Greg Rynerson Bail Bonds Interview on Entrepreneur People.
Real Stories. Sherry Borzo speaks with Tonya Rynerson, Bail Bondsman
Host: Hi this is Sherry Borzo, host of Entrepreneur People. Real Stories featured here on Blog Talk Radio where each week I speak with a business owner about their services and their experiences in owning a business. We get to learn about specific industries and through the experiences of others who own a business about the ins and outs of what they’ve learned along the way.
This week I’m excited, and I have to say really excited to speak with this Tonya Rynerson who is co-owner of Greg Rynerson Bail Bonds based in California. In addition to their services as bail bondsmen, they have a wonderful website with lots of information to help people understand the bail bond process.
Tonya, thank you for being on Entrepreneur People today.
Tonya: Thank you for having me!
Host: Great! Well I’ve been so interested in this industry because I have no experience with it directly and always wondered how a bail bonds business operates. Could you give us a brief overview and then we’ll go into more depth as to what it is you do?
Tonya: Well what we do is very simply one thing, and one thing only, and that is bail bonds. Most people hear that and they immediately think of the neon signs and perhaps a man smoking a cigar in a late night dark place that looks a little seedy and scary. Our business is absolutely nothing like that I’m happy to say. I’m not sure that that is a business I would thrive in personally in any case.
What we do is provide bail bonds primarily to family members of people who have been arrested. The reason that bail bonds exist is because we don’t know whether the person who has been arrested is guilty or innocent. Otherwise if you just assumed that they needed to stay in jail until trial, this could become an extended amount of time for somebody who has not actually committed a crime. So that is the heart of what bail bonds do. It is a constitutional right, one’s presumption of innocence, and if we didn’t have that than we wouldn’t have one of the basic underlying tenants that we value in our criminal system.
Host: Yes I see it is just like an attorney and other professions used less frequently, you don’t know about something you need until you really need it.
Tonya: Well that is absolutely true and you know so many people have said to us, “Well, I’ll never need you,” and the first thing they do when they call us is say, “You know how I told you that I would never need you, well I actually am in a situation where I know someone or someone in my family has been arrested and I was hoping you could help,” and absolutely we can help.
Host: Well it is good to get that point out there. Would you share a little bit of background about yourself? You sound like such a happy person for someone it seems comes across depressing stories of others! How did you get involved in this?
Tonya: Well I married into the business. My husband’s father started Rynerson Bail Bonds in Santa Ana, California which is in Orange County, in Southern California, in 1971, so Greg sort of grew up in the business and didn’t think it was something he would actually do as a living. However, in college he did get his license to earn a little extra money and take care of some of the business for his dad. When his dad retired, he said, “Would you like to buy the business?” and my husband said, “Absolutely not, that is not what I want to do.” Then after he went into corporate America in the insurance area and worked very hard and long hours as most people do and found he received only moderate pay, minimal vacation, and very little flexibility he said, “You know, my dad had a good thing going and I think that I need to do something where I have a lot more flexibility and have a lot more control over my life and my career,” At that point he started the business up again and today it is a family business once more. He has been in the business pretty much since he was a kid and when we got married we decided that it was a good venture for the two of us to do together.
Host: I do want to talk about the family dynamic a little bit because I’m always intrigued by the husband-wife combo for a business. When I consider my spouse and I working together on my business ventures I wonder if we could do it! I’ve got to think you have to find a balance in working together. What did you do Tonya before you got married and involved in the business?
Tonya: Before I married, I worked for a credit union and I was a VP of marketing and operations for a credit union in Southern California. I had done that for several years and had been with three different credit unions during that time. It was really the people helping people philosophy that I grew up with, the idea that nobody can do anything alone. That is thinking that follows me throughout the things that I do. I just really want to be working with people where they need help.
Host: Oh that is really nice. Excuse me while I ask the basic questions for people like me who don’t know but you can only provide mail to people in California right? This is a state by state business correct?
Tonya: It is a state by state business because we are licensed here in California. We do have relationships with other bail bonds agencies so if you called me I could potentially help you to do something in other states but in general that doesn’t really happen because the structure of the bonds can be different in other states or the bail, the amount that is charged may vary. We don’t know the ins and outs of that so I always think that it is best to stick with somebody in your own state who knows how to get through the process versus me trying to do business in New York for example.
Host: You provide a lot of information on your site. If people come to your web portal they can get a good foot hold of understanding. For people who want to find out more, especially in California, where is the best place to start with you?
Tonya: www.888bailbond.com. This is also our phone number.
Host: How clever! I wondered about the 888 part of your url so now that makes sense to me. I’m not clear how the process works. If somebody is arrested for something whether guilty or innocent, they have an option to have bail?
