This week Ruthy and Tim hang out with Shawn Zipser of Zeez Management in Traverse City. Zeez has multiple businesses under its umbrella: Arby’s franchises, Harley Davidson stores, tax and attorney services. We chat with Shawn about dealing with different municipalities, how it’s like working in a family business (something we know a little about ourselves!), and then Tim and Ruthy, later on, discuss how small companies can work with limited connectivity as well as the importance of cyber insurance.
Contact Zeez by phone: (231) 941-7774
Hello, and welcome back again to another episode of Terrapin Small Biz Connection hosted by Tim Gillen and myself Ruthy Kirwan. Our guest this week is Shawn Zipser from Zeez Management in Traverse City. Shawn runs his business with his father, Mike Zipser, and Zeez Management operates a number of Arby’s franchises all over the state, as well as a couple of Harley Davidson stores. And they also do tax accounting for other businesses. I think their business is fascinating in the way that they touch on so many different customer bases and how this makes their needs, especially their tech needs, be varied. Shawn hangs out with us today and he chats about running this company all over Michigan, which means he’s in and out of different jurisdictions and deals with internet connectivity and clientele and staffing needs. And as well as what that’s like to have a family based business, which is something that Tim and I definitely get since we’re family and business together.
Also, my husband has a small business. Tim grew up in a small family business. Family businesses are special. So we touched on that a little bit, too. Make sure you hang around until the end of this episode where Tim and I will be talking through the Tim’s Takeaway section of the show. This is after Shawn hangs up with our conversation, Tim and I are going to dig in a little bit deeper into the issue of varied connectivity, how small companies can work around that as well as the topic of cyber insurance and how it’s benefited Shawn’s company and how it can benefit yours too. So without further ado, I will pass this on to Tim to welcome our guests this week. Shawn Zipser of Zeez Management.
Well, hello and thanks again for joining us on this week’s edition of the Terrapin Small Biz Connection. Our guest this week is an old friend and, full disclaimer, another customer: Shawn Zipser from Zeez Management in Traverse City. Shawn and his dad, Mike, run Zeez Management, which is an umbrella management group for a variety of things that Shawn’s going to tell us about. Hello, Shawn, how are you?
I am well, thanks for having me.
You bet. So can you tell a little bit about Zeez? How would you describe what Zeez Management does as a company?
Alright, so the management services is a little bit of a complicated entity. As Tim said, we’re an umbrella for many different corporations. The main focus of our corporation is that we are an Arby’s restaurant franchisee, and we have been for over 30 years. We have nine restaurants currently with one potentially in construction still in this calendar year in Big Rapids, which would put us back to 10, which is a number we’ve been at for quite some time. We also are a Harley Davidson motorcycle dealership owner in Gaylord, and we have a satellite store in Mackinaw City. This is a family run business all from top to bottom. Both of my parents are accountants and my father adds in a law practice on top of that.
And speaking again, we’ve been working with Shawn and his father Mike for years. His dad’s quite a guy and has quite an interesting portfolio, as you just heard. Shawn, what got your dad started? He got started in a law practice, gosh, close to 50 years ago. He’s from Detroit, went to Cass Tech, I mean a real Detroit guy. And he becomes an accountant, gets a CPA, starts doing the tax law and property type stuff. And then what’s your understanding of how he segued into things like both a bunch of Arby’s franchises as well as the Harley Davidson’s?
So the Arby’s story is pretty easy. And going back to being a Detroit guy, not only did he go to Cass Tech, he also went to Wayne State that’s right next door. So he was born and bred downtown. In 1984 is when we got into the Arby’s ownership game. And the reason why was simple: his wife, my mother, has a brother, Rob, who has sadly since passed. He was in the Arby’s game for very long time. He was your prototypical Arby’s employee. He started from the beginning and made it to the top. He started as a janitor in a Detroit area Arby’s and he worked himself up to a crew person into a shift manager, to a general manager, to a district manager. And then my father got involved and then decided to buy a franchise that was up in Northern Michigan. And they did that. I believe it was 4 stores back then. And that’s how it started. This was before me even, and he did the accounting and the financials out of our office and Rob ran the business. He did all the operations.
