Even greater things in store for friends

TaxAssist Accountants has expanded their presence on the high street following the opening of its latest shop in the heart of London

Within a decade of launching their first TaxAssist Accountants franchise, Debbie Corbett and Vince Dalaimo have seen their business flourish to such an extent that they now count an opera singer and chartered accountants among their 1,000-strong client base.

The new Holborn shop is among the first in the TaxAssist franchise network to have a prime retail location, with this latest venture sited next to Chancery Lane Tube Station.

“The opening of the Holborn office was amazing – it was meant to finish at 7:30pm, but people were still coming in after 9pm,” enthuses Debbie, who was delighted to have one of her first TaxAssist clients make a special appearance. “Maciek O’Shea, who sang at the Royal Wedding, performed an aria for us and we also had a string quartet play.”

David Paulson, Franchise Recruitment Manager for TaxAssist, explains the pioneering nature of the Holborn franchise: “It is unique in being such a central location, which may well be replicated in other Central London locations.

“The vast majority of our shops are in secondary retail locations as, in the main, it is passing traffic rather than footfall that’s important to us. We are committed to the shop front concept and, in time, all franchise owners will be in shops. Franchise owners are required to be in a shop front within three years of joining us but we do not make it mandatory from day one, as we recognise that the startup costs are higher.

The Holborn shop joins Debbie and Vince’s London Bridge shop, which the friends have built up to look after the accountancy needs of their clients.

“Although our territory is primarily Central London, London Bridge was chosen as our first shop location as it is easily accessible to our clients north of the river, but after nearly ten years we decided it was about time to open a shop on the other side of the Thames,” says Debbie.

“The London Bridge shop is not in such a prominent site and Vince insisted we try a more traditional retail outlet in a location with a good footfall of potential customers. By doing this, we could learn from clients and, by paying the extra rent, we hope to guarantee more passing trade. With that in our minds, we chose Holborn as it was equidistant between Clerkenwell, Covent Garden and Piccadilly – areas where a large number of our clients are based.”

By having two locations with very different profiles and client bases, Debbie and Vince plan to gauge which model works best when they eventually open two more shops in Victoria and Marylebone.

Team work

Debbie launched in London Bridge in 2002, while Vince started his Shoreditch-based franchise a year later.

After crossing each other’s paths on many occasions and helping each other with their respective franchises, they realised that their widely different skill sets complemented each other and that they’d make a great team.

“I deal with the selling and day-to-day management side,” explains Debbie. “I came from a holiday industry background, working mainly for small companies and understood the importance of ensuring good cash flow as a business expands. Vince, on the other hand, came from a banking background and had accountancy skills, but did not have experience of the daily tasks that small businesses face.”

In 2004, the duo decided to officially team up, with Vince joining Debbie at the London Bridge opening their first shop in 2006.

“We were both impressed how TaxAssist were so obliging, as they saw how well we worked together,” she adds. “Since then, we haven’t looked back and have even signed up for a further 15 years as TaxAssist franchise owners.”

Debbie first became aware of TaxAssist Accountants in 1999, adding: “I initially started looking at opening my own business and as I was already working in the holiday industry, I knew the problems it faced, so knew it had to be in a different field. I had become aware of the TaxAssist concept after working in Australia for two years where I had to do a self-assessment.”

For the next couple of years, Debbie received promotional material from TaxAssist and was impressed by how it continued to get better and the company’s steady growth.

“As I had a background as a scientist, I was keen to go back to numbers and computers and as I had already done marketing in my holiday job, I saw a gap in finances and liked the idea of embarking on a new learning curve. However, rather than go back to classroom studies, I prefer to learn on the job, which is what TaxAssist offered.”

Training for success

TaxAssist Accountants has one of the most comprehensive training packages in the franchise industry, including 43 days training in the first six months with an initial six-week training course prior to the launch of a franchise.

David Paulson continues: “The training isn’t designed to turn someone into an accountant but to give them the skills to be the principal of an accountancy practice, which takes time, no matter how strong a person’s technical skills are you simply can’t train them to run a business in a week.”

Once her initial training was complete, Debbie spent her first six months ‘learning the ropes’ at home. “I used the Support Centre technical helpdesk a lot during this time as initially it was very hands on,” she adds. “Now, however, most of my day is spent on practice management.”

Today, Debbie and Vince’s clients at their two TaxAssist locations range from individual and sole trader taxpayers including barristers and banking professionals to partnerships and limited companies.

“Even the flower lady across the road says she needs to change her accountants,” beams Debbie. “I have 1,000 customers and I like every single one of them!”

Written by Fraser McKay