Bryan Bridgford Interview
Welcome to ThePEO Podcast where we interview industry leaders to discuss all things, PEO’s. Fromcompliance, to technology, to client relations, and everything in between. I'myour host Andreas Deptolla.
“When you'reworking with a small business client that we're working with three or fourother salespeople. And so you realize you're not really as part of the.
[00:00:26]Dynamic strategic discussions potentially that the business is havinginternally. And for me, I just knew that I wanted to you do more. Hello andwelcome to another episode of The PEO Podcast. Today, I'm joined by Bryan Bridgford,founder of PEO Concepts. We'll dive into his business model, criteria to selectthe right PEO, and how the growth of HR software is changing the industry.
Morning, Bryan,welcome to the show. Thank you. Appreciate it. Nice to be [00:01:00] here.Start off with you. Have an interesting journey, uh, into the, the PEOindustry. Right? Tell us a little bit about your background and how you enteredthe PEO industry. Yeah. I mean, so the PEO industry was certainly not on myradar, 15 to 20 years ago.
[00:01:18] Ioriginally am from the DC area DC metropolitan area. And I've lived in Coloradoafter college for a number of years, obviously for the skiing and the, justreally the outdoor lifestyle. I moved back to the DC area and really, I hadspent several years in my early professional days in a financial servicesindustry, working in money management, and I got burned out.
[00:01:41]And did some extensive international traveling. And when I got back, oddlyenough, I just used some of my just general life passions and ended up in theski industry at a, at a high-end a ski shop in the Washington DC area, a verywell-known, uh, [00:02:00] shop called a ski center and working there for acouple of winners, uh, learn some really.
[00:02:05]Uh, interesting skills around boot fitting, you know, ski, boot repair, and dida lot of us, you know, ski equipment testing over the years, you know, as partof a process that really kind of got me into sales and sales really is where Isort of gravitated into, you know, working for myself and the insurancebusiness that that's sort of like how I, I gained that initial foothold.
[00:02:30]Realizing that that sales was a career that, that could take me differentplaces and, you know, sort of a roundabout way because of insurance. I ended upin the PEO space. Tell us more about that. Jump from a ski shop and youdiscovering your passionate about sales. Too, like you're landing your firstsales job at the PEO industry, which, which company was that?
[00:02:51]What was the process like? And, and, and, um, yeah. What, what was, what wasexciting for you for, for, for that, um, you know, [00:03:00] transition. Yeah.So, you know, when I, uh, started in insurance sales is probably about a yearafter I started and maybe a little bit less. Uh, I was introduced to a smallnational PEO in the Maryland market, just outside of DC.
[00:03:16]And they needed, uh, an, a manager to handle the ancillary insurance programfor their PEO, but I didn't know anything about PEO at the time. So that was myfirst foray into the industry. And I parlayed that relationship into alogistical move back to Colorado because they had us office out here and withina year.
[00:03:38]That experience and working with insurance and with a PEO and how they wereinteracting with their clients, led me into PTO sales because I understood theindustry in a appropriate capacity. I had the insurance background and benefitsbackground. And so my first professional job in the PEO space with.
[00:03:57]Was with Oasis outsourcing, which was one of the largest [00:04:00] privatelyPE hell hell PEOs. At the time currently, they were acquired more recently byPaychex. So they're sort of the national public traded space now, but that'show I really got into the, to the industry. And w what most of your role at,uh, at Oasis, tell us more about that?
[00:04:17]The title was employer consultant. After four years, I consider myself as asenior. Employer consultant, but basically business development, you know,sales development, you're, you're the front end of the interactions betweenyour prospective client or the PTs prospective client and creating arelationship before that business, uh, in the piece.
[00:04:38]Now you, you, you own your own company, right? So that's another transitionessentially in your career. What, uh, what led to that decision and to thatmove when you were assigned. One good thing about the, the role at, at Oasis isthat they had a channeling program, a channel partnership type program. Theywere certainly early in, in the space to do that.
[00:04:59]And [00:05:00] what I realized in my role in sales, one of the frustratingaspects of it, it sets a bit commoditized. You know, when you're working with asmall business client, they're working with three or four other salespeople.And so you realize you're not really as part of the. Dynamic strategicdiscussions potentially that the business is having internally.
[00:05:20]And for me, I just knew that I wanted to do more, you know, for the client bemore. And I knew that there was a gap relative to their own expertise relativeto the industry, what their knowledge base was with the industry. The lack oftime that they had internally to manage just going through proposaldevelopment, uh, taking time to sit down for a meeting to, to receive thatinformation was, uh, was a big challenge.
