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At Innovation Refunds, we’re fortunate to work with many inspiring, hard-working small business owners. They come from a variety of backgrounds, serving their community by providing a range of products and services. One of these small business owners is Mark Houde of Carolina Sports, Inc (CSI). As the founder, president, and even sometimes janitor of CSI, Mark has been providing the Camden, South Carolina area with college and high school sports portraits since 1982.
Since starting CSI, Mark has expanded his staff and services, providing families across the Camden community with priceless memories they will look back on for years to come. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Mark and hearing more about his business, experience during COVID, and Employee Retention Credit (ERC) journey.
Q: Tell us about CSI.
Mark: We've been the official photographer of the South Carolina Athletic Coaches Association for at least three decades. We're a family business. My wife works with me. I have a brother that works here. And of course, all our employees are like family.
Q: How did CSI start?
Mark: I came down here and started my own business and struggled for about four years, and it slowly grew and took off after about six years. It's a great business. I love to do it. I love working outdoors. I love working with athletes. And so it's been a really enjoyable ride.
Q: What’s your role at CSI?
Mark: There's one founder, president, and janitor, and that's like any small business owner. You clean the bathrooms, you fix the computers, and you do all the small stuff so that your employees can stay productive.
Q: What happened during COVID?
Mark: Our business was shut down as soon as schools were shut down in March 2020. And we basically had to go into survival mode. We had to take all our vehicles off the road and cancel the insurance on them. We had to furlough some fabulous employees, which was very painful.
Q: How did you stay in business?
Mark: We had to furlough many of our employees, but we kept a skeleton crew on-hand to answer the phones if there were any calls, basically to keep the business open. We had to dip into our savings to keep them employed.
Q: How did COVID affect your day-to-day?
Mark: We had to make some changes when schools started. There were a lot of rules. You could not have all the athletes together. So we developed a plan to photograph them individually and then build a virtual team picture. And it was a lot of post-production work. So it really cost us a lot to stay in business
Q: How did you hear about the Employee Retention Credit (ERC)?
Mark: I heard an ad on the radio and asked my wife, “Do you think we would qualify for this?” And we came to the conclusion that it wasn't going to hurt. Might as well go ahead and see if we would qualify. And we did.
Q: What happened next?
Mark: After I heard the ad from Innovation Refunds (IR), I went on their website and saw that they had a spectacular amount of tax attorneys. It was pretty impressive. Through our research, we felt very comfortable using this company to do our ERC claim.
Q: How would you describe your experience with IR?
Mark: Here at Carolina Sports, we treat our smallest customers just as well as we treat our biggest customers. That's the way we felt IR worked with us. They gave us the same service that they would give a huge, multi-million dollar corporation.
Q: How will the ERC help CSI?
Mark: After getting the ERC, that's a lot of stress off us, and it allows us to bolster our resources that were used up during COVID and be able to sleep at night.
Q: What’s next for CSI?
Mark: As long as customers keep asking for our services, we're going to provide them. There's no early retirement for most small businesses, and we have a lot of customers that depend on our services. So we're going to do it as long as we possibly can.