Hip to be Square

Payment system saves businesses time, money

Eugene Anderson, co-owner of The Krewe du Brew coffee shop in New Orleans, saves himself three hours of bookkeeping each day.

Bradley Sanchez saved $4,000 in startup costs before even opening the doors of The Salad Shop in late October in Baton Rouge.

Marcus Descant, owner of the Urban Naturalist, a sustainable garden center in Lafayette, has seen his business triple this year.

All three have one thing in common: they all use the Square system on devices.

Invented by Jack Dorsey in 2009, who also co-founded Twitter in 2006, the Square is an “app” and free credit card reader that plugs into an iPhone, iPad or Android device and immediately puts anyone and everyone in business for themselves. The Square, which has its own financial system that deposits transactions into individual bank accounts, is annually generating $15 billion in credit card transactions, according to company reports. It charges a 2.75 percent transaction fee per swipe.

“Square began with a simple idea: everyone should be able to accept credit cards,” the company declares on its website. “Square is making commerce easy for everyone.”

More than 5,000 New Orleans businesses, more than 1,000 Baton Rouge businesses and more than 500 Lafayette businesses run on Square, generating hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue, said Semonti Stephens, of the communications department at Square’s San Francisco headquarters.

Anderson, Sanchez and Descant are only three examples, Semonti said, “of thousands of incredible merchants across the country who are coming up with great ideas and taking a chance opening up a business. And that’s what Square is all about, to help them through the process.”

Sanchez said he saved $4,000 in startup costs because he designed The Salad Shop, a “fast-casual,” take-out or eat-in salad bar, around the Square system.

“For me the ease of startup costs and what seemed like easy usability was a big factor,” Sanchez said. “Your standard point-of-sale system is thousands of dollars because they basically have to integrate new software for your specific business where this software is easily integrated and easily set up.”

“We love using it,” said Anderson, of The Krewe du Brew, which opened two years ago at 1610 St. Charles Ave. in the Garden District.

“All my reports are online. I can pull it up on my phone, my tablet, wherever I need to. They are right there at my fingertips.”

“It saves me about three hours a day in bookkeeping,” said Anderson.

The system saves him time from having to pull register tape and enter things in manually.

“Before I opened up the coffee shop, I was a data base administrator. So, for me, having those raw numbers is invaluable,” Anderson said. “Now its all at my fingertips.”

Anderson’s advice to other small business owners: “Square is perfect for you if you have small-ticket items. Your phone is your cash register.”

The Salad Shop, located at 3617 Perkins in the Claitor’s Plaza in Baton Rouge, had a soft-launch in late October and is timing a grand opening in early January to folks’ eat-better, get-fit New Year’s resolutions.

“I felt there was a need for healthy eating in Baton Rouge and this concept of fast-casual, primarily focusing on taking out, is really popular right now,” Sanchez said. “People want to grab something quick that is of good quality.”

Sanchez set up his menu-price list on an iPad that is connected to a card reader stand ($99) and a receipt printer. A small cash drawer under the counter presents a clean appearance. It took about a half-hour to teach his 11 employees how to operate it.

“Anybody can use it,” Sanchez said.

Printed receipts are available, Sanchez said, or electronic receipts can be sent via text or email.

“Nobody wants a printed receipt anymore,” Sanchez said. “We’re not dealing with a lot of cash either because customers can just track it on their bank account or online.”

Since the system is also on his iPhone, Sanchez said he can make transactions with the plug-in card reader when catering an event.

“I check my sales almost hourly on my phone to see how we are doing,” he said. “That’s a big, big help for me — being able to monitor my sales.”

Urban Naturalist owner Descant said growth of his “sustainable garden center” in Lafayette was being held back because he could not afford a standard point-of-sale system.

“It’s totally changed the way I do business,” Descant said. “Before I was limited to cash. And if people don’t have the cash to do the purchase, you’re just gonna lose the sale and they’re not gonna come back and buy it. Now I can make the sale.”

Descant estimated about half of his transactions are now via Square.

“My growth over the last year has been about 300 percent. How much is attributed to receiving credit card transactions I don’t know,” Descant said. “I also attribute it (growth) to a sustainability trend, but it definitely helps when you can say, ‘I take all kinds of payment.’”

Descant began selling chickens out of his backyard in 2011 and has steadily expanded into vegetables, fruit trees, herbs, mulch and eco-friendly products like fertilizers and pest control products. He’s currently converting his house into a store so he can further expand into sales of plants that can’t be outdoors and for a proprietary live fishing bait.

Descant said he’d like to see the Square system be more inventory-specific instead of only tracking dollar amounts.

“I want to be able to look at where my sales are coming from,” he said.

Because he works mostly outdoors, Descant would also like to see the plastic plug-in be more durable.

“They break pretty fast,” he said. “When I told them that they sent me a bag of them. I have about 20 on my desk. I’m always dirty; I need something extra durable.”

The Salad Shop owner, Sanchez, said his only criticisms were the dependence on a strong Internet signal, which he said is still much better than paying for a dedicated phone line, and software for multiple systems.

“If I were to grow and have another facility and operate in two different venues, they don’t have a system yet where I can manage both sites from one system,” Sanchez said.

“As an Android user, the thing I would change is: it doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that the Apple version has,” added Krewe du Brew’s Anderson. “I’d like to see it also do invoices. That would be a big help.”

Square’s Stephens said she understands those criticisms and the company is working on all of them.

“Hopefully we’re helping these businesses grow their reach and that increased revenue is going right back into the community to where they are shopping, living and employing people,” Stephens said.