By Deanna C. White
When college student David Elkins of Smiths Grove, Kentucky, walked into Ron Studle's independently owned tax preparation business more than thirty years ago, he had no idea the meeting would completely transform the direction of both their lives.
As Studle prepared Elkins' first tax return, his detailed explanation of the intricacies of tax preparation and his enthusiasm for the profession sparked Elkins lifelong interest in the field.
Years later, Elkins found himself working for Studle, along with coworker Ron Vincent. In 2001, the three formed RRD Financial Services, Inc. (RRD) and dove into the franchise waters by opening three Jackson Hewitt Tax Service offices in Tennessee.
Today, RRD, headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee, has grown its franchise from those three original offices to seventy-five locations - 90 percent of which are located in Tennessee.
During the 2012 tax season, the franchise prepared over 32,000 individual tax returns; all the time retaining clients and attracting new customers by maintaining high standards for customer service and employing a dedicated team of tax preparers, according to Jackson Hewitt officials.
In October, to recognize that achievement, Jackson Hewitt Tax Service bestowed its highest honor - the Franchise of the Year Award - on RRD as part of the 2012 Jackson Hewitt Annual Convention. The annual award is given to the franchise that exhibits the highest level of performance in terms of growth, territory and employee development, customer service, and community involvement.
Additionally, the award also recognizes a franchise that upholds the standards at the core of the Jackson Hewitt experience - quality, professionalism, and entrepreneurship.
"We are very honored and humbled to be selected as the 2012 Jackson Hewitt Franchise of the Year Award winner," said Elkins, co-owner/operator of RRD. "This award would not have been possible without the magnificent team we are fortunate to work with each day. Their commitment and dedication, not only to our own franchise but to the Jackson Hewitt brand, is nothing short of exceptional, and they all share in this award."
Philip H. Sanford, president and CEO of Jackson Hewitt Tax Service, said RRD is known throughout Jackson Hewitt as a leader that takes a hands-on, collaborative approach to business, works to find solutions, and contributes to the community.
"We are proud to have the franchise as part of our team, working to build our brand throughout Kentucky, Tennessee, and Virginia," Sanford said.
Elkins said RRD was able to accomplish its exponential growth because it initiated a plan of rapid expansion from "day one."
"This plan was made possible both by purchasing un-owned territories from Jackson Hewitt and opening new storefront offices and new retail locations, as well as purchasing other existing operations," Elkins said. "We purchased six different independent operations and converted those to the Jackson Hewitt brand. We also purchased five existing Jackson Hewitt franchises for our expansion."
A critical factor in the success of the expansion, Elkins said, was RRD's close relationship with a knowledgeable banker. It's a relationship he strongly recommends that any business considering rapid expansion develop.
"Rapid expansion requires investment, and the ability to acquire financing is very important. The tax preparation business is primarily an intangible asset, so your banking partner must be very comfortable with your business plan," Elkins said.
Securing a competent and experienced management team is also essential to managing a large operation, he added.
But RRD's true key to success, Elkins is quick to emphasize, is centered in the core values of the Jackson Hewitt brand itself: a commitment to employee development, customer service, and community involvement.
To ensure each of those core values are met, RRD employs the following strategies at each of its locations:
- Employee development: RRD offers year-round continuing education opportunities for all its employees. Its goal is to have the highest level of training in the industry, not only to improve its own operation, but also to allow personal growth for employees.
- Customer service: RRD provides every client the highest level of customer service possible through convenient locations, extended hours, and exceptional client interaction. A huge part of RRD's training focuses on identifying client needs and delivering on those needs.
- Community involvement: Each person in the organization is charged with being a part of his or her community. RRD is involved in community fundraisers, local sport sponsorships, and many other activities. One of the organization's greatest commitments, Elkins said, is Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
To instill these values and practices across a large organization like RRD, Elkins said, it is critical to employ a core team that totally believes and buys into the organization's values and standards of ownership.
"The core team is essential in taking the expectations and standards of ownership and making sure that these are maintained across the entire operation," Elkins said. "Communication between ownership and the core team is essential to allowing this to happen."
Ultimately, Elkins said, the Franchise of the Year Award is so rewarding because it underscores the fact that RRD has achieved its original and ultimate goal: to create a large and successful operation that provides great opportunities for its entire team.