Tonya: Well it is set by the court system. The judges actually set what is called a bail schedule in every county every year and it is for criminal offences. Not every single person gets bail because there are mitigating circumstances. The first concern is public safety and then they are going to look at the risk involved with the individual. That is why you’ll hear some bails that are multi-million dollars in amount. They are set very high and what they are banking on is that there is not really going to be the funds to be raised in order to bail that person out.
Let’s just take Southern California as an example. The average bail in Southern California is $20,000 to $25,000 dollars which is very significant, much higher than in the rest of the country. So if someone gets arrested and they have a $20,000 bail, the cost is 10%, so the cost is $2,000 when you work with a bail bondsman. That is the fee for the bail bond, it is not something that you get back. It is just a straight fee. You have the option of taking the full amount, say $20,000 to the court or the jail and then you get it all back in the end but you never know with these cases how long they are going to last and most people don’t have $20,000 in cash or cashier’s check that they can just take out of the bank to hand over in a moment’s notice or in several hour’s notice.
Host: Right, so let me repeat this back and make sure I understand. So as a bail bonds company then what you do is you provide the cash and they give money toward that bail which is sort of like what interest on a loan?
Tonya: No, it’s not a loan. It is actually a bond. It is a piece of paper and the amount paid is a fee. We actually collect the fee and the fee is for us to assume the risk. We are assuming a paper risk and we are guaranteeing to the court that both we as the bail agent and the indemnitor or the person who is taking responsibility and signing the contract will make sure that the defendant gets back to court when they are supposed to.
Host: Okay, alright. So this is like in the movies when somebody jumps bail the bail bondsperson is involved because they’ve got a vested interest in this person making it back to court.
Tonya: Absolutely because the person writing that check at the end of the day would be the bail agent. If the person didn’t show up the bail bondsman basically has 6 months to get them back into the system. You know, if they are sick or they have a flat tire or something simple, we can get them back into the system but if their intent is to leave the country or leave the state or just hide out and not show up for court, then it is incumbent upon the bail bondsman and the indemnitor to get the person back into court.
Host: Okay I see. I keep wanting to liken this to other things but I shouldn’t do that because when I say interest on a loan you make it clear it is not that. Really a bond is a guarantee.
Tonya: Yes. It is called a surety bond more specifically and a surety bond is the same, if you want to liken it to something, as insuring performance. When you go to build a house people will have a bond with the construction company and that is basically saying that they will do what they’ve said they are going to do and they take out insurance papers saying that I have surety that I will perform.
Host: Oh. I get it and that is very helpful. Early on you talked about your drives to help people, can you give us some examples where you know you’re truly helped someone?
Tonya: Yes I can and I can tell you that most of the people we work with are family members of the people who have been arrested. They are, many times, surprised or disappointed or just don’t know what to do when their son or daughter, or ex-husband calls and says you know I’ve been arrested and I’ve been arrested to something related to drugs or domestic violence for example. It is very shocking to those people and especially so when we hear the words like domestic violence that is very, very serious.
What we find is that most people who find themselves in situations are experiencing this one time, first time event and it may or may not be a serious case. In California, specifically in Southern California, if your next door neighbor calls the police because you’re having a loud argument and the police show up, if they have any inkling that something has happened or will happen, they’re going to take somebody in for safety purposes. They would rather error on the side of caution thinking “We know that there is probably nothing going on here but we can’t afford to come back in 2 hours and find something really fatal has happened.”
I kind of see this as a major contrast to the old days when I was a kid and they would stop somebody for drinking and driving and just say, “Oh just go straight home.” Well they don’t do that anymore for obvious good reason. So what you end up with is an arrest and in many cases they go to court but not always. Of course I’m not an attorney so I can NEVER give legal advice but we see it happen that they go to court, they get some anger management courses, and get what some people might call a slap on the wrist but I think for a lot of people it is a wakeup call. They acknowledge that “my anger is out of control” or “our relationship is out of control”, or “my recreational drug use is not appropriate and I need to do something more serious about it.” That is what I’ve seen with the people that I know. A lot of times we don’t hear anything back from people. We just may assume the bonds if they go to court we never actually hear what happened after the hearing.
There are many people that I know that we’ve bailed out that have gotten that help and have said, “You know there was a problem in my life and this is actually a blessing that I was arrested and now I’m able to look at things in a much different light and realize that something needs to change.”
Host: Wow that has to be really powerful! It is kind of like people who come back from a diagnosis or a tragedy of any other kind and they say, “Oh it was the best thing that happened to me because it was a wakeup call or made me see my life in a different way.” Wow it is really nice that you’re able to keep that focus on the times that people recognize they need help and do make a change as a result.
We talked a little bit earlier about the classic assumption that people make about bail bonds businesses, would you share a couple of top misconceptions that people have about what you do?
