How did you get started in this business and what inspired you to start this business?
I was in the motorcycle business, and the economy crashed, and I got slaughtered with inventory, so I figured I’d go back to my roots that sort of business that has no inventory. That’s what’s beautiful about this business is you don’t have to have a significant investment in inventory. Your inventory is basically your tax program. So, I figured I would go back to my roots, and I’d start a business that has low with success and treat it like it was the core business. You know to advertise, properly, promote properly, build your brand and drive your customers through your front door and then you can do business and have no cost of sale. Your total cost of sales labor. It’s worked ever since. You know, I looked into the Liberty Tax model, and all I did basically was copy it. I met with John Hewitt who runs Liberty Tax who was with H&R Block; Jackson Hewitt is he who he was with. I found out that this model’s amazing you know you can take care of customers you can drive customers you can really help people out, and you can generate sales and have no cost, and it’s worked ever since there have been no roadblocks. So, I did a lot of research I came up with a name, and I came up with the branding image, and now we’re five years in and it’s going to become one of the top brands in the industry.
Why GI Tax?
You know it’s funny because this thing’s taking on a life of its own. It’s really funny, I was doing a lot of work with guys at the base, and I want to start a tax company that would actually do tax returns for people that served in the military, but I’ve found that there are companies out there to do it for free. Then I started learning about the whole franchising thing, and I figured instead of doing tax returns for people in the military let’s give them a way to handle the unemployment issue. Let’s find a way to make their families wealthy. Let’s find a way to take care of them. And I figured out a way to sell franchises to guys and girls that have served in the military as opposed to do tax returns for guys and girls that have served in the military. So, if we could actually sell franchises to guys and girls have served, we can create this big giant fraternity of people that can hang out together and we can solve two problems at once. We don’t get to do this without them. You know we get to take care of people that have served, which as you as you look into it they deserve the world. I mean these are people that are going to fight for our freedoms. We don’t get to do this kind of stuff without them, and when they’re all together, and they’re in their own group of people they are loose, and they’re free, and they can all talk about the way they served. They talk about war, and you talk about, you know, how they’ve seen people killed, or get arms blown off – and when they’re together they’re loose, and they’re friendly, and they are stress-free. And if we can create this fraternity of people that have all served, then it’s better for everybody. You know it’s taking on a life of its own. I mean it’s amazing. They want to take care of their families, and they want to be successful. They get out of the military after 20 years, their forty-five years old, and they come into the world, and they don’t want to work for Macy’s and Home Depot; they want to own their own businesses. One of the things we do a G.I. tax is we don’t offer a job; we offer a career. You go to work for Macy’s or Home Depot, which all these companies they say that they care, but they don’t really care when they hire you. They treat you like everybody else. You’re just another employee. So, what we want to do is want to create careers as opposed to jobs and then if we have people that have served and owning their own franchise they can hire people that have served with them and then it just grows exponentially with people that we should be taking care of.
How do you make money?
You drive people in, and you give them a good product. You earn the business. You create value, and people pay you. You know it’s very simple. what’s nice about this business is you create a relationship as opposed to income, because people trust you. They trust you as their financial advisor, they trust you as their shrink. You know they come in, and they have somebody to talk to about anything. That’s why we hear all year long because if you’re a tax client, you get to use us the whole year for financial advice. People come and ask us anything such as, you know, should they lease or buy a car? Should they buy a house? Should they not buy a house? Should they rent the house? What about bankruptcies? They come in they talk to us about things that they can’t talk about with anybody else about, and it doesn’t cost a thing. What we create is loyalty; we form this bond with our customers, and it’s a relationship-driven business.
So, the brand isn’t just for the military; you definitely want heroes?
Everybody. That includes civil servants. Everybody! The police, FBI, the CIA. I mean, what’s going on in the news right now. It’s anybody that has served. These are the people that should really own these franchises. Now you know, you don’t have to. Okay? If you aren’t somebody that has served and you want to own a G.I. Tax franchise, that’s great, but you have to understand you have to bleed red, white, and blue, and you have to do everything to support the people that have served. You know we give money from every tax return to support military charity, so if you want to be a civilian that owns one of these franchises, that’s great. We have no problem with that. It’s just you have to understand that the reason why we’re here is to be able to give back to the people that have allowed us to do this kind of stuff.
How long did it take you to become profitable?
