What the bums are drinking this week

(based on a survey of the boxes thrown away by the liquor store around the corner)

Lord Calvert whiskey, Mad Dog 20/20, and Jack Daniels.

Of course, Jack is way too high quality a liquor for the bums to buy. I wonder if the owner is trying to appeal to a different clientele since the police locked up a considerable portion of his client base this week.

My job, part 3: Who would be a good prospect for me?

One of the most important things I have learned through my involvement with Memphis BNI is the importance of educating people as to what would make a good referral for me. So, in this journal entry, I will explain how I know when a person I’m talking to is a good prospect for my credit card merchant services business.

I’ll start with generalities and get more specific. On a general level, there are two types of people who would make good prospects for me:

1) Anyone opening a new business that needs to accept credit and debit cards. Retail stores, restaurants, mom-and-pop businesses. As I explained in an earlier journal entry, most small businesspeople don’t understand the credit card processing industry. Banks and processing companies are aware of this and lock them into contracts with very high rates, or with lots of hidden fees. If I can get to them before they sign one of those contracts, I can come out and educate them on the credit card business. Hopefully they will be grateful that someone gave them the personal attention, and sign up with me. But even if they don’t, at least they will be able to make an informed decision: they won’t be at the mercy of the banks anymore.

2) Anyone who owns a business with the Visa/Mastercard logos on the door. Those logos are a sign that they’re probably being charged too much for their credit and debit card processing. About 60-75% of all businesses are. I can come in, do a free statement analysis, and show them whether or not I can save them money. Most of the time I can save them anywhere from 300 up to a couple thousand bucks a year, depending on their sales volume and their current rates.

All right. Now let’s get more specific. Here are some cases that are almost dead giveaways that a business is overpaying for its credit card processing:

If you pay with a bank/debit card, and they hand you a receipt to sign. This means that the transaction will be processed as a credit card charge rather than a debit card. What they should be doing is handing you a keypad to punch in your 4-digit bank PIN. That’s a true debit charge, and it’s much, much cheaper for the business to do.

If you hear a business complaining about bad checks. We have an add-on product called check conversion and guaranty that can put a stop to bad check problems forever. You run the check through a swiper, and as long as you get proper ID, the money will be deposited in your account and will not come back out. If the check comes back NSF (non-sufficient funds), it’s my company’s problem, not yours.

Mobile businesses. Any business that does delivery, makes house calls, or does transportation (limos, for example). These businesses are almost always overpaying for credit card processing because they have to take card numbers over the phone and punch them in. Those are very expensive transactions because the card is not present – you’re not swiping it or seeing the customer face to face – and MC/Visa charge an extra-high penalty rate for every transaction. I can hook the businesses up with wireless terminals that they can take with them in the vehicles. That allows them to do card-present transactions and get a much lower rate. The savings on transaction fees more than makes up for the cost of the wireless terminals in most cases.

Businesses that would like to sell online. We have a full suite of products that can help them do that. In addition, I have experience developing web sites and programming in server-side web scripting languages like ASP, PHP, and CGI. I can get a company online painlessly and easily.

Those are a few tell-tale indicators that I can put more money on a business’s bottom line. So, if you come across a business that meets any of these qualifications, tell them you have a friend named Paul Ryburn who can possibly save them some money, and contact me and tell me to get in touch with them. Thanks!

Come as you are

One thing I love about Memphis is that it is relatively unpretentious for a big city.

A couple of weeks ago, I got to attend the opening night of Cinderella, the ballet at the Orpheum. Looking around, I noticed how many members of the audience were in jeans. And it wasn’t just young kids; many of the people I see every month in the society pages, the “upper crust” if you will, had jeans on. That’s pretty cool. Can you imagine wearing jeans to a fine theater in Boston to see the ballet? Or New York? Probably not. But in Memphis it’s perfectly acceptable.

Recently a new restaurant, Stella, opened down the street from where I live. The interior is elegant, and the menu is up there with any of the fine restaurants in Memphis. I know the owners – used to run into them on the South Main Friday night art tours all the time. So, one day I was walking home and bumped into them. They told me the restaurant was open and encouraged me to come in and see them. “Well, I have shorts and sandals on right now,” I said. “Maybe sometime when I’m dressed more appropriately, I’ll come in and have an appetizer and glass of wine.”

“Oh, don’t worry about it!” they said. “Come as you’re dressed. We don’t care! We just want you to enjoy yourself and be comfortable.” I really appreciate that. A few days later I did go in – wearing a nice shirt and khakis. It’s a classy place and I wanted to look good for them. But the fact that I could go in wearing shorts – and they wouldn’t mind – means a lot. It earns my respect, makes me want to go there more than I otherwise would.

