Co-founders Brandon McCoy, CEO, and Blake Odom, CFO/COO, of Applied Business Solutions: A PEO Company are good friends who have much in common. They are both native Floridians hailing from the northern part of the state, McCoy from the small town of Jasper and Odom from Jacksonville. Both developed a strong work ethic at a young age and share an entrepreneurial spirit. McCoy began his career within his family’s insurance business while Odom got his first taste for business when he was just 16. He was a part of a professional drag racing team, racing in Florida and along the East Coast. He moved on to work as an executive within the fitness industry before becoming a licensed insurance agent and executive
with Alliance & Associates Financial Services. It was there that the eventual partners developed their vision for a new PEO.
“It started off with the insurance agency,” Blake explains. “Alliance started back in 1990 when Brandon’s father, Randy, founded the company as a life insurance agency.”
The McCoys’ insurance agency was a small family business. When Odom joined the company, Alliance had recently grown to about 20 employees. The agency now employs 200 and has almost 200 contracted agents. Today Alliance is a full lines insurance agency and is a top 3 agency in Florida with Blue Cross and Blue Shield. McCoy’s and Odom’s success led them to seek out additional ways to serve their clients.
“We started developing a commercial insurance division and buying commercial insurance agencies several years ago,” Blake says, “and we wanted to grow that department substantially. We looked at different ways to market business owners’ needs, and we started brokering the services of several PEOs here in Florida. From there we realized that starting a PEO might be the best route for us. When we started Applied Business Solutions, there was a need in the industry for a high-service PEO that can offer a consulting arm in addition to other services.”
Blake elaborates that he and Brandon “pieced together” their vision of a PEO based on what they as business owners would want in the way of services.
“We had been pitched the PEO model plenty of times in the past,” Blake says. “We wanted to offer something that was transparent as far as pricing goes to our clients and really offer them something that could help them grow. That is what sparked our interest in getting into the PEO industry.”
At the beginning of their new venture of running a PEO, McCoy and Odom consulted with Dan McHenry, a national authority on how to form a PEO. One piece of McHenry’s advice stands out.
“Dan McHenry suggested we get involved with FAPEO and NAPEO, so right away, from day one, we’ve been involved with both organizations,” Blake says. “It’s been a valuable resource to manage the regulatory hurdles as well as your potential industry roadblocks. We’re finding out new stuff all the time that are potential issues for us.”
Odom says they also benefit from the connections they make at association events.
“[FAPEO and NAPEO membership] has also helped connect us to some really key individuals within the industry,” Blake says. “We were referred to several people by Dan McHenry, but also meeting these individuals in person at some of the FAPEO events has helped educate us—just really teaching us what we don’t know. We didn’t know what we didn’t know when we got into this industry. We started off very, very slow, not seeking any clients, so we could learn [about the industry], and FAPEO and NAPEO were a big part of that.”
The new PEO owners are learning to manage the many threats to running a successful PEO while also capitalizing on the opportunities they see for growth within the industry.
“Government interference is always at the back of your mind in this industry,” Blake acknowledges, “and I think that we still run the risk with PEOs having a bad name or the marketplace not having a full understanding of what a PEO is. We wanted to go out and offer something that was extremely transparent and reeducate the market on the fact that not all PEOs are the same and that you really have to look at what model truly fits your business needs the best. Just like with any other industry, you need to grow that consumer confidence.”
Applied Business Solutions offers transparent pricing along with accounting and legal consulting through its accounting firm and in-house counsel in order to tailor its client services to meet the needs of each client.
“There’s just a lot of confusion out there, for example, with how PEO fees are calculated,” Blake says. “Each client has to have a slightly different proposal from one to the next depending on their uniqueness and where they’re situated around the country.”
Despite the challenges, or perhaps because of them, McCoy and Odom are enjoying the process of building their PEO.
“We love building things,” Blake says. “We love business and helping others out there grow their business. I think there’s nothing else that gives you as many opportunities to do that as a
PEO does. There are so many different services we’re able to offer. It’s a lot of fun showing a company where they can save money, become more efficient and avoid some of the roadblocks that lie ahead as they try to grow from a small or medium company to a large company.”
Odom believes that the opportunity for growth abounds for higher service PEOs, and he stresses the need for PEOs to offer transparency in pricing—and to ensure that a client understands and appreciates this transparency.
“We need to be conscious of the client’s experience and their perception of what the pricing is,” Blake says. “[They need] to feel it’s transparent regardless of what we feel and whether we have it in writing and they signed
it or not. Client service agreements can be confusing, and all of us are human. It’s in our best interest for the industry to educate people more, and I think that’s where the growth opportunity lies right now. I think we have a responsibility and a duty to continue to rebuild their trust in the PEO industry.”
Both McCoy and Odom have young families who enjoy life in North Florida. Brandon and Ashley McCoy are parents to Brantley, age 9, and Branson, age 4. Blake and Christina Odom’s son, Carter, will turn 2 in a few months.
The two families are benefiting from McCoy’s and Odom’s partnership, which began as “a fluke” according to Blake.
“I was in a transition time,” Blake recalls, “and we just happened to meet one another. From there our relationship grew extremely quickly. Our vision for the future of the company really aligned with one another, and it’s been an incredible business relationship since the beginning.”