First day. You need to prepare yourself correctly. We try to get people to get in towards the end of the year. If you work your leases right, you get six months free rent in your leases. The hardest thing is the capitalization of it, but you know you can lease furniture you do all that kind of stuff. But if you open up in November you advertise properly, you start doing taxes in January, you fund your office right, and you can be profitable the first tax season.
When you were starting out, was there ever a time that you doubted it would work? And if so how to handle it?
You know I started working on this five years ago. I looked at all these models, such as Liberty Tax, and I looked at H&R Block, and I looked at Jackson Hewitt, and I looked at a company called Tax Centers of America, and a bunch of other ones, and I looked at this industry and I said, ‘can it be this easy?’ Every time I went and I started researching this industry, I’ve never run into a roadblock. It’s an interesting business because if you take care of your customers, which, there are no companies out there doing it right now, you really don’t run into a roadblock. If you’re in a business like this, which is a personal service type business, you’re your business. The only reason why you run into a roadblock is if you lost track and had to take care of your customers. But if your company grows with your customer base, then you can stay profitable from your first tax season. Did I ever think that it wouldn’t work? Every single day. When you’re a small business owner, every single day. You worry about being able to make money or not, but if you’re focused and you’re driven, and you look in the right direction then you can overcome those really quick. You know you sit in your car, and you wonder ‘how am I going to make payroll today?’ and all of a sudden you get in and you get 15 calls from customers. Any industry, any business, if you are an entrepreneur, you control your own destiny. The only time you fail is when your business becomes unimportant to you. That doesn’t matter what business you are in. If it becomes unimportant to you, you fail.
How did you get your first customer?
I was lucky. My first customer came because I was a CPA and I did a lot of work for taxes for the last 25 years for people that I was in business with. I didn’t do it for pay; I just did it because I wanted to keep up with the tax laws. So, for me, it was easy, but when I opened my new office which wasn’t going to be based on my relationships anymore because it had to be a new office. You advertise you put yourself out there you meet people you join the chamber. You get involved in community events, and you just start talking to people. When people realize you have credibility, they will use you. They’re looking for somebody in this industry to be able to trust. More competition is horrible. You know we’re fortunate because if you look at the branding report, H & R Block is like number 100 the top brands in the country. Where Coca-Cola and Pepsi are number one, H&R Block is towards the bottom, and Liberty Tax isn’t even on the report. So, we could actually change your tax business, which is actually what we are trying to do. We are trying to change the way people look at the tax business.
So whatever field that you’re looking to target you have to find a way to stand apart, without a doubt. That’s in any business. You have to you have to find a way to separate yourself from the competition and then you grow customer by customer because this is a referral type business when somebody trusts you they will refer you to their friends.
What one marketing strategy that you’re using that works well to generate new business?
There’s a few. I’m a radio guy; you know I mean? I like the radio. During tax season, we start advertising in December, and we run 500 radio spots between December and April. But the best thing is local events because people go and they do their taxes within three miles of where they work where they live. So, if you put yourself out there in community events you sponsor some 5Ks, join the chamber, you join networking groups. July 4th, we went down the concourse, and we give out American flag sunglasses. We stop in and give donuts to people that are in town. We call and ask for referrals. It’s no different than any other business; pound the pavement. You know? You put yourself out there. We have a great logo, we’ve got a great image, we’ve got a great story. The more you put it out there, the easier it is to get business.
What is the toughest decision that you had to make in the last few months?
To open a new office. I mean it’s easy to make a few hundred thousand bucks and say ‘okay, this is enough,’ or do you want to grow it and do you want to become larger than you can possibly be? The biggest decision I had to make in the last few months and since I’ve opened is what do I want my expansion to be? You know? And how wealthy do I want to be, really? It takes a lot of time, and it’s a lot of work and a lot of risks, but in this business, you know franchisees if they have one office, they can make $100,000; if they have five offices, they make $500,000. You work just as hard. It’s just different types of work. So, any entrepreneur has to worry about how they want to handle their growth. You stay stagnant you die.
What did you think it is that makes you successful?