Stella isn’t the only upscale restaurant downtown that understands Memphis’ casual vibe. I have heard the owner of McEwen’s say that he doesn’t care if people come in wearing shorts, as long as they’re enjoying the food and wine. And, I read an interview with the owner of Automatic Slim’s and Cielo not long ago, in which she said the same thing.

Some places persist in trying to force a dress code on a city that doesn’t want one, though. There’s a fine-dining restaurant close to my apartment building – even closer than Stella – that puts “jackets preferred for gentlemen” in their listings. It has been open over a year, but I haven’t been in. I prefer not to be told what I’m “preferred” to wear.

And there’s a restaurant a couple blocks further down the Main Street Mall, in the Pembroke Square area, that I’ve heard has gotten snotty with a couple of my friends – one for not having a jacket on, the other for coming in wearing jeans. When Mpact had their After Hours at this place last month, I made it a point not to attend.

But, enough about them. To the businesses that let you come as you are, who understand that T-shirt-and-jeans money is just as good as suit-and-tie money, I raise my glass to you in appreciation. And I look forward to bringing some of my friends to your business and raising our glasses in person. Thanks for keeping it real.

My job, part 2: How I earn my living

In part 1 I talked about the credit card merchant services business – the products I offer and why I can generally get businesses better rates than the large processing companies can. In this post I will talk about how I do my job – how I find customers and sign them up.

My most lucrative sign-ups are new businesses just opening their doors. They not only need credit card processing, but they need equipment as well – usually a terminal, sometimes a wireless terminal or Internet virtual terminal. I subscribe to the Memphis Business Journal’s new business listings – every week, the MBJ e-mails me a spreadsheet full of info on everyone who has filed a business license in the past 7 days. I then run the phone numbers through the federal Do Not Call list (some of the businesses are home-based and therefore residential numbers), and call the ones who are not registered.

This can actually be a quite entertaining process. For example, a new business opened up in Whitehaven called Stanky Car Wash. Only in Memphis would someone put “Stanky” in the business name. That particular one didn’t supply a phone number, although I don’t know if I could have carried on a conversation with them without laughing!

Calling people can be entertaining as well. Now and then someone answers “Yeah?” Who the hell answers THEIR BUSINESS PHONE with “Yeah?” I find that I’m developing a real good intuition for who will make it and who will not by looking for signs like this.

If there’s no phone number, I note the address. If it’s not too far out of my way and sounds like a real prospect, I’ll try to drive out to their location and see if anyone is around. If all else fails, I’ll mail them a personal letter with my business card attached.

When I’m not out talking to new businesses, I go to existing businesses that already take credit cards. I ask to see a recent statement from their current credit card processor. I fax the statement off to my regional manager, who prepares an analysis showing how we can save them money by reducing their rates and in some cases getting their equipment up to date. From what I’ve seen, we can save a small business a substantial amount of money ($300 a year or more, and sometimes in the thousands) about 60-75% of the time. Most companies really are paying their credit card processors too much.

The other way I generate business leads is by networking. Whenever I get a chance to talk to people, I make sure that they know what I do for a living, and what kind of people fit the profile of the business owners I’d like to talk to. Recently I joined a formal networking organization called BNI (Business Network International). Our chapter meets once a week on Thursday mornings at the Arcade, and membership is limited to one per profession – so there can’t be two credit card guys in the same chapter. We currently have a professional business coach, a health/life insurance guy, a real estate agent, a mortgage broker, a network monitoring company, a CPA, a financial advisor, an attorney, a security/alarm guy, and a cell phone guy. I’ve invited a web designer and a trade show consultant to come this week.

Each week at BNI, I give a 60-second presentation explaining what I do and (especially important) how the other members would know when they are talking to a good referral for me. As a result, during the rest of the week when we’re all out doing business, I have a “sales force” looking for people to refer my way. And I’m looking for qualified prospects for all of them. In the 6 weeks I’ve been a member, I’ve received 8 referrals – meaning my fellow members have talked to these people and they have said they’d like to meet me and possibly do business with me. Obviously this is much more productive than cold calling!

If you’re a business owner or are in sales, you’d do well to give BNI a look. If it sounds interesting, send me an e-mail and I can arrange for you to attend a chapter meeting as my guest.

That’s how I beat the bushes for sales. In part 3 of this series, I’ll do an expanded version of my BNI presentation, and explain what types of people are ideal prospects for me. In part 4 I will talk about another interesting side business I’m getting into, a spinoff of my involvement in BNI.

Almost midnight as I type this. Time to log off for the evening. I found a really interesting atlas of world history on the sale table at Borders, so I’ll read that for a while and then get some sleep.

Quality of Life (Kudos to MPD!)