Tonya: Yes I definitely can. I would say the top misconception is that a bail bondsman is the same as a bounty hunter. That is the first thing that people say is, “Oh so you’re like Dog the Bounty Hunter?” Well no, he puts people back in jail while we help get people out of jail! It is quite to the contrary and our life is absolutely nothing like that in any way, shape, or form. So I think that is the first common misconception.
Of course there are the stereotypes which are just part of Hollywood. I just don’t know . . . I mean before I met my husband I had never met a bail bondsman so I didn’t even know what one looked like. For what I knew they all looked just like he did! I didn’t really know other than what I saw on television.
Host: So Tonya what you’re telling me is that you’re not walking around with some sort of Mohawk-do and you don’t have tattoos and you don’t . . .
Tonya: No tattoos at all! (laughing)
Host: Actually if people go to your website, www.888bailbond.com they will find this very professional, very business-like, professional culture, professional woman, professional man, professional office. It is all very respectable and comforting.
Tonya: Right and that is who we are. We both have college degrees. We were both in corporate industry before and you know we knew that we needed to, for ourselves, do something different. I think that everybody, well not everybody, it is not for everybody for sure, but many people would like to have their own business but it is difficult. It comes with a little of a trade off but it comes with a lot flexibility. We saw a niche and a great opportunity to help people to. I know that the majority of people we deal with are family members and they’re also educated. They are middle income people who also don’t want to walk into a neon sign place, they don’t want to have to do that.
Often when they’re looking and they see us they say okay these are people in a suit and in an office and these are people that I can relate to. I think that’s the biggest part of who we are as a company. The actual bond itself is the same service by in large that most companies provide but we create a climate that is comfortable for our clients. Unfortunately there are a some companies out there that are fly-by-night or they may cut corners or do things that are illegal, all things that we would never do but if you’re dealing with any reputable company, they’ll basically provide the same service. What we do as a bail bond company is create an extra layer of professionalism. You know we are a family and we do have an education and we can relate people. We can understand their confidentiality; we can understand that they are surprised to be in this situation.
Host: Wow that is really good because it does get to one of those questions I like to ask about how you differentiate yourself. I would say yes you are totally not what I assumed of the industry. Is there any other big misconception that you usually have to overcome with people when working with them?
Tonya: The other big misconception is that we deal with criminals all day long and really we hardly deal with criminals at all. We usually deal with somebody’s family who is in an unfortunate situation or who made a very bad judgment call in an incident in their life. Basically we deal with the guy next door or . . . we’ve dealt with priests, we’ve dealt with rabbies, we’ve dealt with people from every walk of life. Of course we deal with attorneys but we deal with anybody that you can think of that you run into in the grocery store, the average person is often our client. I think the common misconception is that we deal with criminals. People have said, “Oh you must deal with some interesting people.” Well yes we do. We meet some really interesting people but just because they are nice people.
Host: Well that is sort of a disappointment for me because I want to believe it is all these seedy types! (laughing)
Tonya: People want to hear something really exciting but most of the time it’s just basic, ordinary people.
Host: So really what you’re saying is that everybody in life can get surprised by problems that require a bail bondsmen and they are just like you and me.
Host: So I have to say having said that, now I’m based here in Des Moines, IA, and I’ve walked into a few bail bonds places as I’ve told you and they had more of this very typical thing going on. So how does a person find the right bail bonds establishment that matches their needs and comfort level?
Tonya: You know everybody is different and I wish it was a lot more like other scientific marketing and businesses that I’ve been in before, but in this business I think that everybody does things a little bit differently and I think that part of that is because it is a very emotional time. If you get that call, whether it is in the middle of the night or in the middle of the day, you are suddenly in a much different place than you were before. Nowadays a lot of people do turn to the internet because it is, to some extent, private. They can sit in their cubicle, they can do it at their home, they can do it via their laptop or even on their phone and they can find something. I think it comes down to basically what appeals to the individual. There are plenty of people who still open the yellow pages because they don’t even know that they could find a bail bondsman online. Some people call an attorney because they have an attorney that they use to do a will and they say, “Hey, I don’t know who else to call” and they may or may not have a reference for them. I think that the way people find a bail bondsman is all a little bit different.
Personally I am an internet person. If a business isn’t on line for me it doesn’t exist because that is the first and only place that I’m going to go, other than maybe a personal referral but I’m not going to ask somebody for a bail bondsman. It is kind of one of those things where I personally, and I hate to be a focus group of one, but personally if I were in a situation that were surprising, I don’t know who the first person I’d ask would be, so I would turn to online which I do for almost anything. Then it is an emotional purchase. I think it is when you see something that makes sense to you that is where you’re going to stop because as I said it is pretty much the same service across the board except that you connect and trust the individuals involved in offering the service.
