Bryant Riley founded his company with a single focus: research on small public companies ignored by big brokerages.

Things have changed. Now, 17 years later, his West L.A. brokerage, B. Riley & Co., is also an investment bank and a money manager.

And it will become a small public company itself.

B. Riley announced last week that it is buying Great American Group Inc. in Woodland Hills, a struggling public company that provides business and property appraisals as well as helps companies liquidate during bankruptcies.

It appears to be an odd purchase for a brokerage and investment bank. But Riley, chairman and founder of his namesake firm, said he is getting Great American for a good price, and he thinks the combination creates opportunities for B. Riley’s and Great American’s various business lines.

“We see how it all fits together,” he said.

Going public is a big step for Riley’s company, which he acknowledges he wouldn’t have taken without the Great American deal. He said his firm is too small on its own to go public the traditional way, through an initial public offering, hence a reverse merger with Great American.

Even combined, the new B. Riley will have a market cap of just about $80 million based on terms of the deal, making it smaller than 80 percent of companies on the LABJ Stock Index. But Riley said being public will help attract new investors and make it easier to give employees a stake in the company through stock options.

“It gives us great ability to compensate our people and get everyone to row together,” he said.

Business ties

B. Riley and Great American go back five years: The investment bank advised Great American on the 2009 deal that took it public in the first place, and Riley has been a director of the company since.

Great American had a huge year in 2009 as the failure of big retailers resulted in boom times for liquidation businesses. The company helped sell off the remains of chains such as Mervyn’s and Circuit City, leading to net income of nearly $17 million that year. The bankruptcy frenzy of that year was the justification for its initial public valuation of about $160 million.

But that proved to be a high-water mark. In 2010, Great American lost $11 million. It has been profitable in the years since, though it has never come close to 2009. Last year, the firm reported net income of just over $1 million.

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