[00:05:48]And I knew that there was this gap it's sort of like started forming in mymind. The Demmer on the lamp was just going brighter and brighter. And I knewthat there was. I can parlay all my knowledge and experience because I learneda [00:06:00] ton from my colleagues. And during those four years into somethingthat was a little bit more unique because there was a need that there was valuethat I knew that I could create for the small business.
[00:06:11] Itjust didn't have enough time. Didn't have enough expertise and was, was in needof that. That's kind of what led to it. So, so you started PEO concept about 10years ago. Tell us about like the current business model of PEO Concepts. Yeah,absolutely. So, you know, PEO Concepts we don't, or I don't operate as a PEO.
[00:06:35] SoI provide, uh, an agnostic PEO selection and that, and service really operatingas a, as a middleman, if you will, to help facilitate the process that acompany goes through to evaluate what is really a complex and really importantpartnership when they engage in it. So there's a lot of areas that someone whohas [00:07:00] specific expertise like this.
[00:07:01]It's going to provide a lot of value. And so that's sort of the design of, ofthe business. You know, generally the way I sort of control the relationshipwith the client, it is a very specific consulting arrangement. So I have adesign consulting agreement. I, you know, there's a scope of work that'sdecided upon with the client.
[00:07:23]There's a couple of strategic means that even the curve before you even kickoff a project. So the initial thing is really just do they have the need forwhat I do and my service, and can I help them? So that that's a big part ofsort of the starting point to determining a working relationship with it.
[00:07:40]With any perspective client. What summarize, you're essentially a consultant toemployer groups, right. To find the right partner on the pure side. What istypically is scope of the engagement? You know, obviously there is the initialselection process, right? As an employer group, I'm thinking what to do,whether to talk with the PEO or [00:08:00] not.
[00:08:00] Iwish PEO’s is the right partner for me. Do you then. Somebody selects a PEOalso engage with the client then on an ongoing basis, or is the focus really onthe initial assessment consulting and finding the right home for these employergroups? A lot of the companies I work with are a little bit more complex innature.
[00:08:23]There's sometimes a little larger. So, again, that time constraint is usually abig driving factor, but they don't have the time, but they definitely have theneed to do some type of evaluation. Whether they're looking to use a PEO orthere are NLP relationships. So the benefits market is fairly complex.
[00:08:39]And so an health insurance is a big value proposition to the PEO space. So theyneed robust analysis in that. Area I've maintained my insurance licenses sinceI started my business because of that factor, knowing that I need to pull thatdata from market to do comparisons and help them with analysis, obviously inthe [00:09:00] PEO relationship there's administrative fees, there are taximplications.
[00:09:05]There's workers' comp implications. There's underwriting specificity anddocumentation needs, that can be broad and complex. And so you're reallyspending time outlining the reality of the timing of that type of project andmy work scope, right. It really is involved in managing like 80, 90% of all ofthat, or to get the client to the face-to-face meetings with their prospectivevendors, so that they're had a set of knowledge.
[00:09:36]Um, helping facilitate those discussions, if, and when they do make aselection, I do provide ongoing support to the client. I mean, I've found thatthere's a lot of value, both for the PEO and the client to be a mediator insome capacity in certain instances. I certainly am not involved in anyday-to-day servicing or those kinds of issues, but sometimes problems come[00:10:00] up and they need a little bit of an extra insight as to how to solvethat problem.
[00:10:04]And so I can then provide some support to the client, into the PEO to help themcome to a resolution. If a client has a problem and it's a big problem, or Isee it's a big problem. Then it's very possible that that PEO may have otherclients that have that same problem that they may not be quite aware of.
[00:10:22] SoI usually look at it as a win-win for my clients and, and the, the strategicpartners I have in . What's kind of like the ideal client profile for you interms of industry size, complexity, maturity level, where does it make sensefor a company to engage with you? Uh, generally what I've found, especiallyover the last four or five years, maybe four years or so, most of the clientengagements are companies.
[00:10:47] Iwould say like 75%. They're already using a PEO and they're just not quitegetting exactly what they need services. And quite there, their costs are maybea little [00:11:00] bit out of line, but they just haven't gone down the roadof determining. A market comparison or doing some type of market comparison. Sothey don't really know where they stand.
[00:11:10]Typically they're in the professional class tech companies, you know, or, orstartups that are, you know, into their series, B C D they're growing prettyrapidly. They're in a multi-state environment. So their business is complex interms of technology needs. Resource needs. There's this desire at the executivelevel, typically to have a better understanding of where they're positioned inthe market.