Host: That is really a good point you make and I love what you say about when people are shopping for this type of thing how emotion really plays into it. I also appreciate what you say about how the web plays is used by so many these days. It is hard to even imagine any business, any business now, that doesn’t have a web presence and doesn’t do what you do which is provide lots of resource information and additional links and education.
Tonya: Right and I think that that is important too because you know some people are going to go to one page and they’re going to take one look and pick up the phone and dial. On the other hand, other people are going to look at every site they can find or you know the top 5, 6, or 10 and they are going to look in deeper and they are going to want to know, “What is my responsibility? How does this work? How can I pay?” You know, “Can I pay by credit card? Can I qualify for payments?” With our company we do offer these options but not everybody does. People also ask, “What happens next? What do I expect? How long will this take?” and we can help answer these questions too. We try to accommodate both the quick decision-maker and the person who prefers to research first.
Host: That is interesting that you designed the website with somebody like yourself in mind but you are able to help either kind of client personality, the quick decision-maker or the person who does a little research.
Tonya: Well I hope so!
Host: Well of course I’m starting to run out of time. In the little bit of research that I’ve been able to do I’ve noted that lots of bail bonds businesses are family businesses. Why is that?
Tonya: Well you know I look at the successful businesses around us that are in our industry and there are a lot of families. I think that a big part of the reason for that is because it is a 24-hour business. It doesn’t matter if it’s Christmas or Johnny’s birthday, you still have to answer the phone and you can’t really be successful in this business if you’re not willing to do that. That is not really something that lends itself well to passing off to somebody else on Christmas or to just assuming that there is going to be the understanding that it’s okay. I mean many people, the way that I grew up, didn’t answer the phone during dinner for example. Well that doesn’t work in our business. You have to answer the phone because you only can help somebody when they need help. You can’t say, “You know what, call me back because I’m in the middle of dinner.” because they are going to call the next person. And rightly so, you know, they’re in a place where they need help now.
I think that the other part that lends itself to family is that it is a very high risk model. Yes there is a fee and it may sound like it’s, “easy money.” They may think, “Wow you just made $2000 and I know my son is going to go to court.” Well I know he is too. I trust that and that is why I’m bailing him out but if he doesn’t, I have the responsibility for $20,000. So when you’re asking somebody else to assess that risk, it’s a lot more comfortable with a family member than it is to hire somebody to do that.
Host: Those are good points that you make. What a great transition Tonya to my other question which is how on earth do you find the way to separate your personal life from your business?
Tonya: Well I think if you ask anybody who works with their spouse they would say that it is a challenge and it is something that you actually have to focus on. You can’t just assume that you’ll compartmentalize and it will happen. You know I think it is just commitment to a successful family that you know there is no other way to do it than to just say there has to be time for the family and there has to be time for the relationship and for the kids and separating.
Host: Interesting. Well I didn’t get to all of my questions and I feel sad about that but you really provided some great overview information. In closing, you mention that you don’t often get to hear at the end of the story necessarily when the person says, “This incident was a wakeup call for me” or “I wasn’t guilty and it was great to not be incarcerated the entire time so I could go about my life.” Do you have a particular story that really made you recognize that you are doing just exactly what you should be doing, that it feeds into your desire to be helpful to people?
Tonya: You know I probably have a whole bag full of them and I think that the bail that we don’t write is as significant as the bail that we do. Often I think of this one young man who called me and wanted to be bailed out and he did not want to contact his family. He could not understand why he couldn’t bail himself out. He was quite young and it was not his first offense and he said, “Well you know I’ve bailed myself out with these drug charges before and not involved my family!” I thought to myself, “Well if you had involved your family maybe you would be in a different place right now.” So I felt like the way we do business, people can definitely bail themselves out but in this particular situation where he had a prior record and he was very young and it was just a very tenuous significant drug situation, I thought, “You know it wouldn’t be responsible for me because I don’t know if I could track him down if he got out on his own without some family member to help me.”
Other situations that I think of, as I said, are really the significant moments of seeing normal people are at a very low place in their life. Seeing them get to this place is heart wrenching. I mean it can be very, very sad. Seeing that there is a light at the end of the tunnel for them, that they will follow this through, which not everybody does, but the people that I know have, and they are able to move on and put that the incident in their past is very meaningful.
Host: Well that is very exciting. I didn’t even get to ask about finding people or other things that I thought we would get to but Tonya I so appreciate you taking the time out to talk with us about this business and your business experience particularly. Just a reminder that people can find out more about you and the bail bonds service at www.888bailbond.com .
Tonya: Yes and I blog too. I have a blog that’s called www.keepbailing.com .
Host: Well thank you so much Tonya for being on Entrepreneur People. It’s been a pleasure.
Tonya: Thanks for having me.
Date: December 2008