After 40 years of operating a highly profitable operation, the Affairs to Remember team partnered with Trusted CFO Solutions (TCFOS), virtually outsourcing and utilizing TCFOS’s financial management solution. Recently, we spoke with the Managing Director, Patrick Cuccaro about areas of success created by forming the partnership for their Atlanta operation.
When we engaged, they wanted us to:
- Help Them Get Back Time
- Reduce Overhead Costs
- Increase Profitability
Who Is Affairs To Remember?
Affairs to Remember Caterers is one of the largest privately held, full-service luxury catering companies in the United States with more than 40 years of experience and success. They offer award-winning services as a $10M one-unit operation with four sub-brands tracked separately including catering, décor, bar, and ballroom management.
Embracing Financial Responsibility
When Patrick Cuccaro fell into the role of overseeing Affairs accounting needs in 1993, he didn’t have an accounting degree nor did he have a firm grasp on “all things accounting.” However, he found himself responsible for interpreting the financials to the partners. Over the years Patrick guided the company through significant transitions from one accounting firm to another, serving as the primary point person on those transitions. This experience gave him much understanding of how numbers tell the financial story. He has helped to create, shape, and guide the Affairs to Remember team, and has steered the company to become Atlanta’s first Zero Waste Zones caterer, as well as one of the country’s Greenest caterers.
In the earlier years, they used to handle all of their accounting 100% internally. They began with one full-time staff person and then added one more. As they grew, they brought in Bennett Thrasher, a third party full-service accounting firm freeing them to reduce their staff to one full-time and one part-time position.
Through the decades, Affairs has run a highly profitable operation. In all, there was not one year they landed in the red or even near it. Still, they wanted to maximize their time and increase their profitability.
However, they weren’t sure how to do that without disrupting their operation. When Patrick learned about TCFOS and how we could make that happen for their business, he presented a plan to the partners, and Affairs jumped on board.
What Were Some of The Specific Challenges Affairs Faced?
- Manual Data Transfers
- Accessibility- Real-Time versus waiting for a month
- Time / Best Practices
- Increasing Profitability
Capturing & Housing Important Customer Information
The customer management database Affairs operates from is Caterease, a sophisticated software package that allows them to capture valuable information about their customers, events, and even adds their event dates to a calendar to ensure they don’t oversell. Plus, they can use it to manage their inventory.
Caterease is also designed to manage the invoicing to the customer. Patrick gave us an example, “Let’s say you bill an event for tomorrow night and that invoice might include ten different line items. One for food, one for equipment one for decor, one for labor, etcetera. In Caterease you can pull all that information up, but when it’s time to create the invoice, it has to go into our accounting management software. Those two never talked to each other. So, there was a manual process to go from what the customer saw to what the accounting software sees. That manual process is rife with human error and has a potential for fraud in transferring that information. We don’t suspect our employees of wanting to commit fraud; it’s just not a best practice.”
In keeping with best practices, through the guidance of TCFOS and implementation of Sage Intacct, these two databases are now connected. When the Caterease software says that the customer owes us $10,320.22, that exact number is communicated over to the accounting software (now Sage Intacct).
“Business can look like everybody is busy and things are going great. When we’re pulling in the money, the volume is high things seems great. But, it takes four weeks to get a snapshot of the previous month. That is when we saw that the expenses went through the roof and we wondered what happened.”
Affairs will have the ability to refine the types of reporting they do on a real-time basis. Once their implementation process is complete, Patrick will sign into the Sage Intacct software and look at a P&L, in an event by event basis.
Whereas, before, they couldn’t begin to tell you what was going on in real-time. With TCFOS and Sage Intacct, they’ll have snapshots of the business, not just the present numbers, but also past and future that are much more meaningful. What’s going on underneath all of this activity? Is now a meaningful question they can answer.
Data Visibility Now Accessible With Insights Unknown Before
There are unique perspectives and information that Affairs will get that they did not have before working together. We asked Patrick if before they had this type of visibility, and before it finishes rolling out if this data was something they always wanted access to without a way to get it or if they even know it existed?
“The first part is yes, we always wanted the data, but had trouble getting it. We can spend two hours writing various types of reports and cross-checking them in Caterease in our old legacy systems, and we can figure out what we want. However, wouldn’t it be nice to spend only ten minutes to get what we want instead of the two hours. We’ve always known about that and have felt handicapped.
What we rely on TCFOS for is the second part which is part of their training. In training, Dixie asked me, ‘Have you ever wondered about this?’ and I’m like, ‘No, I never wondered about that, but that is a good thing to wonder about.’
TCFOS gives us access to this type of information that we’ve always wanted, and that we didn’t even know we wanted.”
Effectively & Efficiently Managing Sales Commissions
While real-time data accessibility is critical to the success of Affairs and other businesses, an additional challenge Affairs faced was resolving how to reconcile dozens of commissioned compensated salespeople who each had a unique remuneration system. Below is the way Patrick explained this to our team:
“All our salespeople have different remuneration systems that net out the same way. Some want to be more salaried with a smaller commission, and some want no salary with a higher commission. Managing that at the end of the month, used to take my General Manager, my accounting person, and me about 10 hours each, once a month. So that’s 30 hours per month.
Then, if we were lucky, we delivered the report all at once to each salesperson 20 days after the month was over that they earned the commission. We’d give them a monthly report, and we’d say, there it is, that’s what you are getting paid. Moreover, six months later, someone points out an error, or worse yet, doesn’t catch an overpayment error of 14K, which did happen.
Now, we are working on connectors that will cause each of these individual salespeople who are paid uniquely, to see in real-time. When we have an event, we’ll see how every single line item billed out, and this is how we got paid on every single line item. That’s the total. I’m excited how at the end of the month, Rich, our GM will spend two hours instead of ten, and I’ll spend thirty minutes instead of ten hours, and we’ll have this nicely packaged.”
