franchises and either find another area of opportunity or retire, Harrison plans to remain a geek for the long haul. In fact, he seeks to expand his fledgling operation. “Once I get this SBA loan paid off, I plan to buy another [location] and hire more techs,” Harrison explains. “I’m also trying to get my 8(a) status to get government contracts.” While these franchisees have different long-term goals, both are building wealth by managing growing businesses — all from the comfort of their own homes.
A TAXING WAY TO BUILD A BUSINESS
Although not a home-based franchise, Colbert/Ball Tax Service in Houston is one of the few black-owned franchisors in the nation. Their goal: to carve out a slice of the tax-preparation pie dominated by such heavy-hitters as H&R Block Inc. and Jackson Hewitt Inc.
Grossing $1.4 million in revenues for 2001 and projected to boost sales to $2.5 million for 2002, Colbert/Ball operates 28 locations in 12 cities, mostly in the South. The company’s tax preparation services mostly focus on providing quick refunds to customers, and it hopes to open 100 locations by the end of 2002. “We specialize in [preparing] electronic tax returns and we focus on a 24-hour turnaround on tax refunds,” says Al Colbert, 29, who along with first cousin, Ja Ja Ball, 30, founded the firm in 1994.
The two, who are 60-40 partners, started the business during their senior year at Texas Southern University. “I was an accounting major and Ja Ja a business major, and we were looking [into] going into business [together],&q
uot; says Colbert. “We looked at the tax industry because we knew a few that were successful at independent locations. We had saved up some money from our jobs and we had some family members that helped us out.” The pair raised roughly $17,000 to open up their first location in 1995.
The two found that starting an enterprise was a taxing proposition. With a not-so-grand opening that didn’t lure a single client, the two had to wait four days before their first customer crossed the threshold of the new office. With initial business slow, the fledgling firm went back to the marketing drawing board. Gone were the fliers, newspaper ads, and direct mail. Instead, they purchased a more visible sign for their office, and took out a series of radio ads. “We also started a referral program where [if] customers referred other people to us, we’d compensate them $10,” points out Colbert.
That strategy worked. Colbert/Ball processed some 270 returns its first year, making enough to move its main office from a low-income area in Houston’s Third Ward to a business district in the Astrodome area. After processing more than 4,000 returns in 2000, the pair thought about expanding. Why not become a franchisor? “We tested the market by setting up an affiliate program under a license agreement in Dallas,” says Colbert. “We felt we had developed a good system and we wanted to share that system not only to give others an opportunity, but to