You mean the Traverse City Arby’s, over there on Munson, right by the corner of Garfield. Was that one of the 4?
It was the late great Traverse City Front Street location, yep.
That was kind of an iconic location. There’s no doubt that was iconic.
Yeah, absolutely. Everybody loved the sign. They used to say, that’s how you always knew you were back Traverse City. Cause you could see the big Arby’s sign coming in to town.
Okay, Shawn, then let me ask you this. So you’ve got, we’ll call it, 10 Arby’s franchises, because Big Rapids is coming back online soon. And you have the one in Clare, and the Soo, and Cheboygan, and there’s Houghton Lake. I’m going from memory cause I helped support all of these at some level. And then of course the Zips Harley Davidson dealership in Gaylord with the satellite store in Mackinaw City. I want to know, what’s your most favorite part of all this? Whether it’s the Arby’s side or the Harley side or both, what’s your favorite part of running this whole outfit of yours?
I actually think that my favorite part about it is working with all of the groups of people. It’s so diverse because the clients of my father’s, who I speak to on the telephone often, are clients that he’s had for over 40 years, mostly are their second or third generation. The Harley dealership employees are a great, fun group to talk to. And the Arby’s group, they’re just outstanding. I mean, we’ve, we’ve had some of our Arby’s people forever, our upper management team has been with us 20 years.
Whether it’s Arby’s or the Harley Davidson dealership, what do you think customers- and even the community and maybe policy makers, too- don’t get about what you guys do? Wwhat do you think kind of gets lost in the translation that you kind of wish folks understood a little better?
Well, you know, when you own a business and you run a business, there can be that thought process that the Brinks truck, so to speak, just backs up to your driveway and drops off money every night.
(laughter) Bags of money, you’re just swimming in money.
Right? From both of your businesses, I mean, you’re both in this. And I think that most people can’t understand that. I certainly don’t mean it in a negative connotation. I feel it’s just, the thought is: “Oh, 10 restaurants? Oh, a Harley Davidson dealership?”
They think, this guy must be making bank!
Yeah. Not understanding that the margins are so tight, under normal circumstances. And then to add in any type of adjustment, if you will, to your normal operation. And I’m not even meaning a pandemic, I’m just talking about a horrible weather weekend on the July 4th or a snow storm on Christmas Eve. You know, where your margins used to be a certain percent, and now they’re not. That can have a crazy effect.
That kind of thing can have a crazy effect on your staffing. When two people don’t show up on a beautiful day…
It can go South very quickly. In the restaurant industry as well, Ruthy would be able to attest to that.
Oh, 100%. You always have to be kind of ready for disaster. And I think that it’s not necessarily just a restaurant thing, any smart business person constantly has to have their mind in a million different places at once. And I agree with you. That’s definitely not something that non-business owners often will understand.
Yeah, sometimes they don’t get that. And one other thing Sawh deals with is, when you have all these different locations, with 10 Arby’s locations and 2 Harley Davidson locations, between the satellite store in Gaylord… that’s 12 different civil jurisdictions. You’re working with different municipalities, different zoning, different permitting, internet connectivity.
That’s exactly right. And I think that when you talk connectivity, the areas that we operate, our restaurants, they’re not metropolitan. We’re small town, Northern Michigan restaurant franchisees. So like you said, our stores are in Grayling and they’re in Houghton Lake, and those areas are not necessarily ready for the 21st century.
Some of the technology is a little bit…. limited in some of those geographic locations. We’ll just put it that way.
It’s important to know that everything that we do now is built around a franchise company, which is Arby’s, that does everything via computer. All of our training, all of our development, all of our paperwork and so on and so on and so on. All of the things that can make it difficult to work with, if you have old out of date systems or older and slower internet connections, which we’re starting to finally be able to, to move through.