Late last week I e-mailed the Memphis Police Department and complained about the drunk, aggressive panhandlers (downtowners just call them “the bums”). In particular I asked them to pay attention to the corner of Madison and Main, where the bums congregate and beg for money because there is a store nearby that sells cheap liquor. I also mentioned one person who is a particular nuisance – this is the guy who was screaming all sorts of obscenities in front of young children.

Well, last night I received a reply from MPD. They showed me a chain of forwarded e-mails:

The first was an e-mail from the network admin to the major in charge of downtown, making him aware of the request for help.

The second was from the major in charge to a lieutenant, asking for extra coverage in the Madison and Main area to address Quality of Life issues.

The third was a reply from the lieutenant, saying that extra officers had been assigned as asked, and four arrests were made at that corner in a two-day period. One of the arrests was the individual named in the original e-mail.

The major followed up, thanking me for alerting him to this problem, and telling me that the arrest tickets are on file if I’d like to see them.

I’m thrilled. The Memphis Police could not have handled my request more quickly and professionally. My hat is off to them. Great job!

My job, part 1: What I do for a living

This will be the first in a series of posts where I talk about my main job these days, in credit card merchant services. In this post I will explain what I do; in the second post I will explain how I do it. I will also follow up with some posts listing lessons I have learned while out doing sales. And, I’ll post about a networking group I got involved with along the way, and an additional side business that resulted. These posts will probably be interspersed with whatever else I feel like talking about.

Short and sweet, this is what I do for a living:

I help new businesses get set up to accept credit and debit cards;


I help existing businesses get better rates on their credit and debit card processing.

My company specializes in working with small mom-and-pop retail stores, restaurants, and professional offices (doctors, lawyers, etc.) The thing is, most of the large credit card processors are built to work with large chain stores. Their business model does not work as well with the little guys.

The company I work for has a very lean business model. The big guys employ full-time salespeople to go out and drum up business. That means they have to pay salaries; they have to pay for office space, benefits, and often perks such as company cars. My company pays for none of that. I’m totally on commission (although the commissions are quite generous). I like it because it’s totally up to me; if I want to make money I can go out and make it happen. In addition, my home is my office, which makes me very happy. And since I’m totally commissioned, I can work as many or as few hours a week as I want; it’s not costing the company anything.

Because of this lean business model, my company has low overhead, and I can usually sign up small companies at rates the large processors could not possibly afford. My regional manager tells businesses, if I can’t beat the other companies’ rate I’ll pay you $50. He’s never had to pay it yet.

I have an additional advantage: Most credit card processors are scum and rip their clients off. Think about it. You’re opening up a toy store or hardware store or dental practice. Do you know anything about the credit card industry? And furthermore, do you care? Probably not. You just want to get the doors open as quickly as possible and start doing what you love. And so, getting set up to accept credit cards becomes a task you have to get done, like doing laundry or paying bills. So you think to yourself, who do I know who can get this done for me? And if you’re like most business owners, the obvious answer is…your bank.

The problem is, the banks know that you don’t know. So they’ve got you. And they write you a contract with an enormous rate. Or they stick it to you on equipment fees. Or, if they think you’re a bit more savvy, they quote you a contract with a low rate, and then kill you with hidden fees in the fine print. Or they quote you a low rate and then mis-classify the bulk of your charges at a higher penalty rate. There are all kinds of ways they can getcha.

So, what I do is educate small business owners on the credit card business and what a fair rate is. I also educate them on the right equipment for their business. In some cases I offer optional programs to complement their credit card service. These include

Wireless terminals that allow mobile businesses to get the best rates

Internet processing, allowing businesses to sell online

Gift card programs that encourage customers to come back more often; and

A program that puts a stop to bad checks for good.

Does every appointment turn into a sale? No. I wish that were the case. But every small business owner who meets with me gets an education about how credit card processing works. They’re capable of making informed decisions; they’ll no longer be in the dark. And many of the business owners are very appreciative; their bank never took the time to come out and explain it all, did they? So, when I end my presentation by offering the chance to sign with my company and get a better rate, it seems only natural to go with the person who has treated them well.

So, in a nutshell, that’s what I do. If you know of anyone opening a new business in the Memphis area, I’d like to talk to them. If you know of a business in the Memphis area that already displays the MC/Visa logos on their door, I’d like to talk to them as well, because those logos are a sign that their current processor is probably charging them too much money.

And with that, I’m off to bed for the evening.

The bums

I have a friend named Kook. She’s a clown. Literally, that’s her profession. A few days ago, she came up to the coffee shop with two children, one of whom was having a birthday. She didn’t have on her clown outfit, but had all the props with her. So, they ordered drinks, then sat down at one of the tables outside to feast on birthday cake.

Meanwhile, there were a group of bums congregating at the trolley stop in front of the coffee shop. Without fail, they show up about 4:30 every day, begging for money either at the trolley stop or at the Walgreens across the street. When they get enough change, they head around the corner to the liquor store. Then they get drunk and repeat the beg/buy liquor/get drunk process.

