Rite on the Money
Accountant by day; DJ by night
by Heleigh Bostwick
Gerry Lawrence is the owner of Accu-Rite Business Services Inc., dba Accu-Rite Payroll Services, at Fort Ethan Allen in Colchester. His business has evolved since he began providing accounting services to small businesses around Chittenden County in 1990.
“When I go to a show at St. Mike’s Playhouse I check out the lights and try to figure out how they did it,” says Gerry Lawrence. That’s because Lawrence, president and owner of Accu-Rite Payroll Services in Colchester, is the man behind the lights and sound for the Shelburne Players. He’s also a weekend DJ.
“Theater and performing definitely is something of a hobby,” he admits.
“I started out running teenage dances, getting about 800 kids every Saturday night. My next gig is spinning tunes for the Class of ’63 high school reunion in Nashua, N.H.,” he says with a laugh. “It’s probably going to be those same kids I started out with.”
Lawrence grew up in New Hampshire and attended Bentley University in Boston. After receiving his bachelor of science in accounting, he landed an accounting position at Thom McAn shoes, where he stayed for 14 years.
In 1979, he took a job as vice president of finace at Simmonds Precision in Vergennes, where he stayed for five years before moving on to an accounting position at Artec Distributing, a now-defunct regional video distributor in Shelburne.
“When I left Artec it was a recession and there were no jobs,” says Lawrence. “I spent time looking for another job, but finally decided I could make my own position by starting another company.” So he did.
In June 1990 Accu-Rite Payroll Services opened its doors in one of the historic buildings in Fort Ethan Allen.
The first five or six years were tough, Lawrence says. “When I was at Artec I was paid well, but when you’re starting out as a new business, the income drops precipitously — and I was facing kids’ going to college.”
At first, he was doing accounting and bookkeeping for small businesses around Chittenden County. “I didn’t do payroll at all,” he says. “I would partner with another payroll service when I needed it.”
This was easy because the payroll company he worked with was in the same building. “When they moved, we decided to try doing it on our own.
Today, Accu-Rite’s business is almost 100 percent payroll. “It’s a better business to be in,” says Lawrence. “Accounting used to be simple, but it’s changed with all of the government regulations,” says Lawrence. “Payroll is more cut-and-dried, but has gotten more complicated in the last few years.”
He still provides accounting and tax services such as preparing W-2 and 1099 forms for payroll clients, plus reporting and payment for flexible spending accounts and section 125 plans and retirement plans.
“The company started doing payroll in 1997, but I was doing it by myself,” Lawrence says. He tried hiring a few part-time students from the vocational school in Essex, now known as the Center for Technology, Essex, to help him with data entry. A few other part-time employees came and went.
Until, that is, he hired Darlene Brooks. After she worked for him part time for a year, Lawrence took her on full time.
“It was risky financially because I had to pay a full-time salary and benefits, but it enabled us to take on a lot more clients and that was when we really started to grow the payroll part of the business.”
Their days start early, typically 8 a.m., but they’re usually finished by 4 p.m., although Lawrence stays later if he needs to. “Darlene and I usually eat lunch at our desks because we prefer to leave earlier rather than go out for lunch,” he says.
Brooks changed her name to Vallone when she was married last September. Not surprisingly, Lawrence was the DJ at the reception. She and her husband, Warren, live in Huntington.
Vallone, the only employee, is now payroll manager and has been with the company for 15 years. “It’s a pretty relaxed office, but focused, and the work always gets done,” she says.
The first thing Lawrence does every morning is check that the banking from the previous day’s accounts has gone through without a hitch. “If Darlene isn’t here that day, then I have to process payroll,” he says. “We print out a schedule for each day of every month. Everything is documented so Darlene knows whose payroll needs to get done today, for example, and I can take over if I need to.” Running the payroll can take from five minutes to an hour, depending on the number of employees a company has.
Lawrence says his years working for other companies have served him well in his own business. “After I graduated, most of the positions I took involved upgrading accounting systems and software,” he says. “I wasn’t just doing accounting.”
At Artec, for example, Lawrence and a colleague teamed up to build an updated fulfillment system and tied the accounting into it. “I am an automation guy. You have to be automated to be efficient and get the work done.”
Anything tax and accounting related is handled by Lawrence, who says that gives Accu-Rite an advantage when it comes to its clients’ needs.
“We answer the phones and our clients can talk to us if they need to,” he says proudly. Few clients come in to the office. He recalls one in particular who said, “I can’t believe when I come in here you treat me like I’m your only client.”
Comments like that make Lawrence happy, as does the positive feedback he gets when he sends out his yearly client satisfaction survey. Many client referrals come through other clients or through the website, he says.
Champlain Country Club in St. Albans is one of those new client referrals — with a slight twist. “I owned my own company for 15 years,” says Paul Blanchard, club president. “Gerry did all the books, so that’s how I know him.
“It’s never a problem if someone forgets to call in all of the payroll hours,” Blanchard says. “He makes sure everyone gets paid, and even better, also makes sure all of the state taxes are paid.”
“What’s different from us and other payroll companies is that we’ve simplified the pricing,” says Lawrence. “While other companies charge fees for every aspect of the payroll job, we only charge clients per payroll. That’s all they see of the bill.”
That’s something Martha Benway, office manager at Sun Ray Fire & Security and Vermont Central Vacuum in the Essex Town Marketplace, likes about Accu-Rite. She has used Lawrence’s services since 2010.
“I’ve dealt with so many payroll companies,” she says. “Accu-Rite takes care of every detail, and there’s never an extra fee. Gerry and Darlene make you feel like you’re family. They provide a wonderful service. I would refer anyone to them.”
Lawrence has plenty to keep him busy outside the office. In addition to handling lights and sound for the Shelburne Players, he is on the board of directors. “I’m the treasurer — for obvious reasons,” he says, laughing. “I can never be president.”
He also conducted a one-week summer music camp for youths. “It’s through the Shelburne Recreation Department, but we [the Shelburne Players] run it,” he says. “The director helps us pick out a script, and on Saturday the kids put on a 30-minute show.”
Lawrence also takes piano lessons. “I played when I was younger, but started up again about six or seven years ago,” he says. “I only play for fun. I’m not good enough to play for anyone.” Before the piano lessons, he took violin lessons for three or four years. “It’s a lot harder,” he says with a chuckle.
As for the DJ gigs, he says he’s slowed down quite a bit. “At one time I was doing 65 parties a year, but now I don’t do nearly as much. There are only so many weekends in the summer.”
Lawrence has three grandchildren — two girls and a boy — and visits them as often as he can. His four adult children live out of state. Adria, age 39, is a professor at Yale University; Michael, 38, is IT operations manager at Boston City Hospital; Joanna, 36, is a stay-at-home mother and high school teacher; and Neil, 34, works for NASDAQ in Boston.
For the past 18 years, Lawrence has lived in Shelburne with his partner, Elizabeth Ching. “We collect cats,” he jokes. “We have five Maine coon cats. Some were rescues, but the others we purchased.”
He enjoys electronics and building sound systems, as well as puttering around the house. “I do a lot of mechanical work, home construction–type stuff,” he says, adding that he did all of the wiring for the new kitchen addition at his house.
“I even help manage the [office] building we’re in. If someone calls and says something needs fixing I go down and do it.”
Asked if he ever considers retiring, Lawrence confesses to thinking about it occasionally. Then he realizes how much he's enjoying his life and files the thought away. •