We can have some nice technology inside the building, but if we can’t get the information out of it, because of the connectivity, we were still kind of a little bit hamstrung sometimes. We’ve had to work through that, which yeah, you’re going into some of our smaller towns. They’re a lot of spectacular locations, a beautiful place, but all of a sudden now we’re dealing with an old DSL connection. Cause that’s all that we can get. And so sometimes that can be hard to work through, when you’re trying to give your customers a certain level of service. And sometimes that can get in the way of that. There’s no doubt because we all get very used to just kind of expecting the business that we’re dealing with will have that all in place. And sometimes we don’t always have a choice.
I think one of the other issues is that because our footprint of a business is so large, I mean, we’re going down from Ludington and all the way up to Sault St. Marie and the Upper Peninsula, the major players, if you will, in internet and cable are not in some of these places. So we deal with 3 different phone companies and 4 different internet providers. And if you go to some of our remote locations that we work from, we’re in that same situation, where in one city you run 100 percent and then in another you’re using hotspots. And then you’re using remote computers. And it’s a lot to put together, which I would say, I couldn’t even imagine doing without a Terrapin to help us through it. I mean 20 years ago when we started together, it was one thing, but now it’s, it’s completely different, you know?
It’s very different than what we used to be able to put in when you’d have some occasional connectivity. Now it’s all the time. And if you were all down in Southeast Michigan, you could have the same internet provider for everybody. It would make a lot of it really straightforward. You just don’t always have those options. So again, going from Ludington over to Houghton Lake and over to Cheboygan and up to the Soo, I mean, that’s, like you say, that’s a big footprint.
Can you tell me what changes do you see coming? When we’re talking about, especially the Arby’s franchises, what changes do you see coming down the pipeline? So you’ve, you’ve already gone through a lot of changes, as you’ve said in the last 20 years, especially since being with Terrapin, what do you see coming, even off the technology side, maybe on a different level?
The Arby’s side, I think that it’s hard to get off the technology side, because I think that the technology is going to go from the back of the house, into the front of the house.
How do you mean by that?
For example, to Traverse City locations, we just got off the phone with DoorDash yesterday. You know, the potential in Arby’s, working on the kiosks that you’ll see at some other quick service restaurants where you just go up to it and you type in your order on a big screen and it sends it to the kitchen and they make it and you pay for it with a credit card. And only time you talked to an employee is when they say order number so and so is ready.
So we’ve talked about the connectivity issues, the staffing issues, the things that are unique to Michigan and especially also Northern Michigan and running a business. What things do you love about running a business in Northern Michigan?
Well, I would say that my answer will probably be cliche. However, when we run our business in the middle of the summer, everybody else is jealous. The fact that we’re running our business in Traverse City, and we’re one block from the water. You know, we live and enjoy this town all of the time. And, you know, my peer group for example, who are running stores in more urban areas, and they’re coming up here to take their vacations. I live where people’s vacations are.
You’re not going there to take a vacation, they’re coming here. That’s true. Yeah, that’s very true,
But I wouldn’t trade it for anything. It’s stressful. It is. Some of the arguments that you get into, and I’m probably preaching to the choir as another family group. But when you come through at the end of the day, the main goal is not necessarily yourself, as some people may think, it’s that close to 200 employees and their families that are under our umbrella that are busting their tails every day,
It’s a big driver, isn’t it. And it does just become part of what, how you live your life, doesn’t it.
Hey, one last thing I want to talk about is a little bit on the technology side and the, the mobility that that’s offered you. Your dad has a home office up in Northport, and during a lot of the quarantine stuff he was working out of there. He also has a place in Florida that they winter in. He has a motorhome. Sometimes he travels, same for you. You’re working from home right now. The ability to stay connected with all these different businesses that you all have, that’s really grown over the last few years. Your ability to do that, has been pretty powerful for you too, hasn’t it?