[00:11:34]And that's where most of my value is going to come into play. It's going toreally give them better tools and a better understanding of where they, wherethey sit. So, Brian, you obviously have many, many clients that are trying toevaluate. Who's the right PEO partner. I'm sure pricing is always an issue.
[00:11:53]Right. But outside of pricing, right? What are typically the criteria that youlook at [00:12:00] together with your clients to evaluate is this the right PEOpartner for an organization? So I think some of the primary criteria outside ofthe price benefits. And it's not just the price of benefits, price of healthinsurance.
[00:12:14]It's the robustness of the benefit offering. Does it satisfy a client thatrealizes they're in a tight labor market? They have talent acquisition issues.They need to distinguish themselves from competition. So benefits beyond justpremium. But the complexity of those benefits, those offerings is reallyimportant on top of that service obviously is, is connected to the type ofclient and how they communicate.
[00:12:43] Dothey communicate more through the use of utilization? Do they, you know, oneface-to-face consultation, you know, response times. And the localization ofthose resources. I think there are some of the larger national [00:13:00] PEOshave moved more towards service and their models that they still have regionalsometimes local law localized office of service delivery, but sometimes acompany let's just say they they're 35 employees and they're all in one state.
[00:13:16]Well, the reality is that they don't well known from a marketing perspective.PEO they're they're likely to be in a better partnership with a localized firm,understands the market, understands their type of client. You know, culturecertainly has a component to it. Young, fast paced startup VCPE backed firms inthe tech space.
[00:13:39]They don't need to be with a type of PEO that's accustomed to handle it in yourclients. There's a ton of face-to-face service delivery. They need goodtechnology. They need some better automation, data analytics, things of thatnature. Uh, and again, the benefits is important. So that, that all comes downto, you know, suitability from my perspective, which is [00:14:00] a, that's aterm that's used quite a bit in the, in the insurance space, but that'scertainly very appropriate within the PEO space as well.
[00:14:07]Totally makes sense. I want to go back to the first point that you, youmentioned in your answer, it was about benefits, right? In order to attract andretain the best talent, you know, outside of the health insurance. Right. Whattrends do you see on the market right now for benefits? What is kind of likethe new insects benefits that, uh, employer groups are looking for?
[00:14:28] Ithink in this in either sales personnel and a PEO space, we'll, we'll sometimesmention that they have pet insurance where I see a lot of like corporatebenefits going is more wellness. You know, related initiatives. I mean, itjust, you know, in the last year, the level of stress and it's created,companies are needing and they're, they're, they're more specifically focusedon those types of resources.
[00:14:51]Um, you know, in addition, it's, it's really just having a complex array of,uh, corporate benefits and then. Things [00:15:00] th that the other thingthat's kinda come to mind is, you know, tuition, reimbursement, student loanassistance. There's some programs around that. So PEOs that have stayed at theforefront of the development of different benefits.
[00:15:14]They're on top of that, and they're there they're leveraging partnerships withdifferent companies to provide something that's a little bit more unique thanjust health, dental, vision short, and long-term disability. Uh, having moreresources. Uh, for, for the employees of their clients is certainly somethingthat is desired.
[00:15:33]And, and they're looking to fulfill, you also mentioned in your ancestorservice, right? It's a service that the PEO is providing and, you know,regardless of your industry, you always heard his service, right. As it's amajor factor, you know, many provide us promise, Hey, we rip the best servicein the world.
[00:15:50]Right. But like, how do you measure that? How do you quantify the servicelevels? In the meetings that, um, I've participated in, in the last 10 years,there's [00:16:00] a, there's a consistency of the theme of client retentionand more recently high net promoter scores. But my perspective is that PEOsservice cars up and down.
[00:16:12]It's not a static thing. It's different at different times of the year, basedon their internal client workload plan, acquisition workload what's happeningin the market is the PTO growing through acquisition. Are they growing organically?Those things all have a bearing on it. So it is somewhat difficult to keep veryclean tabs on that.
[00:16:35]But. Because I'm interacting with my clients that I've placed with PEOs on asomewhat regular basis. I get a sense of what's happening consistently and I'mtrying to determine, and all of those conversations, are they systemic issuesor just one-offs. And that is I think where my, some of my unique perspective.
[00:16:55]Helps clients better understand what they can expect from service [00:17:00]delivery. A lot about an employer group that might want to, um, have apartnership with Swiss appeal, right. And, and how that can be evaluated.Right. And health plans can come to a conclusion who swiped partner withoutnaming him names.
[00:17:16]Yeah. I'm sure you also had clients where the, where was the PEO and. You know,the, the service just wasn't there or from a cultural perspective, it wasn't agood fit. Tell us more about that. Like, how has that typically discovered howthese things corrected? Yeah. If you have something in mind, right. A case orwhatnot that you're walked on, that would be super interesting for us to, tohear normally when that type of issue comes up.
