Since its doors opened in Canton in 1999, All-American Check Cashing has been on the move — literally and figuratively. With the recent acquisition of Check Exchange — the second acquisition this year — All American now has 38 retail stores from one end of the state to the other.
“We are excited with this acquisition, which will expand our footprint and customer base throughout the Mississippi market area,” said All American president Michael Gray.
He feels there are some solid reasons the company is growing rapidly, including the philosophy of hiring smart people with specific skills. “We have the best employees in this industry. We search them out and strive to keep them,” he said. “We try to hire the best, and treat them the way I want to be treated.”
A major factor in All American’s growth goes back to the structures and systems implemented from the beginning. With a background of working for United Parcel Service and in the financial sector, Gray learned about successful systems and lending and collecting. When the state’s check-cashing law changed in 1998, he was ready to seize the opportunity along with numerous small check cashing companies that were started.
“It became a conducive environment, and I researched the law,” he recalls. “I lay awake at night thinking about it. I borrowed money and mortgaged my house to start All American.”
He began the company with a mission statement that continues to be the guiding philosophy. It states: “To start building relationships and stop doing transactions. We are committed to relationship lending. ““This mission has been a key part in our success,” Gray said. “We’re building relationships with our customers from the moment they walk in our store.”
With quite a few pay day and title lenders in Mississippi, he felt something had to set All American apart. “We want to ensure that customers feel comfortable and want to do business with us,” he said. “Many of our customers are intimidated by financial institutions.”
He also feels his customers are misunderstood by the general public. “Our customers can be anybody. They’re average, working people who have hit hard times,” he said. “The media portrays them as poverty-ridden, uneducated people, which isn’t the case.”
As far as any negative connotations about his sector, Gray leaves public speaking to the professional association. “I try to keep my people focused through education and open dialogue,” he said. “We created this company with heart and soul, have the best trained people and abide by the regulations.”
Gray, 45, was reared by his grandmother in Madison where he learned integrity and a strong work ethic. At a young age he began mowing grass and kept adding lawns until he successfully ran a full-fledged lawn service in high school. “I look back and can see that everything happened for a reason,” he says. “I learned business skills early.”
He has grown All American debt free and has put all his business eggs in the same basket. “I see people in this business who are fearful of regulation. I’m fearful too, but I don’t let it stop me,” he said. “We’re a highly regulated industry, fully licensed by the state. At any time a regulator can come in unannounced to see how I conduct business.”
Looking ahead, Gray sees future growth by continuing to operate as he’s been doing for 13 years. “It’s worked and I hope we can continue this pace,” he said. “The state needs this industry, and we will be here to fulfill that need.
The 120 employees of All American are actively involved in more than 40 charities and non-profit organizations all over the state, including blood drives, battered women’s shelters, Gateway Rescue Mission, community food drives, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Palmer Home for Children, Boys and Girls Clubs, Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure and Toys for Tots. The company is a member of chambers of commerce in 25 cities.
“Everyone enjoys it, and it keeps getting bigger,” Gray said. “We do a lot of small things too, such as fulfilling a request from a chamber or a school for three computers. It empowers our employees when they can take something to their child’s school.”
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