By Alan Wolf, YSN
For most retailers, credit card purchases can be a blessing or a curse.
On one hand, the widely accepted use of plastic does away with unwieldly cash transactions for big-ticket purchases like kitchen suites. And for dealers who also maintain e-commerce sites, credit cards are just about mandatory for online sales.
But the flip side of these electronic transactions can be painful. Dealers must pay processors a fee to handle the payments, under contractual terms that can be murky and allow for frequent rate hikes. What’s more, the cost of the credit card terminals alone can further erode any margin made on the original sale and, adding insult to injury, merchants must also contend with the prospect of fraudulent purchases. It’s enough to make a dealer switch to Bitcoin!
Enter Heartland Payment Systems, an AVB/BrandSource partner that prides itself on easing or eliminating those pain points for merchants. Based in Edmond, Okla., with around-the-clock customer support operations in Jeffersonville, Ind., the company serves some 400,000 retailers ranging from local hairdressers and hardware stores to national restaurant chains. Likewise, its roster of BrandSource clients runs the gamut from single-shop mom-and-pops to the 25-store Grand Appliance and TV, and also extends to AVB affiliate ProSource, for whom it provides recurring payment plans.
Other services include payroll processing and lending (the company helped customers submit nearly $4 million in loan applications under the emergency Paycheck Protection Program), but according to Charlotte, N.C. Division Manager Gavin McKinnis, Heartland’s core competency lies in credit card processing, which comprises fully 80 percent of its business.
To help BrandSource members process their credit card transactions in the most efficient, secure and cost-effective manner, Gavin and his team provide a range of benefits to the group, beginning with a key cost-savings exclusive: complimentary card terminals. Heartland’s latest model, the 3500, features more ATM and POS functions than its predecessor and sells for $299 a unit, while those who lease equipment can wind up spending thousands more.
In contrast, BrandSource members receive an average of two free terminals per store. The units are paid for by the company’s field sales staff, who, explained Whitney Hollopeter, a Certified Payments Professional, make up the difference with orders of supplemental equipment. Besides purchasing additional stationary terminals, members also opt for Heartland’s handheld mobile card readers, which sell for $100 a piece but receive a 25 percent discount on large orders, she said.
Heartland customers also save on processing fees. As Gavin noted, most payment processors charge a processing fee of 2 percent — at first. “But some contracts allow processors to raise their fees every six months, meaning rates can be as high as 4 percent after three years,” he said.
“Most store owners don’t understand how the processing piece works,” Gavin continued, which he attributes in part to confusing statements that are difficult to decipher.
Heartland’s rate, however, remains unchanged throughout the three-year contract term, something that is clearly stated upfront. “Our statements are super-transparent,” he said, and the company also provides customers with comprehensive data on all dues and assessment fees imposed by leading card brands like Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover Network. “Total fees can be hefty,” he added, and the information helps dealers make the best decisions for their businesses.
In fact, Heartland’s quest for transparency is codified in a 10-point Merchant Bill of Rights, which includes the right to know the fee for every card transaction (and who’s charging it); the right to know all surcharges and bill-backs; and the right to know all transaction middlemen.
Also included in the tenets is the right to real-time fraud and transaction monitoring. To that end, dealers can bank on any transaction that’s run through a Heartland terminal on the company’s Heartland Secure platform as being “absolutely protected from fraud,” Gavin said. “The terminals are tokenized and encrypted and are secure from hacking.” Unfortunately, online orders, which can be placed with stolen or otherwise fraudulent credit cards, don’t enjoy the same safeguards, although Heartland can show clients multiple ways to mitigate risk.
The final point on the Heartland Bill of Rights is the right to live customer support 24/7/365, which is something that Whitney takes to heart. In addition to the 1-800 hotline to customer support, the daughter of Plaza Appliance Mart’s Bill Pleasants Jr. provides BrandSource dealers with her direct mobile number, delivering a level of personalized service that is unique in the industry.
That’s something that BrandSource dealers Joe Heslin and Mario Callegari of Carmona’s Appliance Center in Redding, Calif., can readily attest to. “Whitney is available all the time,” Callegari said. “She’s real easy to work with and took ownership of our transition to Heartland. It was seamless with zero hiccups.”
“The customer service is stellar, substantially better than other providers,” Callegari continued. “Problems are rare and it’s easy to get any issues fixed fast.” Carmona’s co-owner also commended Heartland for its “fair discount rate” and vaunted transparency. “There are no ‘gotchas,’” he said.
BrandSource members interested in joining Carmona’s — as well as Urner’s, Plaza, Grand, John’s Appliance and others — in tapping into Heartland’s merchant-friendly payment platform can email Whitney at Whitney.Hollopeter@e-Hps.com or reach her on that always-on cellphone at (980) 229-5450.
BrandSource is a unit of YSN publisher AVB Inc.