Well, the bums were quite drunk by the time the birthday group showed up. Right in front of the children – ages 7 and 5 I would estimate – one of the male bums screamed “dick-eating whore” and other obscenities at one of the female bums. This continued for 10 or 15 minutes. They absolutely could not care less that there were small children within earshot. And this kind of thing happens every day.

Today I watched a different bum, who was sitting up by the government offices on the Main Street Mall. There are planters full of pretty flowers outside, and I watched as he picked several flowers. He then staggered down the street, looking for couples. He’d offer the woman a flower, then stand there and expect a tip from the man. As soon as he got his money, he headed for – you guessed it – the liquor store. Then he went back down to the planter to pick some more flowers.

There’s a Thai restaurant a couple of blocks from where I live. I go there semi-regularly and have gotten to know some of the people who work there. One of the servers there used to live in 99 Tower Place downtown, but a few months ago she moved out east. The reason why, she explained, is that the bums wouldn’t leave her alone. Every time she’d come out the front door to walk to work, they’d make obscene comments about her body and what they’d like to do to her. No wonder she moved. No wonder so many of my female friends who live in Midtown and out east won’t consider living downtown.

I am fed up with these people. I do not believe their right of free expression gives them the right to make other people feel uncomfortable, and our flower-man certainly does not have the right to destroy public property in support of his liquor habit. It’s a quality-of-life issue. The bums have had free reign over the streets of downtown ever since I’ve been down here.

Fortunately, the cops may be listening, finally. This week there have been an increased number of arrests downtown, especially by undercover units. It shouldn’t be too hard to lock them up – public intoxication, disorderly conduct, public urination are a few charges they could press. And many of them will be holding drugs or weapons, or will have warrants, leading to additional time in Hotel 201. I e-mailed the downtown precinct at mpd@memphispolice.org and let them know when and where the bums are causing the most trouble. If you’re a downtowner and are bothered by these people, please consider doing the same. The police have got to be made to understand what a problem these people have become.

Let me make it clear that I have nothing against homeless people; it’s the bums I’m tired of. There’s a difference. There’s a really sweet homeless woman who hangs out downtown. She never bothers anybody, and I’ll often see her on Beale dancing to the street bands. The few times she has asked me for anything, it has been food. “Hey mister, I see you got a sandwich there. The next time you buy one, I sure would appreciate you getting me one.” Got no problem with that. The other day was her birthday, and I bought her a liter Sprite. She was so happy – stopped everyone who passed by for about 10 minutes and told them what a gentleman I was. The bums tried to talk her into selling the Sprite and using the money to buy whisky, but she wouldn’t do it. .The Homeless Guy suggests making a care package of toiletries, candy bars, maybe a rain poncho and other supplies to hand out to the homeless. I’ll try to make packages for her and some of the other genuinely good homeless people I know.

The bums, however, are a different breed. In fact, many of them are not homeless; they have places to live, often supported by government checks. Coming downtown to get drunk, panhandle, and bother people is just their hobby. Well, their hobby has gotten out of hand and it’s time to put a stop to it.

Boxing on Beale

I got a real treat Tuesday night. I was sitting in Empire Coffee when retired boxer Bruce “Double Trouble” Card (“bad man…pretty as a girl”) came in. Bruce is also a regular at the coffee shop. He asked if I wanted to go to pro boxing at the New Daisy as his guest. There are boxing matches at the Daisy the first Tuesday of every month. I had never seen boxing live, and I figured there would be no better way to see it than sitting next to a retired boxer. So we headed down there and got seats in the front row of the balcony.

There was a kid, probably still in high school, in his first match ever in the opening bout. “His opponent could probably knock him out in 30 seconds,” explained Bruce, “but the promoter told him to put on a show for the fans.” The kid had a lot of heart and kept going well into the third round, when the ref stopped it and gave it to his opponent by TKO. The fans applauded the kid for a good first outing.

The mid-card bouts saw some guys really going after each other with all they had. I can’t believe we didn’t see a single knockout. One was a TKO, the others went the distance and were decided by the judges.

The loudest applause came during the next-to-last match, when the ring girl came out of her top as she bent over to get through the ropes.

The main event was a disaster. It was a title match, for a federation’s cruiserweight title. The champion was having all kinds of equipment problems. The ref had to temporarily halt the match three times – twice because he lost his mouthpiece, and once because his gloves came off. How did this guy get to be champion? The crowd was booing unmercifully and chanting “this match sucks.” Finally, in the 7th round the challenger got the better of him and the ref stopped the match. The champion protested to the ref. It was a display worthy of Tonya Harding. “Worst main event ever,” commented Bruce.

The mid-card bouts made up for it though. Definitely an experience worth repeating.