[00:17:42] It's.Something glaring to me because I've been in the industry for so long, but fora casual observer, they wouldn't think anything of it. The example would be,uh, it was actually a recent case in the last six to eight months, a companythat was in the property management industry. So [00:18:00] when you think ofthat, you don't, you think of a, sort of a mix of a little bit of blue collar,a little bit of white collar, maybe call it gray collar.
[00:18:08]And they are, they were with a PEO that they actually inherited because theywere with a smaller PEO that was a good fit for them at the time that smaller PEOwas in acquired by a larger PEO, that really just has a different overallindustry focus. And so that cultural sort of disconnect became glaring.
[00:18:29] Atleast to me, not as much to the business because they, I think theyprocrastinated a little bit over time and doing an appropriate evaluation. Werethey in a good fit, but essentially you have a company that's in a gray collarindustry. That's with a PEO that's really focused on tech professional class.
[00:18:47] Soit didn't quite sort of work from a cultural perspective and just from adelivery or a service delivery perspective. So. It was glaring to me or atleast, you know, I recognized it early [00:19:00] on. And within the proposaldevelopment process, the principal at the firm, interestingly enough, wanted totalk to three companies that were sales.
[00:19:10]People had been in contact with them and each of those PEO’s for variousreasons, but were not from my perspective, we're not a good logistical culturaland service. Based fit. And so we talked through that. Why each, you know, andI th I believe one of them was included in the process due to commitments. Hehad provided to, uh, some sales personnel there, and we included them in theprocess, but it became glaring as, as that project went on that of more.
[00:19:38]You know, so of a localized approach, uh, com you know, companies that have alittle bit more risk expertise, a little bit more of a broader client basewithin the property management industry was a much better fit for me, there'sbusiness. And ultimately, as they've gone through the selection process, andthey've been planning for six months, it's just a better working relationship,a better partnership for.
[00:19:59]For that [00:20:00] company, you're obviously in touch with a lot of what Iwould call, like best-in-class PEO’s maybe tell us a little bit what you'reseeing, what the leadership teams of these PEO’s are doing differently, right.In order to keep being, you know, On top, right? And that, that top, uh, tierof the PEO market, the best in class PDO is that, that I've seen there from aconsistent perspective, relative to service their pricing, their benefits aremanaged in a, in an effective way.
[00:20:30]They really understand that. In this market, especially with, with the type ofcompetition that exists in the HR software space, HR technology space companiesthat are in the payroll space that their value proposition must be executedconsistently instead of consistent performance is really, I think what sets thetop class or the top tier players in the market.
[00:20:53]More so than again, you know, companies that it might have some bumps in theroad, and there's a little bit of up and down. They're heavily focused[00:21:00] on really good technology improving on that technology consistently,because again, there's so many companies that have come into the space that arenot just PEO’s, but they are uniquely using an, an HCM system and technologythat is.
[00:21:15]About time for platforms together. And historically that's what a PEO was ableto do for his client, payroll benefits, worker's comp their retirement plan,all sort of tie together within a single dashboard. Now there are a multitudeof companies that started off as software companies that are in that space.
[00:21:33] Sothat's probably the number one thing. And then the secondary thing would reallybe the benefits that they're really on top of. Providing a broad array ofreally good health and again, ancillary and corporate benefits that uniquelypositioned their clients for talent, acquisition and talent retention.
[00:21:52] Andthat's talked about commonly, I think, in the insurance space, but PEOs, theyexecute on it better than really any other [00:22:00] industry. From myperspective. You mentioned technology as, as one of the, uh, differentiate orfocus areas. How is the industry right now effected by technology change, butwhat, what, what kind of trends do you see?
[00:22:14]Well, you know, from a technology perspective, they, the reality is it's such abroad industry. You know, there are just a ton of countries, you know,companies in the HR. No software space and the technology space. Again, goingback to sort of how PEO has always utilized technology to his advantage. Thereare multiple you'd have companies and industries that are really just a nippingat their heels, integrating payroll and benefits administration tying intogether, applicant tracking performance management and LMS.
[00:22:45]The, the reality that when you see survey after survey of each small and midtier companies, They're managing multiple systems. They're managing, you know,upwards of five to seven systems. And the PEO industry has sort of was[00:23:00] on the forefront of that. But because you have companies likerippling, namely Zenefits, Gusto, these companies really saw see that a uniquesimplified the dashboard in HCM that ties together a bunch of these differentcore areas of John functionality is, is real.
