Life and Taxes


Although he’s a tax man, Mark Pricco doesn’t agree that April has to be the cruelest month.

In fact, the Lansing entrepreneur is dead set on simplifying workflow that’s as complex as, well, a tax form.

As the president of X-Tax, Pricco oversees the management of three tax preparation offices that prepare more than 6,400 returns per day during tax season. Despite the load, Pricco seems utterly unflappable.

Part of that might be because he’s in a secure field of work that’s rock-solid, even in today’s temperamental economy.

Another might be because of Automated Tax Office Manager — or ATOM for short. It's the software package Pricco and his company developed to help manage his tax business. Its now a growing company with a strong and growing clientele.

Explosive Enthusiasm

In a few short years since developing the software, Pricco has built a network of about 40 users across Michigan and the United States.

“I just amazes me what Mark has put together,” says Dave Murray, a long-time ATOM user who served as one of the workshop trainers. “It gives a tax owner a snapshot of where they’re earning money and how they’re losing money. Business-wise, it’s a great way to manage customer service.”

Pricco hopes other business owners will express similar enthusiasm about ATOM once they’ve had a chance to try it. He’s now enlisted Spartan Internet Consulting, a Lansing-based strategic internet services company, so prospective users can visit www.atomanger.com to see a demo of the product, get answers to basic questions, and view testimonials from other businesses.

”Our efforts are all about identifying those on-line channels where we can reach them and educate them about ATOM,” says Ryan Vartoogian, President of Spartan Internet. “We’re saying, 'Here’s how you’re doing it today, and here’s a new way that will save you lots of time and money.'”

All involved have high hopes that ATOM will introduce innovation to tax office management, and attract the interest of more individuals, more offices, and large software developers as the product continues to develop.

This summer, in fact, Pricco’s company partnered with Fujitsu ScanSnap, whose scanners work flawless with ATOM. And just this fall, Pricco entered a reseller agreement with CCH Small Firm Services. CCH is a leading national provider of tax preparation software, including TaxWise and ATX software lines.

Ever the Entrepreneur

When Pricco graduated from Lansing Eastern High School in 1984, he followed a career path similar to his dad. He attended MSU, entered the world of finance, then moved to Washington D.C. Landing a government job with the Auditor General, he later got his CPA.

But in the late ‘90s, family brought him back to Lansing. His father, Dick, had lung cancer. Pricco wanted to work with him at the insurance agency while his father still could. So he started out doing taxes in a suite adjacent to his dad. And while happy to be close to family, Pricco still wanted to strike out on his own, too.   

“I thought it would work out great to spin off my own business,” says Pricco who launched X-Tax in 1997. “My dad probably didn’t think so.”

Pricco’s business grew fast in a few short years. He opened one office, then two. Soon he had a third, and a line of staff who handled everything from fielding calls to filing returns. From January through April, he worked well into the early morning hours, surviving on minimal hours of sleep. Customers were everywhere. So were the files.

“It was chaos,” Pricco says. “We needed some control.”

Pricco looked around. He talked to other tax business owners. They shared similar stories of management mayhem. Then he talked to his brother-in-law. There was hope. He could see it. The answer was management by software.

Put to the task, Pricco’s brother-in-law Scott Wruble translated Pricco’s vision into a workable database. In 2003, the first iteration of ATOM was born.

“Scott is into computers,” Pricco says. “He helped me design a program that would help us at X-Tax.”

For several days and several nights, Pricco and Wruble met after work, poured over documents, and laid out a system in Microsoft Access.

“It worked,” Pricco says. “But we knew it could work better. That’s when we sought out a professional software company.”

Refined and Growing

For Pricco, it wasn’t a question of why, it was a question of when he could refine and expand his automated management system.

“I knew nothing was out there like it,” Pricco says. “And I sensed we were getting to a point where we could market it to other people.”

So a couple of years ago, Pricco picked up the phone and started dialing. He called dozens of software companies, and happened on another home-grown company on the other side of town.  

With the help of experienced programmers at Okemos-based Agate Software, Pricco took ATOM to the next level. Adapting the system to the web, Pricco devised a blueprint for optimizing workflow and managing appointments, communication, documents and accounts. The system also assists in tracking marketing campaigns, referral programs and ROI while managing payroll and productivity.

And by being Web-based, ATOM became available to any tax office that wants it—without the hassle of uploading and updating traditional software.

“Initially, we were a little skeptical,” says Agate's Mike McKeowen. “Here was a small firm looking to do a lot more. We didn’t understand why he would need a system we could build, since he already had one developed.”

Within the year, the expanded software became integral to the management of Pricco’s three offices. Staff could track clients from the moment they walked in the door to the time they got their check. Everything was contained. The software worked seamlessly with multiple tax preparation softwares. Physical folders became electronic. The office went paperless. Communication among staff became transparent. A sense of calm was restored.

40 firms across the Michigan and the country are now using the software. Many have been using ATOM for several years; others are new to the Internet-based solution. And all were invited earlier this year to attend the first-time, two-day workshop in Lansing for getting the most from ATOM.

“ATOM is all about communication, access and efficiency,” says Pricco. “Our next step was to prove to other business owners that you don’t have to work to 1:00 a.m., and you can know what’s going on in your office, regardless of the time of year.”

“The potential is pretty significant,” says Vartoogian. “Mark has been able to capture a pretty good market so far. It’s a bright spot that good things are happening in Lansing.”

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Ann Kammerer lives in East Lansing. She has written extensively about area businesses, non-profits and people making news for a variety of local and regional magazines.  

Dave Trumpie is the managing photographer for Capital Gains. He is a freelance photographer and owner of Trumpie Photography.



Photos:

Mark Pricco at his X-Tax office with the Automated Tax Office Manager software

All Photographs © Dave Trumpie

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