I don’t think that we could have gotten to this point without having that type of connectivity. I mean, it would be very, very difficult to try to pull this off without having the ability to do mobile offsite work. I can’t even imagine what the situation would have been like 20 years ago.
Well, it would have been just impossible. And really, folks, it’s easy to use. We’ve got a firewall over there with some with some VPN connection. So they’re able to work from any desk. It doesn’t have to be the desk in the office. They can be at the desk at the home office and it’s just like they’re in the office. But there’s no doubt that it makes a big difference, boy.
It absolutely does. And I think that, you know, we’ve done some things when you talk about security with our insurance company where we’ve done the cyber security insurance now. To even go one step further. It such a risky endeavor with computers now, because anytime you tech individuals come up with something, there’s always somebody else that’s figuring out a way to break through that.
Oh yes. It’s a never ending battle for you. It’s a never ending fear for us.
And, you know, it’s, it’s as far as insurances go, cyber insurance isn’t necessarily the cheapest thing out there, but it does give us that peace of mind that if something were to happen, God forbid, we would be able to have something to fall back on.
I’m a real believer in it. One of the things for the business owners out there to keep in mind is that there’s a lot of what we would call vectors. One of your staff may make an inadvertent problem. We could have all the firewalls set up just right, but someone takes a laptop home and connects to a different network or lets their kid use it. Or someone’s back in the office at one of the restaurants who really shouldn’t be doing something and inadvertently does something that was malicious or inadvertent or just didn’t know any better. Any of those can cause those kinds of problems. So yeah, I’m a believer in that you set everything up right, get it designed and protected properly. But then insurance these days, which we don’t sell, that comes through your business insurance agent in most cases, sometimes through an industry, it’s worth doing, I’m a real believer in it. It’s significantly important for everybody. Absolutely.
Well, Shawn, can I ask if people want to get a hold of Zeez Management with any questions regarding what you do with Arby’s or if they wanted to get a hold of your Arby’s operations or Harley Davidson, what’s the best way that people can get in contact?
Getting contact with us is just to call our office directly. Our number is area code (231) 941-7774.
And that’s for the Zeez Management office, correct?
Yep. That’ll take care of everything. It all comes through one phone number, believe it or not.
That’s a great way of doing it.
All right. Well, thank you so much for being with us today, Shawn. We really appreciate your help in this.
Thank you. I appreciate it. Bye.
welcome back to Terrapin Small Biz Connection. I’m Ruthy Kirwan, here with my cohost Tim Gillen.
So this is the section of the show that we like to call Tim’s Takeaway. Shawn Zipser has left the chat, as the cool kids say, and we’re going to have a chat real quick here, Tim, there were a few technology things that were brought up in our conversation with Shawn. The first one is about connectivity and the struggles that they have had with that in various different parts of the state. The other thing was about talking about cyber insurance, which we’ve touched on briefly on this show, but we haven’t really gotten into a bunch of the nitty gritty. And I thought it was really interesting that Shawn finds cyber insurance to be a very valuable part of their business. So can you touch on those two topics very briefly? Yeah.
Yeah. Sure. Well the first one, we talk about the connectivity issue. And this is true for us up in Northern Michigan. This is something we run into now. We don’t in Traverse City so much, or right around Traverse City, but you don’t have to get too far out of Traverse City to start getting some pretty limited options on connectivity. And by connectivity, we mean basically an internet connection, a good internet connection. We might have a DSL connection. It might only be a few mg up or down, a cable might not even be available, satellite stuff. Isn’t always great. And anyone who can hear my voice, if you can hear on the radio, we can help you through it at Terrapin Networks. We’ve got a lot of experience with it and we work with small companies and sometimes with people who aren’t here in town.
