Inside Track: For the love of 'numbers and food'
Garmon uses strong work ethic to create family enterprise, helping others through taxes and catering.
Jeannica Garmon became a time-management pro by running two businesses while working a full-time job. She said pursuing her passions alongside family makes the nonstop work worthwhile.
When Garmon was a kid, her dad, the late Robert Karim Sr., started out on the assembly line at Cascade Engineering and worked his way up to engineer.
Her mom, Jessica Karim-Gentry, worked for Amway and earned an associate degree, bachelor’s degree and an MBA. She currently is working on a doctorate in business administration.
Garmon learned from her parents that longevity with a company won’t protect you from layoffs.
After decades at their respective companies, both of her parents were let go in downsizes.
“I always thought if you stay at a job forever, they’ll never let you go,” Garmon said. “Well, that wasn’t true. I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s stability,’ and it wasn’t.”
She said her parents taught her hard work isn’t an option.
“My dad, he was just like straight, no-holds-barred, ‘You have to work.’ So, we started off with chores, and we would get rewarded for chores. It was just instilled.”
Garmon said she has passed that on to her three children, who are now adults.
“You have to be motivated; you have to be independent; you have to work because no one’s going to take care of you,” she said.
In high school, Garmon fell in love with accounting and has been working with numbers ever since.
“I just liked the challenge of figuring out stuff,” she said. “Some jobs I had, when we were a penny off, we could not leave until we found that penny. Oh, my goodness, it was horrible. … it was just like, I’ve got to love numbers because anybody else would be like, ‘Forget this.’”
Garmon has worked in collections, customer service, compliance and accounting at various businesses and nonprofits. This includes Hope Network, a nonprofit that helps adults with disabilities, and Varipro, a third-party benefits administrator, as well as Inner City Christian Federation, an affordable housing provider.
She had her first child at the age of 20 and the others within two years. As a single mom, Garmon worked on her education over time, studying accounting and business management online at Grand Canyon University, Davenport University and Grand Rapids Community College.
In 2004, she completed a B.S. in business management at Cornerstone University. Garmon said her mom was instrumental in pushing her to the finish line.
“She was like, ‘You should really get your degree; it would open up a lot of doors.’”
Garmon said her years of practical experience in accounting are why employers didn’t undercut her pay for not having “the piece of paper” to prove her proficiency before she earned her degree.
“I look at it as a blessing,” she said.
Garmon worked at Hope Network for 13 years and got “caught in the crossfire” of layoffs in 2013, which led her to take a housing coordinator job at ICCF that year, although it wasn’t related to her field.
From 2014 to 2016, she worked in accounts receivable at HT Hackney, a convenience store supplier, followed by an accounting position at Varipro in summer 2016.
Wary of layoffs, given her and her parents’ history, Garmon said she started feeling edgy when, after two years at Varipro, the company began losing accounts.
“I was just freaking out because it kind of took me back to Hope Network, with no job, and I don’t ever want to be without a job again,” she said.
She left Varipro on a Friday last September and started the next Monday in the newly created role of revenue accountant at ICCF, where she still works.
After Hope Network, Garmon reached an important decision: It was time to formalize the tax business she had been doing on the side for years and register a dba with the state of Michigan. Thus, TDJ TaxWorks Solutions was born in 2014 after operating unofficially since the early 2000s. The business name comes from the first initials of her children’s names.
The business — which Garmon runs nights and weekends with the help of her kids, her husband and a fifth employee — offers tax preparation, payroll, résumé development and notary services.
Last August, Garmon added another responsibility to her plate — literally. She opened J’Shanell Catering, which comes from her first and middle names, Jeannica Shanell.
The business idea dates to her time at Varipro, when a co-worker’s uncle remembered she liked to cook big meals and asked if she would cater a blues event at Billy’s Lounge in Eastown.
She put together a spread of rib tips, wing dings, baked beans, potato salad and beef Polish sausages for the concert. The administrator for the EatGR Facebook group attended and promised to post food photos on social media.
“She was like, ‘Oh yeah, a few thousand people will see this,’” Garmon said.
The next day, Garmon checked the group, and her J’Shanell Facebook page was tagged in the pictures, causing a stir.
“I ended up getting a lot of business from the people that were there and they were like, ‘Do you do this on the side?’ I’m like, ‘Yeah, anything you want,’” Garmon said.
“I was just like, there’s my niche. When tax season is slow, I can do catering.”
Motherhood is the fuel to Garmon’s fire.
“I always try to do the best and to make my kids proud,” she said. “Being a single mom at the time, raising them, it was hard. I think that’s what prompted me (that) I’ve got to do a business. I’ve got to think about doing something, and I just found my niche — numbers and food. That’s what I said I should have named my business: ‘Numbers & Food.’”
Beyond her pride in being able to employ her children and build a legacy, Garmon said she loves that through her businesses, she can use the joy she gets from being with people to help them — particularly in her tax business.
“I’m really compassionate, and I want to help anyone I can. I try to teach them things,” she said. “Especially, when I have a lot of single moms that come in, they get nice returns, and I say, ‘You should invest or put some money aside’ because they live for the moment. Like, ‘Oh, I got this check, I’m going to rent a car for two weeks.’ And I’m like, ‘Who does that?’
“So, I help them with budgeting. ... Some of them are older than me, but they’ll ask me for advice, and I try to tell them, ‘This is what you should do.’”
Garmon said through business ownership — times two — she has learned time management, that details matter and the importance of employee appreciation.
Her five-year plan is to transition day-to-day operations of the tax business to her children and start a soul food restaurant.
She also dreams of converting TDJ TaxWorks Solutions into a franchise that will allow her to help other women start businesses.
Regardless of how things play out, Garmon said it’s not about making big bucks.
“I don’t want to be rich-rich; I just want to be comfortable,” she said. “I don’t want to live check to check. … My kids and my grandbabies, that’s my inspiration right there. I’m leaving something for them.”