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To China and Back


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  • | 9:45 p.m. July 16, 2009
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As controller of Asian operations for South Carolina-based textile firm Springs Industries, Michael Briers oversaw the shipments of $500 million worth of product to the U.S.

Briers, now 39, was promoted to the Shanghai posting in 2005 and he was well on his way up the global corporate ladder in his accounting profession. Armed with a masters' degree in tax accounting, Briers became an expert in international accounting. “The opportunity to go to Asia was huge,” he says.

But as the global economy slowed and the American textile industry faltered, Briers returned to the U.S. in 2007 like many other expatriates and wondered what was next. He turned down an offer from Caterpillar in part because of the manufacturing slowdown and because he'd be based in Peoria, Ill.

So Briers moved to Bonita Springs instead, where his parents and sister already lived. Together with his father, Thomas Briers, the younger Briers opened his own accounting firm called BriersCPA in August 2007. The elder Briers is an accountant and financial planner.

Today, the firm has four employees and $200,000 in annual billings with over 150 clients. “Finding clients has been easier than I thought,” says Briers. “I underestimated the number of clients who needed more sophisticated work.”

Briers has built his client list by networking at business events and getting referrals from existing clients. He presents himself as the less expensive alternative to hiring someone. “It's cheaper to hire me than a controller,” he says.
Tax returns generally cost $500 to $750, though complex returns can be more costly. And other accounting functions can cost $6,000 to $20,000.

Of course the clients Briers has today aren't near the size of the company he used to work for. About 70% of people in Lee County work for companies with fewer than 10 employees, Briers says. “I like these guys a lot more than the corporate world,” he says. “They're the bread and butter of the economy.”

As an accountant, Briers has special insight into the economic health of businesses in the Lee County area. His verdict: “Those who are still around are going to get through it.” About 10% of his clients are struggling, in particular restaurants and other businesses in the hospitality industry. Surprisingly, auto-repair shops are also having a rough time because drivers are putting off repairs.

Meanwhile, Briers says service companies are doing relatively well, in part because many competitors went out of business in 2008. Title companies are busy with the increase in residential real estate transactions and so are pest-control companies and other home-service businesses.

Despite spending most of his career in the corporate world, Briers has had an entrepreneurial spirit since childhood. As a young man growing up in West Virginia, he operated a profitable car-washing business for 20 neighbors in the summertime. For $125 per car, he promised to wash and wax cars every other week for the entire summer. He collected half the money up front and the other half when summer ended. In college, he bought pepper spray bottles for $1 a bottle and resold them to sorority sisters for $10 each.

Despite the downturn, Briers says there's less competition from large accounting firms in Lee County because it's not home to many large companies. If they want to make a good living, most people have to start their own company. “Everyone is so entrepreneurially driven down here,” Briers says.

Briers has expansion plans of his own. “I would love to go to Lauderdale,” he says. In the meantime, he plans to grow the Bonita Springs business and enjoy golf and the beach.

 

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