclusive advisor in the transaction.

August 2023: 350 completed transactions surpassing $550mm in total transactions.

Over the past two decades, Stark Capital has had the privilege of working alongside an estimated 396 independent operators through a combination of financing and M&A advisory projects!

Chris Stark commented, “It is hard to believe 20-years has passed since starting Stark Capital.  Helping nearly 400 companies create wealth and happiness for their families has been extremely rewarding. I have developed countless friendships over the past two decades. I look forward to many more years building trusting relationships.”

Things That Have Changed:

What is being built – No surprise that over the past 20 years, the industry has shifted from only static billboards to operators building state-of-the-art digital billboards. Not only has digital helped to keep the industry relevant with evolving technologies such as programmatic buying, but it also has had a meaningful impact on increasing transaction sizes – both from a financing and M&A standpoint.

Where digitals are being developed – From 2010-2018 it was customary to only see digital billboards being developed in the major metros. However, over the past 5 years as prices for LED technology has come down dramatically, and local/regional advertisers have become more accustomed to buying digital, we have seen a shift in operators developing digital sign networks in small-to-mid-size cities. These smaller city digital networks have produced some of the best ROI’s we’ve seen operators achieve in the industry.

How permits are obtained – Over the past 10 years, operators have gotten much more creative on how billboard permits are being obtained. Gone are the days of vast by-right development…operators are now challenging municipalities’ sign ordinances through litigation, partnering with municipalities to develop on city-owned property, obtaining variances, etc.    

Increased Valuations – Not only has the industry shifted from basing valuations off a multiple of revenue to a multiple of billboard cash flow, but we have also seen a steady increase in valuations being paid.

M&A Due-Diligence – With more sophisticated land leases, and higher valuations being paid, we have seen buyer’s due-diligence efforts become more rigorous when acquiring assets.

Things That Haven’t Changed:

Influx of New Operators – One would think with the major consolidation from the Public Co’s, independent operators would be shrinking over time. However, we have continued to see a steady inflow of independents.  We commonly see new operators with backgrounds stemming from:  hotel developers/operators, real estate developers, commercial sign vendors, other media professionals (print, radio, tv), or former employees of larger billboard companies.

Interest from Private Equity – The Billboard Industry possesses many unique characteristics that check the boxes for most private equity firms (i.e., a high barrier to entry, recurring cash flow, capital-intensive assets, high profit margins, etc.). Given the uniqueness of the industry, it is no wonder why we’ve continued to see regular interest from many private equity firms.  Think Total Outdoor/Flexis, Fairway/GTCR, Adams  & Ocean/Searchlight, Horton/McWhorter, Trailhead/Viking, New Tradition/Blackstone, Ashby Street/Tinicum,  and the list goes on…!

Need for Specialized Advisors – Over the decades we have been repeatedly reminded of the importance of having a lender or M&A advisor who has deep experience in the industry. We have seen too many transactions get derailed by lenders or advisors who do not have industry specific experience and skills.  Regardless of who you engage, it’ll be money well spent.   

It's been a privilege to have had the trust of so many independent operators over the past two decades. Cheers to the next 20 years!!
20 years anniversary

Miscellaneous Pictures

2014 renovating stark capital hq
2004 - Renovating Stark Capital HQ
2016 ibo
2016 IBO
2019 savannah ibo
2019 Savannah IBO