Trust in people. What makes me successful is the people around me. It’s basically that simple. I’ve had articles written about me in the last 30 years. I’ve been pretty successful, and people ask me what the key to my success is. Hiring great people and letting them work. Staying out of their way, almost. You know I mean? I was just talking about this the other day, (…and it’s funny I was watching something and Jimmy Johnson the other day), as a leader your most important thing you have to deal with his judging talent, because you can’t do it yourself. You don’t have enough hours in a day. So, as an entrepreneur and as a business person or even anybody I mean it comes down to relationships. You have to judge the people you’re dealing with, and you judge talent. If you put people in the right job, in the right place, then it runs on autopilot – it’s easy. Pay people. Pay them well. You know? Don’t let them leave for money. Get them bought in. The reason they call it business culture is that it becomes a cult. People start thinking the same way; they start dressing the same way. Figuring out what your customers are. When everybody starts getting in, then you have this congruency and consistency between your people. It’s so easy to grow. I mean it’s that simple. But the most important thing that I’ve learned in my life about success is taking care of your people. You end up multiplying your passions, without a doubt. When you’ve got multiple passions moving in the same direction, you can’t fail. I mean the only time you fail is when something happens that’s out of your control. “Speed of the troops, speed of the leader.”
What has been your most satisfying moment in business?
I have a customer okay that came to us she had filed her tax returns last few years and her tax guy did it wrong. She was a teacher. She makes twenty-one thousand dollars a year. We refiled three years of tax returns, and she got a $25,000 a refund. She cried. She busted down, and she hugged us like the world was new. That’s what it’s all about. It’s about how you make people feel. So, to say: ‘What is it that makes you feel this way?’ It’s each individual customer saying thank you. And as they say ‘thank you’ and as they send you flowers, and bottles of wine and chocolates, in the tax business, I mean it’s wild! But again, my success comes from my employees being able to say hey I’m going on vacation, or I’m going to buy a new watch, all my customers coming in saying thanks my world wouldn’t have been the same without you. That’s what it’s all about. That’s why I feel passionate about my team, as being passionate about what I do. My success comes from the success of the people around me, and that’s where the good feeling comes from. And you know I’ve never looked at my paycheck. I very rarely look at my bank accounts because if you do your job right that all comes around, it’s not a problem. I try to teach my kids that don’t look to the dollar look to doing your job right. And if you do a good job right, the money comes. It’s so simple that way.
What does the future hold for your business and what are you most excited about?
I’m most excited about being able to make a difference for the people who have served the country. If we grow this to 1000 locations which is what I want to do, then we will be able to donate between 10 and 20 million dollars a year to military charities. If we could do that, then we’d become one of the largest supporters of military charities in the country, as well as making a lot of franchisees successful and providing good lives for their families. And if I do that, if it works and that works then my success again comes the success of the people around me. And if we teach our franchisees to do things right, they take their families. But in the meantime, we can actually make a difference on the planet. The one thing you have when you leave this world is how you affected other people. And if we can get to the point where we have a thousand franchisees and locations, then we can give 10 and 20 million dollars to military charities. We made a difference. When the gates open, we can get in.
What business books have inspired you?
Tom Peters, In Search of Excellence, which is amazing. I met Tom Peters. I met him because we brought him in. Way back when he wrote In Search of Excellence, we brought him into our company. He spoke to our employees. When he speaks, he is passionate about customer service. I read books about successful people. I read Michael Dell and Pat Riley, and even Bill Clinton and George Bush. I mean everybody successful has something in common, and it’s they don’t hear “no.” They’re passionate about what they believe. And they don’t hear people saying no. You just don’t hear that stuff, it kind of bounces off. What you do is you drive it, and as a leader, you can’t hear no. Leadership or success comes from vision. There’s not a lot of people that don’t have a vision, but you have to see this vision. You have to see the picture, what it is going to look like at the end, and you get a bunch of people around you to get you to be able to capture that vision. That’s what it’s all about.
What is a recent purchase that you’ve made that helped your business?
That’s an interesting question. It’s everything. I mean my business my deal is I don’t do a lot of tax returns right now. I do a few for my big giant clients but I sit at my desk every single day, and I look for ways to make the business better. I mean I shop radio spots, I shop for promotional things, I talk to my marketing director, I hire people. It’s not one purchase. They say half your advertising budget is wasted you don’t know which half. It’s the same thing with success. You can’t peel something out of what you have done if you’re successful. You can’t say you wouldn’t have been successful without it, because it’s all part of the package and it’s the whole package and makes it successful. So just to try to peel something out and say that is why it worked… you have no idea if it’s working. It’s working and just let it keep working. I mean it’s like feeding the animal if it’s working. If it’s not working, then change the animal.
Leave us that one point that you few individuals know about your company.
We will be the number one tax service in the United States!