29th January 2016
My dad was a shoe salesman and entrepreneur. He taught my brothers and me how to sell shoes. I financed college selling shoes. My brothers did too. Then, unlike our dad, we became CPAs. Selling shoes taught us many things. We learned about problem solving and adapting to trends. Most importantly, we learned that it’s not really about shoes at all. It’s about providing what people need and want, which is what we do at Santos, Postal and Company, PC.
We’re a medium-sized firm in the Washington, D.C. suburbs of Rockville and Frederick, Md. We have 19 CPAs in the firm and a total head count of about 50 people. Our practice serves individuals and small and medium-sized businesses with $5 to $20 million in sales. About 70% of our practice is tax related, so we have a very intense busy season.
Our firm was founded by Charles Santos in 1971. My brother Howard Postal joined a few years later, followed by my brother Merle in 1979. I started at the practice in 1986. We’re now into the second and third generation of leadership in the firm. We have six partners and seven principals. I think our roots in the family retail shoe business have been key to our success in building a client base that consists predominantly of family business owners. Last year we merged in Hildebrand, Limparis & Associates, P.C., a firm that shares our values.
Like my dad, who spent countless hours training sales people in his store, we’ve benefited greatly from investing heavily in staff development. In a sense, the AICPA’s Private Companies Practice Section, the Maryland Society of CPAs and top consultants in the profession are teaching our people how to sell and deliver shoes in a market that looks very different from the one my brothers and I learned. The principles are the same, but the tactics are changing rapidly as a result of technology.
The scheduling database we use to assign and monitor work—which we consider to be one of the most important parts of a successful busy season—came out of an event we sent people to. Our business plan for strategic growth in niche practices such as business valuation and forensic accounting grew out of a seminar that some of our managers attended. Many of the more recent technologies we’ve adopted have come from sending people out for CPE and leadership training.
In addition to implementing dynamic scheduling to balance the workload, and using smart practice aids to streamline our workflow, we monitor morale among our staff. Our HR team uses an employee survey tool that takes the pulse on a weekly basis of how we’re doing across the firm. By watching the survey data and reading employee comments, we know when there are issues that need to be addressed.
We use a team approach. Our firm is divided into eight teams. When an individual or team gets behind or is having trouble, we send a swarm of people in, not to place blame, but to help them get caught up. On a case-by-case basis we sometimes give individuals time off even during the peak of busy season.
Much like my dad used to do with the sales people in his store, we preach cross selling and upselling in all of our staff meetings. This year, we’re very pleased with the changes the AICPA Accounting and Review Services Committee made with SSARS No. 21 and the role PCPS took in advocating for firms like ours. We’ve found implementation resources such as the PCPS Exploring SSARS No. 21 Toolkit to be a very helpful. We believe SSARS No. 21 puts us in a much better position to serve the needs of certain types of clients either by moving them up to a review engagement or fully serving their accounting needs. We’ve instructed our staff to address the new opportunities we believe SSARS No. 21 presents in the current season.
When we bring on a new client, we host a meeting with the client that includes someone from every practice in the firm that might have something to offer the client. Clients enjoy talking about their business and appreciate the attention we give them. These meetings generally spawn additional work beyond the initial engagement. If a client’s not ready the first time we present a service to them, we make notes in their file to follow up on the opportunity in the future.
Charles B. Postal, CPA, is the managing partner of Rockville, Md.-based Santos, Postal & Company PC. Prior to joining the firm he worked in the Arthur Andersen audit practice. Charles can be reached at 240-499-2040 or at CPostal@SantosPostal.com.