Establishing a brand as a CPA firm is something that can take a lifetime.
For Long Island's Grassi & Co., the recent rebranding of its Technology Consulting Division was a testament to the firm's strategy of gaining higher brand recognition for the firm and its niche services.
Many of the technology consulting units at CPA firms function somewhat separately from the other practice areas, leaving other partners unfamiliar with the projects they are involved with. By contrast, Grassi's tech practice has made efforts to integrate itself more with the core CPA firm, and over the past year underwent a rechristening from its former moniker of GCM Systems, first to the more familial Grassi Technologies, and more recently to the less formal Grassi & Co.'s Technology Consulting Division.
Managing partner Lou Grassi explained that the change addressed the firm's overarching goal of meeting a range of client needs throughout their respective business lifecycles. And he said that the firm-client relationship often begins with tech consulting. "You need to have a differentiator, and this is how we are doing it. We really wanted to wrap our arms around clients and service all of their needs," said Grassi. "We lead with [tech] consulting and this is a space for us to be. Businesses evolve and systems don't always evolve with a business. For us, it's not always just about having a tech plan, a tax plan or an audit plan. We look to see what our clients need and how we can provide that."
Last year Grassi began the process of rebranding and integrating its technology unit within the firm. GCM Systems, as it was known as far back as the mid-1990s, acted as a systems implementer and software reseller, primarily for Sage Timberline, MAS 90, 200 and 500. Carrying Timberline made sense for the firm, as much of its business came from the construction sector, while the MAS line was utilized by non-construction clients.
While many Grassi entities existed, the perception in the market was that GCM Systems was a separate entity from the firm - hence the series of renamings.
"We used to get work from other CPA firms and still do, but at the time [GCM was created] we didn't want to call it Grassi and Company; we were concerned what would happen if they were to refer us to clients that perhaps didn't want the Grassi name," said Grassi. "These days we are thinking we're not going to violate any trust and our impression was that the Grassi brand adds a lot, so we renamed it Grassi Technologies. We facilitate the whole process and get involved in the entire process. Our thing is sitting on the client's side of the table, getting them what's right for their business."
Rob Murray, a principal within the Technology Consulting Division, echoed Grassi's viewpoint on rebranding, and maintained that every accounting system implementation is relevant to other practice areas.
"We had some interaction [with other practice areas] before, but now that we are merged in, there's more coordination of our efforts," said Murray. "If I'm in meetings with a prospect, I can bring in someone from tax or audit. Doing an implementation, we know what the audit guys need and what management reporting needs to be set up. And if our auditors come in, we've set it up so it's exactly how they need it."
Murray has been with the firm since 1984, and recently served as the interim head of the tech division until early January, when Grassi hired construction industry and tech services veteran Chuck Schwartz as the new partner-in-charge of the technology practice.
"We wanted someone forward-thinking, as we're getting into new markets and expanding our capabilities to existing companies," explained Grassi. "When [Schwartz] came on, we had him meet with all of our niche groups and figure out how to grow in each sector."
Schwartz spent 14 years with a Long Island-based sand and gravel manufacturing mining concern. He then spent 13 years with a professional IT services company, where he served as director of business development. He was recently contacted by an executive search agency about the position, and knew the firm well from his years in construction. Grassi hired Schwartz after his interview, which primarily consisted of a new business plan for the Technology Consulting Division.
"Things are moving in new areas and I want to take us to new niches and verticals. Some don't exist with us now, like health care, logistics, and waste brokerage," said Schwartz. "These are the growth areas. I want to be formidable 10 years from now and build an award-winning expert consulting practice around best-of-breed software and systems. We want clients to see the firm as a whole, and traditional selling tactics just don't work anymore. We have to be able to work as a team, work with partners, and cross-selling within the organization is a unique gift for a technology division to have."
Schwartz was also confident that Grassi's recent acquisition of the New York-based firm Pustorino, Puglisi & Co. would positively impact the growth of the Technology Consulting Division. Specifically, Pustorino had financial and international services practices - two areas Grassi had not been in - which will add to the firm's and the tech division's overall service areas and client base.
The tech division's branding and integration efforts also included a new Web site and generating awareness via social media, which also involves partners posting original articles and links to them via Facebook and Twitter. Marketing manager Vicki Mullen has overseen much of this activity over the past year. "We want to be a one-stop shop, going beyond tax and auditing, so we are positioning our partners not just as service providers, but thought leaders," said Mullen. "We're rebranding our partners, pushing the Web and social media to show they are thought leaders and not just partners within a division. Now that we have Chuck[Schwartz], we can push that division and its services."
To continue with its branding push and overall marketing efforts, at the turn of the year Grassi hired a new marketing director in Frank Vitale. He had recently served as market development operations, office managing partner, and special initiatives manager at KPMG.
Though only on board for a brief time, Vitale said that he is already seeing the "strength in the Grassi name," and plans to continue on the objective of being seen as one firm. "When I met with Lou, I learned this firm is not scared to take chances and to do what it takes to be seen as a leader. It's not very common for a firm to be proactive and not reactive in this marketplace," said Vitale. "You need a team to work with and Grassi has that mentality. When you come from a business consulting perspective, everything is changing rapidly and you have to adapt. If you change first, you will be a thought leader."
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