Carlson Financial: Putting down roots in Topeka, Virginia markets

An iconic Westboro building that sat vacant for 10 years is once more an active part of the neighborhood after Carlson Financial moved in over the summer.


The Spanish-style building at 1201 S.W. Oakley was built in 1930 by Kansas Power &Light as an electrical substation. It’s a hybrid of styles that lend it a unique look, said Scott Gales, Architect One. He, along with senior project manager Cassandra Taylor, took on the renovation project for Carl Carlson, founder of the Topeka-based Carlson Financial.

“It’s kind of a Mediterranean/Spanish — neoclassical Spanish — it’s a hybrid,” Gales said. “It’s got ornamental detailing you would see in various ports around the Mediterranean Sea with a real heavy Spanish feel to it, with terracotta tile. It’s one of those kind of buildings you can’t say it’s an X style.”

That eclectic style appealed to Carlson.

“Both my wife and I sort of fell in love with it quite some time ago and finally we found out that it was available, and we were looking for more space and we wanted to own our own building,” Carlson said. “It’s just got a lot of character and history.”

The building was for lease, though, so Carlson approached owner Cody Foster, co-founder of Advisors Excel whom Carlson works with in the financial services industry, and made a deal to buy it.

The building fits perfectly in the Westboro neighborhood, Gales said.

“If you’re familiar with Westboro, it’s this little eclectic mix of buildings that have various influences, western and eastern European and Mediterranean style and they’re kind of all cobbled together — almost this little slice of Disney village,” he said.

The old substation has sold several times since its utility ownership days, including to a group of investors who built a mezzanine level in it but failed to complete the building when the economy tanked in the mid 2000s, Gales said. It simply required some touch-ups and completing things outside and then creating a layout inside that would work for Carlson Financial.

Taylor said Carlson wanted to keep the open, spacious feeling on the interior.

“There’s some very high ceilings in there, and we needed to put up a wall to separate the mezzanine from the waiting area. Even with doing that, we put up a wood accent feature wall, but we were still able to keep the openness,” Taylor said.

That gleaming dark wood wall is a favorite feature of Dan Moylan, COO of investments, who works in Carlson’s Topeka office. The company also has offices in the Richmond, Va., area and Carlson travels between the two offices.

Moylan, who has been with the company since spring of 2015, was excited to get to a permanent location. The financial services company had leased spaces in other locations previously.

“We had clients that were going to our old address,” he said. “We bought this building with that in mind, to get stability, to get into a neighborhood that’s really nice, get into a building that’s nice, give our clients a place that they can relate that this is where they’re at. And we feel good when we come in and work here.”

Carlson Financial is in a strong growth phase of its business, said Dylan Schoonover, who heads up marketing for the company. The space provided at the Oakley location will be well used. The business has doubled its staff in the past year, for instance.

“We have 10 (employees) right now, and we’re actively trying to hire about three or four more,” Schoonover said.

Part of that can be attributed to expansion in the Virginia market. Marketing has been important to the company’s growth, Carlson said. He’s a financial resource for television news in both markets. In addition, Schoonover said the Wine &Wisdom events they hold to educate and meet with clients used to have 40 to 45 people attend in the Richmond, Va., area.

“Now we have a waiting list and we cap it at 120,” he said.

The company also this year purchased a building in the Richmond area, and plans to expand with a Virginia Beach, Va., office in November, Schoonover said.

“Carl’s very growth oriented. Now he splits his time in the two places and will eventually divide his time into the three places,” he said.

The company has doubled its business every year for the last five years, Carlson said. If he had to change anything about first years building the company, he would have begun strategic marketing efforts sooner.

“I think being better at marketing earlier, we would have even more growth. You have to be able to support the growth. When I originally started in the business, I just came in under the same model that exists out there for most all financial advisory firms,” Carlson said. “But when I knew we had a platform that was awesome and wanted to take it to the next level, we started doing direct mail.

“There’s just a lot of things you’re dealing with at the same time, but … if I would want to have a problem, I think the problem I would want to have is too much business,” he added.

Carlson Financial is active in direct mail campaigns, and reaches out to people through Carlson’s television appearances and the local events they host, he said. They also currently are expanding their digital marketing efforts.

Moylan said the challenges of investing in recent years has drawn clients.

“I think a lot of people are looking for what we provide, which is financial advice and an opportunity for them,” he said. “The current situation in the market, and it’s been this way for a couple of years, there hasn’t been a lot of return in traditional savings and things like that. You might get maybe 1 percent if you’re really in a good money market. We’ve got some alternatives to those that give opportunities to increase the return.”

Scott Rinehart, CPA and a financial advisor at the Topeka office, said people need options in retirement.

“I think the longer you live, the harder your money has to work for you,” he said. “So we really put an emphasis in planning; that’s why I was attracted to Carlson Financial, was the planning aspect of it. Plan for longer lives, plan for different types of markets, it’s where we provide a lot of value for our clients.”

It can be tough to navigate the markets these days, Rinehart said.

“Every time you watch the news, someone is saying something different,” he said, adding that the challenge is being able to keep up on the activity, including changing rules and potential tax reform.

In any type of financial investment or advisory work, you’re dealing with a subject that can be scary, Moylan said.

“Any time you’re dealing with someone’s financial stability, retirement, what they live on, fear comes into play,” he said. “One of the things we like to do is we have what Carl calls a financial house. We get the foundation of that house solid in types of investments that are guaranteed, and that can make a client feel less fearful, rather than always watching the stock market and , “Oh man, it went up today, great,” and then tomorrow, “Oh wait a minute here ,I’m not gonna make it to 70 now.’”

Carlson is planning on continued growth at his company. He ended up moving into the Virginia market because he had banking contacts from a previous career who kept telling him about opportunities there.

“It ended up being a really good decision,” Schoonover said. “We have a really large base of clients here in the Richmond, Va. area.”

The growth in Topeka has been steady, as well, and Carlson is committed to the city where he lived for years.