Electronic Accountant: Tell me a bit about your background.

Lister: I attended Florida State University where I earned an accounting/finance degree and worked for H&R block as a tax preparer during my final year of school. I found it very interesting, so I literally went to work for them after graduation. Eventually I moved up the ranks from franchise director to district manager to finally senior vice president of operations. I found the tax preparation business interesting and compelling and realized even back then that this was going to be a growing business.

Q: You climbed the ranks at Block and achieved seniority and stature there. Why the move to Jackson Hewitt?

A: What intrigued me about Jackson Hewitt was that I saw its unique potential. I thought it could break out and really become something big. And unlike Block, it focused on the 70 million returns filed for taxpayers making less than $50,000 per year and was not encumbered (as Block was) by going up-market in search for clients.

That's a very large target and really allows us to focus where our franchisees place their offices and determining what the customers need and want from our services. And in the past two years we've seen tremendous growth - nearly doubling in the two years that I've been here. We defined a good operational team to help franchisees focus on their business and also devised a good marketing campaign to address what we offer and target it to our core customer base.

Q: So your competition isn't really H&R Block or the other big chains?

A: There are roughly 60-70 million returns filed using paid tax preparers. Our competition is all those mom and pop small practitioners.

Q: What's Jackson Hewitt's ultimate goal?

A: To be the biggest tax preparation return provider in the country.

We have a very balanced, organic growth strategy. This year we have over 3,800 offices nationwide, which is up from nearly 3,300 last year. For us, organic growth means putting locations in the right place and making sure that same store sales increase dramatically each year.

We still have thousands of territories for sale for franchisees. And we're also focusing on converting existing tax businesses to the Jackson Hewitt brand.

Q: What kind of tax businesses would be attractive to Jackson Hewitt?

A: We're looking for tax businesses that don't want to sell or get out, but don't feel they're growing anymore. Associating with a brand could be the answer for them. So far, we've done a good job of converting tax businesses of a decent size to the Jackson Hewitt name. We have one in Birmingham, Alabama that originally had five offices. This year, with the same management team in place, they've opened 17 offices under the Jackson Hewitt umbrella, and have seen how it is a great way to take the business further than they ever could have themselves.

We also have an acquisitions unit that goes out and finds tax practices that fit within our tax service model and we have a separate company that buys the tax businesses and runs them. We're looking here for businesses that are primarily tax preparation on the lower end of the scale.

Q: Do you think the consolidation of tax and accounting firms will continue over the next few years?

A: I think consolidation will continue to occur and we intend to be the leader in that effort.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently named us as the second-most attractive franchise business in America. We beat out McDonald's, Holiday Inn and Seven-Eleven. It's a testament to our franchisees adapting to our lead and building the business.

Q: What's your view of the movement to Internet tax preparation and filing?

A: We have an Internet Web site for the public aimed at lead generation, and we're the leaders in e-filing, but Jackson Hewitt is not in the online business because our focus is on being in front of the customer. That said, as the Internet continues to grow and become more accessible, we will see how we can harness that as a tool for customers to be able to communicate with us

But I don't think that online tax preparation - which is aimed right now at the self-preparer market, will affect tax preparation businesses like ours. Our entire philosophy is based on the fact that a person comes in and talks with another person and makes sure that the return is accurate and complete. And I think there will always be a need for that kind of service.

There will always be a need for customers to connect with a professional and for now, that's where our focus will be.

Q: Tell me a bit about your background.

A: I attended Florida State University where I earned an accounting/finance degree and worked for H&R block as a tax preparer during my final year of school. I found it very interesting, so I literally went to work for them after graduation. Eventually I moved up the ranks from franchise director to district manager to finally senior vice president of operations. I found the tax preparation business interesting and compelling and realized even back then that this was going to be a growing business.

Q: You climbed the ranks at Block and achieved seniority and stature there. Why the move to Jackson Hewitt?

A: What intrigued me about Jackson Hewitt was that I saw its unique potential. I thought it could break out and really become something big. And unlike Block, it focused on the 70 million returns filed for taxpayers making less than $50,000 per year and was not encumbered (as Block was) by going up-market in search for clients.

That's a very large target and really allows us to focus where our franchisees place their offices and determining what the customers need and want from our services. And in the past two years we've seen tremendous growth - nearly doubling in the two years that I've been here. We defined a good operational team to help franchisees focus on their business and also devised a good marketing campaign to address what we offer and target it to our core customer base.

Q: So your competition isn't really H&R Block or the other big chains?

A: There are roughly 60-70 million returns filed using paid tax preparers. Our competition is all those mom and pop small practitioners.

Q: What's Jackson Hewitt's ultimate goal?

A: To be the biggest tax preparation return provider in the country.

We have a very balanced, organic growth strategy. This year we have over 3,800 offices nationwide, which is up from nearly 3,300 last year. For us, organic growth means putting locations in the right place and making sure that same store sales increase dramatically each year.

We still have thousands of territories for sale for franchisees. And we're also focusing on converting existing tax businesses to the Jackson Hewitt brand.

Q: What kind of tax businesses would be attractive to Jackson Hewitt?

A: We're looking for tax businesses that don't want to sell or get out, but don't feel they're growing anymore. Associating with a brand could be the answer for them. So far, we've done a good job of converting tax businesses of a decent size to the Jackson Hewitt name. We have one in Birmingham, Alabama that originally had five offices. This year, with the same management team in place, they've opened 17 offices under the Jackson Hewitt umbrella, and have seen how it is a great way to take the business further than they ever could have themselves.

We also have an acquisitions unit that goes out and finds tax practices that fit within our tax service model and we have a separate company that buys the tax businesses and runs them. We're looking here for businesses that are primarily tax preparation on the lower end of the scale.

Q: Do you think the consolidation of tax and accounting firms will continue over the next few years?

A: I think consolidation will continue to occur and we intend to be the leader in that effort.

Entrepreneur Magazine recently named us as the second-most attractive franchise business in America. We beat out McDonald's, Holiday Inn and Seven-Eleven. It's a testament to our franchisees adapting to our lead and building the business.

Q: What's your view of the movement to Internet tax preparation and filing?

A: We have an Internet Web site for the public aimed at lead generation, and we're the leaders in e-filing, but Jackson Hewitt is not in the online business because our focus is on being in front of the customer. That said, as the Internet continues to grow and become more accessible, we will see how we can harness that as a tool for customers to be able to communicate with us

But I don't think that online tax preparation - which is aimed right now at the self-preparer market, will affect tax preparation businesses like ours. Our entire philosophy is based on the fact that a person comes in and talks with another person and makes sure that the return is accurate and complete. And I think there will always be a need for that kind of service.

There will always be a need for customers to connect with a professional and for now, that's where our focus will be.

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