Leverage Saved Time To Grow The Business, & Rest
When asked what they will do with all that additional time Patrick confidently replied, “With all that time we can sell. In Rich’s case, he’ll focus on how to get people to sell more, and I’ll concentrate on working fewer hours because I am in pullback mode. My personal driving factor for using TCFOS is that I want to get to a point where I can work 15 hours a week without worrying about the accounting. Trusted will deliver that to me!”
Many times when you are making a lot of money, you don’t necessarily need precise visibility because there is enough money to take care of it. However, as a company grows, there are more parts and more competition, and things change. Precision then becomes more critical.
According to Patrick, the market used to carry margins naturally that were high enough not to have to worry about a lot of these fine details. Affairs operates on very slim margins, just like restaurants.
“At the end of the year, if we’ve made a nickel on every dollar, we high-five ourselves. When you are operating on a nickel margin, another penny one way or the other can make a huge difference. TCFOS is helping us figure out where we can find that extra penny or two.”
How Did Affairs Hear About Trusted CFO Solutions and What Made Them Decide to Move Forward?
The beginning of the Affairs and TCFOS relationship started with Patrick knowing Deborah Schwartz Griffin (TCFOS VP of Business Development, Partnerships & Alliances) from his tenure as a board member of the Georgia Restaurant Association, and Deborah believing a partnership could be a good fit for both businesses. Then, he met Dixie, the co-founder of TCFOS.
As stated by Patrick, “Dixie is without a doubt, one of the most interesting, dynamic business women he has ever met. I just really connected with her and she did with our company. Dixie started making observations about how our company was operating that took me years to figure out but from a different point of view. So, as quickly as possible, I tried to get Ron and Scott, the partners who own the business, to meet with Dixie.”
At the time, the Affairs partners had no level of interest in changing the accounting. But once Patrick got Dixie in to see Ron and Scott he communicated that, “they immediately picked up on how smart she is and her innovative ideas.” The relationship grew from there and Affairs team was introduced to Dixie and, as Patrick put it, “the excellent team at TCFOS.” Affairs officially launched the engagement with us in October 2017.
The Needed Guide For Transition Into Something Better
We, at TCFOS, knew we could deliver a financial management solution that could provide Affairs what they wanted. We implemented an outsourced accounting and finance department and also Sage Intacct, a proven system, with additional tools to help the process become more efficient and effective. We do this with a team that is united and focused on creating success for the industries we serve. While there is a learning curve during the initial implementation, Patrick Cuccaro shared the following about the initial months of the Affairs to Remember experience.
“The first 3 months were the most intense for the transition from our current accounting solution to TCFOS and Sage Intacct, my “time cost” was a minimal 10-12 hours a week, in addition to about 5 hours per week for our General Manager and accounting clerk, both of whom report to me. Still, every week we have something going on related to tweaking that system and getting it up and running. For instance, this week, we launched our app for the new sales commission and compensations. We see progress, and that’s the critical part.
Trusted CFO Solutions conducted various other interviews and delegated tasks to the rest of our management team mostly so their team could gain a greater understanding of our arcane procedures and objectives. The time cost for the rest of our managers wasn’t disruptive; however, it wasn’t inconsequential because it demanded sustained focus on their procedures, and as I’m sure you’re aware, some managers can follow procedure but have no idea why those procedures are in place. Not all of our managers are directly involved – mostly it is our executive chef and our director of service, plus our IT guy to a lesser degree for the connections needed to work with the new solution.”
Patrick explained that he saw the vision for success before they engaged with TCFOS.
“I wouldn’t have agreed to press the transition with our partners if I didn’t see it as a good partnership. The process for me has been about clearing obstacles so we can achieve the vision. With the operation of Sage Intacct and how it works, it was a slow building process for me. I’m still grappling with it, and it’s still slowly building, but it’s strong.”
While still in the implementation phase Patrick has grown to believe that he’ll move to Florida and operate the CFO part of this business remotely in 15 hours per week. He does not think that could happen if Affairs did not engage with Trusted CFO Solutions.
Transforming Companies From Chaos To Order
Our Trusted CFO Solutions team helped optimize Affairs To Remember ideal accounting solutions and the following data structures:
- Virtual CFO
- Controllership Services
- Back-Office Accounting
When you do financial reporting right, it transforms your financial management. We set-up Affairs To Remember for success today and for the future. Now, they have real-time access, orderly data and information, and a digitally cloud-based system giving them what they wanted most.
By outsourcing as much as they believed possible to Trusted CFO Solutions, Affairs to Remember presently operates with one part-time person billing about 30 hours per week. TCFOS and Sage Intacct have given the team at Affairs To Remember significantly more time to do what they do best, reduced their overhead costs, and increased the profitability of an already successful operation.
“One of the unexpected things that we’ve benefited from TCFOS is their “CEO/CFO” hate. We have exceptions to exceptions to exceptions, and that’s the reason we were in the weeds big-time when TCFOS took over. The transition is not yet complete, and some important deliverables are coming up, but I have enough working knowledge of their talent and methods to recommend them heartily. I’d wager that if we had a team like Trusted on board from the beginning, we would have considerably more dollars to spread around.” – Patrick Cuccaro, Managing Director, Affairs To Remember
By partnering with TCFOS and Sage Intacct you get real-time access and visibility, time back to focus on what’s most critical to increase profitability, and to know the real story your numbers are telling.
Are you ready to take the leap to discover the data and information you’ve always wanted, but didn’t know you wanted? What will you do with all the time you get back?