[00:23:20]There's just a lot of value there. And I think that that's pushing all of theindustry in the upwards direction, which is really healthy for, for smallemployers and companies that. No want to look to get that type of a platform.I'm hearing it's consolidation integration. The automation of services isbecoming even more relevant, right?
[00:23:40]With spas, a certain breadth of services. You mentioned a couple of interestingnames, right? Yeah. Was, was rippling, namely, and specifically rippling beinga more newer player in the PEO markets. What do you see there? Like. What arethese new entrance to the market? How are they innovating and disrupting themarket?
[00:23:59]And what can [00:24:00] maybe, um, some other more traditional PEO’s drawn fromthat? In my role, I consider them a startup. So I'm a little more, but that'sjust a dynamic that I focus on, right? Like in the PEO space, there arewell-established players. There's also new entrance. And that's a fact that youjust can't avoid what's unique or what I've found Nique and my involvement withthem and interactions with them so far is that they really have just a there again,they're kind of a technology company.
[00:24:30]That's going the HR route that just creates a completely different dynamic fordifferent types of businesses. That, you know, maybe wouldn't necessarily thinkof a PEO I believe from what I see or what I've seen relative to theirtechnology and how it's really sort of a widget based technology bringing bestin class resources within the LMS applicant, tracking forms, management space,and sort of tying that together is really unique.
[00:24:56]And that's pressure on legacy PEO’s. [00:25:00] Pricing transparency issomething that, you know, a company like just works. I mean, they put theirpricing on their website. I mean, it's very clear the, the, these newerentrance into the space are forcing conversation to be more open andtransparent relative to pricing technology and its capabilities and finding theright need the clients that that's what they need or that's what it's going tofit best for them.
[00:25:24] Itjust becomes more apparent when you have uniqueness. In the PEO space and thosecompanies provide that. Absolutely. You talked a lot about like these, thesenew entrance into the market, right? You're rippling being one of them. Yousaid like maybe a little more of a technology startup company. What, what canthe traditional legacy PEO’s do proactively in order to compete here?
[00:25:49]Right. Well, that is an innovative pricing strategy, whether this is. Owning aniche market. What, what have you seen PEO’s doing successfully here in orderto [00:26:00] stay, um, on top of the market? So, so w what I've seen,especially from the, the comments that I made about sort of the competition HRtechnology space, is that PEOs are aware of it.
[00:26:13]They, they, it, it certainly puts pressure on their profit margins pricingstrategy. You know, it's, it's certainly not the same exact resource whenyou're talking about, uh, namely a sort of a standard rippling Gusto andtenements. Those are more self service sort of HCM systems, but the robustnessand the slickness and the visual component, the mobile.
[00:26:37]Aspect of that has really made PEOs realize that they have to be proactive intechnology development. They have to really spend more time making sure thattheir systems are competing and competing with mid tier capabilities. You know,companies like pay or Paylocity. These companies have the vest, you know,they've invested [00:27:00] millions.
[00:27:00]Into improving their technology platforms so that they can be fully integratedwith and handle benefits and payroll and comp. And again, the applicanttracking to LMS the performance manager. So PEO’s they just have to be on topof it. And I, I know that from the conversations that I've had with mypartners, that.
[00:27:23]There are some videos that have, they have proprietary technology that theyinvest in. They have software developers on staff. They have people dedicatedto their technology backbone, and there are PEOs that are smaller in naturethat white label products like prison, prison is a provider, a big provider ofHR technology and the companies.
[00:27:44] Itwas very forward-thinking relative to that. And so PEO, so when they'reselecting software partners like a prism, you know, like, and I saw the,probably the two main players in the PEO space, that's a, that's a key factor.And that's really going to help [00:28:00] PEOs continue to push on their valueproposition because when their technology.
[00:28:04] Isworking in an optimum way. It allows all the other services that they provide helpsdistinction relative to their value proposition, how they stand out in a worldof HR software that are, that they're really a full service HR provider. Butthere's more to them than just our technology, right? So much for all thevaluable insights there about the PEO industry and what criteria to look forwhen selecting the right PEO and also providing us with some insights hereabout like strategy and the new entrance to the market.
[00:28:37]Super valuable. Thanks again for being on the show today. My pleasure. Thankyou. This podcast is sponsored by ThrivePass, a trusted PEO partner foremployee benefits from pre-tax accounts, to COBRA administration, ThrivePassempowers employees to strive through exceptional service and innovativetechnology. More at thrivepass.com.
[00:29:00]Thanks for listening to today's episode, don't forget to subscribe and visit usat peo-podcast.com to learn more. I'm Andreas Deptolla. We'll see you nexttime.