*BIZACTIONS | PDI GLOBAL CUSTOMER SPOTLIGHT*
Des Moines, IA
When’s the last time you climbed to the top of a 100-foot high grain bin to check a client’s inventory?
If you worked for Gardiner Thomsen CPAs, that might have been just yesterday.
That’s because the firm specializes in doing audits for farmer coops and other agricultural businesses.
The best way to find out how much grain is in a bin is to climb up and look in.
Our people are out in the field a lot,” says Emily Bell (nee Gardiner), the firm’s marketing manager. “We take a hands-on approach to serving clients because we think that’s the best way to come up with an accurate measure of grain and similar stock. This also gives us more face time with clients, and in our business, seeing is believing.
Some firms hire consultants to take inventory, but we’re convinced that doing it ourselves gives us greater credibility and a way to differentiate our firm from competitors. That’s why when we’re on an audit, there’s always a partner or manager present to run things. Our clients appreciate the years of experience they get when they engage us, and they like working with familiar faces from year to year.”
Still here after 50 years
This personal approach to client service has helped Gardiner Thomsen (GT) build a solid and growing client base in the agricultural industry. The firm was founded in 1964 by Emily’s grandfather, Dan Gardiner. His sons, Dennis (Emily’s father) and Dan, became partners in 2003, when the firm added Dave Thomsen, a long-time partner and colleague of the founder, to its name.
This interview occurred with Emily Gardiner, Marketing Manager
When we celebrated the firm’s 50th anniversary on October 19, we gave thanks for being a third-generation firm that’s still here after 50 years. Our firm really does feel like a family, not only because it includes several Gardiners, but also because many of our partners and staff have been with us for 10 years or more. That has given us a lot of stability and has helped with client retention, because our clients have worked with the same people from year to year.
I think that’s why many of our coop clients have been with us for more than 40 years, and many credit union and government clients for more than 20. Stability also helps with business development, because the Gardiner name is widely known, and we get a lot of referrals from existing clients.”
In addition to agricultural coops, which account for 90% of GT’s clientele (it serves more than 100 of them), the firm focuses on credit unions (4%) and government entities (4%), with personal tax largely accounting for the rest.
“We’re audit driven. That’s why nearly all of our professionals are auditors. We don’t do much payroll or bookkeeping work. But we do offer business consulting, tax planning and filing, and general accounting services, as well as fraud detection and investigation. The bulk of our business, though, is auditing. That’s what we’re known for, and that’s what we’re very good at.”
Multi-faceted marketing program
While word-of-mouth is the firm’s top source of new clients, it’s by no means the only one. Sponsorships, trade shows, newsletters, presentations, social media and the firm’s website all play a role in keeping and developing client relationships.
Sponsorships are a huge part of our marketing program, because they help build visibility and goodwill. One of our biggest events is during the annual meeting in Minnesota of CHS Inc., one of the country’s largest agricultural coops. We sponsor a hospitality suite at the meeting that draws a lot of participants and provides great networking opportunities.
Another fun and beneficial event we sponsor is the Agribusiness Association of Iowa’s annual golf outing, which gives us a lot of face-to-face time with clients and prospects. We also sponsor local hockey, baseball and basketball teams, as well as local events like the Bacon Fest and the Golden Circle Games (a competition between businesses in the area) because they help us keep our name out there.
In addition, we have a scholarship program in our founder’s name (the Dan Gardiner Memorial Scholarship) that provides two or three $1000 scholarships each year to students at his alma mater, Waukee High School, who are going to college to become accountants. It’s a great way to benefit our community while connecting our firm’s name with accounting.”
GT is also big on content marketing. Every two weeks, Emily emails a BizActions email newsletter to more than 300 contacts, two-thirds of which are clients, and posts it on the firm’s website. She finds it a real time-saver.
GT’s bi-weekly email newsletter
The newsletter enables me to reach a lot of people without a lot of work. It’s a breeze to manage. I can easily add new addresses, edit the distribution list and tailor the content to my audience.
I like the convenience of being able to select articles on agricultural subjects from the BizActions library, as well as to add articles of our own. I especially like being able to set up an issue to be emailed when I want, so even if I’m away, the newsletter will go out.
Along with the Timely Opportunity articles and online tax guide that we get from BizActions, the newsletter gives our website a lot of substance. And I know clients like it. A bookkeeper at one of the coops we send it to told me she spends an hour reading every issue.”
In addition, GT produces a four-page quarterly print newsletter in-house that it mails to roughly 200 clients. It consists of articles written by the firm’s partners and the topics are always changing to remain current. For example, their last newsletter consisted of news about the firm, a profile of a client relationship and short notes on various tax topics — all of which are also posted on the firm’s website.
All of our coop clients do a print newsletter, so we feel it’s important for us to do the same. It helps us connect with that community.”
GT also uses BizActions Email Radars (email blasts) to inform clients about important matters, such as tax deadlines. And the firm is starting to do more with social media. GT has Facebook and Twitter accounts, which Emily uses to post and tweet out firm news, as well as photos, videos and other information that show the human side of the firm and the activities of its people.
Looking to expand
Our goal is to pick up more coops, especially by expanding further into Minnesota, Wisconsin and Illinois,” says Emily. “So we’re attending trade shows and conferences in those states and starting to build relationships with targets. We’re hoping that our name, along with client referrals and focused marketing, will help us get more coop clients and grow.”
Already, GT has added offices in Charles City, Iowa, Lincoln, Nebraska, and Sioux Falls, South Dakota, to its headquarters in Des Moines. A staff of 27 supports the firm’s eight partners in serving some 200 audit clients and a large number of personal tax clients throughout the Midwest and even as far away as California.
I’m excited about our firm’s potential for growth,” says Emily, “even more so now that my husband, Robert Bell (auditor with GT), and I have moved from Colorado to work with the firm.
I know that growth means he may well have to spend more time on the road at our clients than he does already, but it also means that our firm is more likely to be around for another generation.
To that end, I’m doing my best to make sure that we continue to be not just relevant, but also a leader and the firm of choice in our specialty areas.”