Lena Combs and Tom Durkee, WithumScott+Brown PA
Your accounting firm: they have their finger on your business’ pulse. They can sink you; they can save you. But, what difference can it make whether or not they know anything about the timeshare resort industry? The answer may surprise you. Does your accountant know your business? If your business or resort is involved in the timeshare industry, that just might be an important question.
It’s certainly one we put to Tom Durkee and Lena Combs of WithumSmith+Brown, PC. (The two CPAs announced the joining of their firm, Averett Warmus Durkee CPAs, [AWD] with Withum the first of this year.)
“A developer or resort operator/manager will find there’s an enormous advantage to hiring a firm with experience in the industry,” says Lena. “First, the resort’s operators will not need to explain the special aspects of handling accounting for a homeowners association consisting of thousands of members. Second, an experienced accountant will know what questions to ask to help associations present a sophisticated financial statement and address the intricacies of tax law that apply to these entities.. We can bring a lot of additional value, given our experience and depth of knowledge.”
AWD became involved in the timeshare industry in 1990 working with four HOAs at Island One Resorts. From there, they quickly picked up other clients in the Orlando area and beyond. As Combs, Durkee and their team worked with their timeshare clients, they came to understand the importance of relationships and loyalty that is so unique to our industry.
“It’s personal with us,” Tom comments. “We get to know the client. We like them; we’re part of their team. It’s not all about making money. We want our clients to understand that we’re involved, from those of us at the senior level, and throughout our team.” Their team includes more than 100 employees who work out of their Orlando and Altamonte Springs offices.
Wouldn’t a close relationship with a vendor be a desirable thing for a resort? Lena thinks so. “We work hard to serve,” she says. “We feel it’s important to deliver on every promise. Certainly, expertise in the space adds value, but added to that, a heartfelt interest makes a huge difference. Our clients tell us we help keep them healthy. We do this by letting them know when there’s a problem. ”
The two mention that they are available to advise resort operators about matters that concern them, even when they fall out of the realm of accounting. “We’ve had occasions where we wound up advising a resort going through a refurb, a special assessment, an insurance loss and claim or dealing with other issues,” adds Tom. “If we can help them find a vendor, or suggest a provider, for example; we are glad to help. Lena and I are always happy to chat on the phone or over lunch if we can help a client think through a challenge.”
Unflinching loyalty carried their company through the recession during which time, they managed to retain their full complement of staff. “We didn’t lay off a single person,” says Tom. “We focused heavily on business development by hiring SharonINK PR & Marketing, for one thing, and appointing an in-house marketing person. We continued focusing on keeping clients healthy and safe. If they’re happy and safe; we’re happy and safe.”
Whenever a resort company seeks to hire the services of a professional – whether they specialize in law, accounting or other specialty – it’s wise to take a look at the overall health and stability of the company. What sets Tom and Lena’s organization apart from others is an inclusive management style that puts them on the Orlando Sentinel’s list of “Best Companies to Work For” each year. “We seek to encourage employees to be self-motivated,” says Lena. “Our firm has been able to inculcate a spirit of collaboration, fairness and teamwork throughout our group. For example, lifestyle enhancement activities are encouraged; our support of flexible scheduling and so much more.”
“There are a lot of employee activities like softball, kickball, and running groups – all organized by the employees, themselves. They are a happy group and we aim to keep it that way,” smiles Tom.
Tom and Lena say they and their team are committed to staying involved in industry by studying the impact of the economic situation on the health of the industry, through their sponsorship as a RCI Affiliate Access Partner, by speaking at events such as meetings of the Timeshare Board Members Association, and by their activities and involvement in ARDA. They have produced an invaluable HOA Benchmarking Study of Florida timeshare resorts since 2008.
“We know the necessity of staying up-to-date on any new accounting standards,” adds Tom. “It’s also of vital interest to us to keep tabs on current trends in the timeshare industry. Helpful in this regard is our service as members of the ARDA HOA Outreach Committee. We are very supportive of industry, striving to keep clients on the high road; keeping them safe.”
Going forward in 2016, Tom and Lena are excited about joining the Withum team. As time passes, Combs and Durkee expect to discover and exploit the synchronicity between members of the old AWD firm with their new, larger organization and the opportunities that provides.
Sharon Scott is publisher/managing editor of Resort Trades and CEO of PR/marketing firm SharonINK. Scott is an American Resort Development Association (ARDA) registered resort professional (RRP represents The Trades as the ARDA Resort Operations Council’s Sole Media Partner and is an ARDA Chairman’s League member.