Who aren’t in one of our cities. So there’s ways around it, but it can be a challenge. And there’s particular ways to set up your internal network, the way you do your backup, the way you do file storage. You’re going to use the cloud generally a little bit differently. Sometimes we might go to more web based, but even that can be tricky. So there’s ways around it. We find a solution that fits your particular situation, but it is something we deal with up here. There’s no doubt about it.
So when you say it’s something that we deal with, what do you do? What does Terrapin Networks actually do? What’s one of the steps that you would take in order to help solve a connectivity issue?
We get them the best connectivity that’s available up to and including a satellite. I mean, that’s all you can do. You can’t do anything other than that. Because the connectivity, the internet connection, you know, goes from a freeway down to a two lane highway down to a path, down to a two track down to a trail and you just have to deal with whatever it is you’re dealing with. If you don’t have a freeway you’re going to have to make do. So it takes a little longer just like it’s quickest to move forward on a freeway. It’s not as quick as on a two lane highway. So depending on how they keep their data, how they use their data, we might do some more premise based stuff. We might not use QuickBooks online. We might not do everything through a Google G Suite or even Office 365. We may look to do things more premise based where everything’s kept inside the building, the software and the data as much as possible. There’s just stuff that ways that we tweak around it to do the best we can with what they have.
So you would be in essence, finding ways to save energy, save connection rates, save that sort of thing, and just move around different pieces of how the system runs.
Okay. Interesting. Can you tell me a little bit more about this cyber insurance that we touched on real briefly?
Yeah, sure can. That was something I remember when Shawn contacted me about that. I got asked from Shawn, what I normally get asked from everyone, ‘Hey, my insurance agent is telling me, I might want to get this cyber insurance, I guess what the firewall and backups and any virus and all the protection stuff you’ve put in place. I don’t need that, right?’ And my response is always the same: No, you still want it. So it’s another layer of security. All these parts are layers. The firewalls layer, antivirus layer, and whether cyber insurance can really come in is, keep in mind, that there’s a lot of risks, a lot of vectors as we would call it, that you would have that things like firewall and even any virus and good backups really can’t protect from. For example, I’ve had this conversation with accountants before. You’ve got staff that might work from home, or somebody is carrying a laptop back and forth, or they say, I’m going to work on this at home tonight. And they copy some customer files to a USB drive, even if you’ve asked them not to, they do it to get some work done. And then they lose the USB drive. And it’s not encrypted. Let’s just say that, which wouldn’t be uncommon. It could be really critical. I mean, tax records for people and all this stuff-
It’s a nerve wracking situation
That falls out of somebody’s bag in a parking lot. And so there’s a lot of things that can bring up real cyber risk that aren’t part of that you may have policies in place for that. You may have the physical connections in place to protect, but user interaction can just make a mistake. Sometimes it’s malicious, most of the time it’s inadvertent, they can still put your firm at a lot of risk. And that’s what the cyber insurance is good for. Also, we think of ransomware, ransomware’s a big deal. And we’ve had some customers get hit by it. It’s been a few years, but we have, and sometimes those bad guys put data out there that you don’t want them to as a way to leverage you to as a way to bribe you to pay them. So the cyber insurance can protect from the business downtime. Even though again, we could recover it. It might take us a couple of days and you might have some genuine downtime or there could be something that leaks out. And so that kind of insurance is good protection for that. So it’s a nice additional layer. I do recommend that our customers get it. I just think it’s a sound thing to do. It really, isn’t all that expensive comparatively, it all factors into the technology slash cyber side of things. And generally these days it’s worth doing.
Well. I think that actually ends all of the time that we have here today. Tim, thank you very much for hanging out with me again. Thanks again to Shawn who I know has logged off of our chat at the moment, but it was a very interesting episode. I think we covered a lot of different bases and, and really looked into a different type of business sector than we’ve covered recently. So thanks very much for hanging out with me this week and let’s hang out again next week. Okay.
Sounds good. And also, thanks to Shawn, we sure appreciate it. Bye