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VOL. 126 | NO. 241 | Monday, December 12, 2011

Squared Away

Businesses embrace tiny credit card reader

By Aisling Maki

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Not having a storefront hasn’t kept Midtown artisan Colleen Couch-Smith from running her business like someone who does – minus the hefty overhead costs.

Fuel Cafe truck owner Erik Proveaux holds the popular Square device and smartphone app that allows the business to accept credit card charges.
(Photo: Lance Murphey)

A cutting-edge mobile device called Square allows Smith, co-owner of a studio-based small business called Rock Paper Scissors, to accept credit card payments from customers when she sells her wares at artists markets and festivals.

She also avoids the cash-or-check-only hassle when she sells directly to interior designers, for whom she creates illuminated sculptures and custom epoxy furniture.

Square is a tiny credit card reader that’s inserted into the iPhone, iPad or Android, allowing vendors to swipe buyers’ credit cards on the spot. The Square app and card reader are free, and there are no monthly or annual fees beyond the 2.75 percent rate per transaction.

Buyers can choose to have receipts sent to their mobile phones or email accounts.

“Having the Square is definitely easy,” Couch-Smith said. “The money goes straight to our bank account. It’s very secure; we never see the customer’s full number, aside from the transaction itself. It’s a huge convenience. A lot of small businesses can get a full merchant contract and get their machines, but that takes electricity and a connection and so many things they don’t have at an artists market. The convenience of just charging up your phone is great.”

Square was founded in 2009 by Jack Dorsey – one of the founders of Twitter – and his longtime friend Jim McKelvey – a St. Louis-based glassblower who once lost a $2,000 sale because he wasn’t equipped to accept credit cards.

Lindsay Weise, a spokeswoman for San Francisco-based Square, said the company “was born with the intent to help individuals and business owners never miss a sale again.”

Weise said card readers have been shipped to more than 800,000 people in the U.S. – including more than 1,000 in the Memphis area – and the company hopes to soon offer Square internationally.

The device has been embraced by everyone from freelance photographers and hairstylists to farmers and touring musicians, including the Dave Matthews Band.

The New York Times recently reported the Salvation Army was test-driving the device to ramp up shoppers’ contributions to the nonprofit’s annual Red Kettle Christmas Campaign, and a Girl Scout troupe in Silicon Valley used the Square to sell some 400 boxes of cookies.

In Memphis, nonprofit theater troupe Voices of the South has adopted the device to sell tickets at its performances and accept donations on the spot.

After the troupe received an ArtsMemphis grant allowing for the purchase of two iPads, a Voices of the South board member suggested Square as a means to secure more donations while cutting costs.

“When we need it, we need it for about three weekends in a row because we have a run of a show, but after that, we might not need it for another three months,” said Kate Goodwin, director of education and training for Voices of the South.

The troupe previously used a credit card machine that required a monthly fee. It now uses Square at in-house performances as well as festivals and other offsite events.

“People don’t really carry checkbooks or have a lot of cash on them anymore, so it’s been a really great thing for us,” Goodwin said. “We’re big enthusiasts of the Square.”

Andrea Parker, a manicurist at Epic Total Salon, 712 S. Mendenhall Road in East Memphis, was so impressed with the device, she ordered one for her husband, a plumber.

She said clients are pleased she’s able to accept credit card payments, and she’s pleased with how quickly the money is deposited into her bank account.

“I’ve had it about three months, and it’s like I gave myself a raise,” Parker said. “Within three months, I saved about $200.”

Chef Eric Proveaux, owner of Fuel Café, had to pay a $500 startup fee for the credit card terminal he purchased to use inside his restaurant at 1761 Madison Ave.

But six weeks ago, he began using Square to process sales out of the restaurant’s food truck.

He said the device is “straightforward and really easy. It took us all of five minutes to download the app and start accepting credit cards.”

Proveaux said his customers are pleasantly surprised to learn they’re able to pay by credit card at a food truck.

“It makes our business 100 percent mobile,” he said. “And the Square is still new enough that people get a kick out of it and think it’s cool.”

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