Plans for this weekend

Artrageous tonight, of course. The tickets are being advertised at $30, but you have to buy them through Ticketmaster. By the time they tacked on all their “convenience” fees, my total had become $38.55. I hope the Arts Council comes up with an alternate method for ticket sales next year.

Tomorrow night, the tentative plan is “Placebo Effect,” a party being thrown by Treefish at Stop 345, corner of Danny Thomas and Madison. The DJs for the event will be Stephe Glass, Don Seemore, Saturna, and John Clark. Treefish parties are always good because I see people I haven’t seen since my clubbing days at Red Square, Six-1-Six, and Fantasia. Cover is $5.

Sunday will be the usual drunken spree that starts at Sleep Out’s at noon and ends up whenever, wherever. Hmmm, haven’t been bowling in a while, and that’s often the last stop on Sundays. Last time I went I broke 150 for the first time in my life.

As always, these plans are subject to change. Well, Saturday and Sunday anyway, tonight’s plans are pretty definite since I paid an arm and a leg for the ticket.

All right, gotta step outside. Haven’t done an edition of “what the bums are drinking this week” in a while, so I’m going to walk past the liquor store and find out.

Tipping

Last week I was at the local beer joint, having a few with my friend Scott who used to bartend there. When I was ready to leave, I tabbed out and handed the bartender a 5. “Paul, were you ever a bartender or server?” Scott asked. “You’ve always tipped well since I’ve known you.”

The fact is, I haven’t always tipped well. Around the time when I got out of college, I’d never tip waiters and waitresses more than 15%. And tip a bartender? For what, I thought, all they’re doing is opening my beer! That’s their job!

The event that opened my eyes was a spring break trip to Panama City Beach in the mid-1990s. PCB was a haven for the frat guy/sorority girl crowd, and I was appalled at how they treated the waitstaff at restaurants – ordering them around, talking about them behind their backs (but often not waiting for them to get out of earshot), generally acting like their servers were subhuman. And then they’d walk off without leaving a tip at all. I actually heard one say, I’m never coming back here again, why tip. So I made it a point to be extra nice to everyone who waited on me down there, and I tipped well. And furthermore, I asked how they were doing, how they were holding up during the spring break rush season. They really seemed to appreciate someone being kind to them.

When I got back to Memphis, I started to notice that being a server really does suck at times. Many people think that being a customer entitles them to abuse the people waiting on them, demanding this and that and then leaving a lousy (or no) tip. Maybe here in Memphis it’s not as appalling as what I observed on spring break (although the COGIC convention comes pretty damn close), but even one or two rude people can ruin a person’s day. And servers and bartenders are people, a fact many customers seem to forget.

Since my Florida trip, my tipping strategy has been something like this:

15% if the service is average.

20-25% if the service is good.

30% if the service is good and I visit the bar or restaurant regularly. If I’m going to be served by the same person over and over, it only makes sense to take care of them.

30% if I make special requests that cause the server to do extra running around to make me happy (e.g. lots of substitutions, requests for off-menu items).

10% if the service is poor.

Zero if the service is very poor.

A penny if the service is absolutely horrible. I haven’t had to resort to this in years, although I came very close a couple of weeks ago at Huey’s Southwind.

A dollar if I’m buying a regular-priced beer ($5 or under) and paying cash.

Obviously I don’t get out the calculator and compute this stuff to the penny. I round to whatever dollar total is closest.

So, when I tip well, it’s not only to help the people serving me put food on their table, although that’s definitely important. It’s also to say, hey, I know you have to deal with a lot of rude people and I appreciate you. It’s not just a monetary thing, it’s a respect thing.

Artrageous: Where you need to be Friday, May 21

This Friday, the Greater Memphis Arts Council is putting on Artrageous, its annual fundraiser, at the United Warehouse on St. Paul, one block southeast of Main and GE Patterson downtown. (check the website for map) I went to this event last year and had a blast. There will be a variety of musical and performing arts acts there. Last year, a friend and I played foosball using a ball that had been dipped in paint. At the end of the game, they pulled off the piece of paper that had been covering the bottom of the table and gave us the painting we had created while playing. This is definitely a group that understands that “fundraiser” begins with FUN.

The headliners are Big Nazo and Steve Earle. I’ll be honest, I don’t know who they are; guess I’ll find out Friday. However, I can report that the fabulous Barbara Blue will be performing, and if you haven’t heard her yet, you need to.

Tickets are $30, available through Ticketmaster. Event starts at 8:02 pm (sunset). I’ll probably break out the gold sequined shirt for the occasion, although polyester probably isn’t the best choice for an un-airconditioned warehouse. Hope to see you there.

Plans for the rest of this weekend

Saturday night: Hang out on Beale Street, have a beer with friends, talk to tourists who are in town for BBQ Fest. Doubt I’ll go to the festival itself though (went yesterday at lunch). Possibly I’ll head to Swig where Mr. White is DJing from 10 to 2.

Sunday day: Head to Sleep Out Louie’s for Sunday brunch. A lot of the downtown locals hang out at Sleep Out’s on Sundays. They serve mimosas by the glass, but the true downtown drunks just buy bottles of champagne and OJ and mix their own. After brunch, possibly will shoot pool at the Flying Saucer, or go to Silky O’Sullivan’s to hear Barbara Blue.

Sunday night: The Dempseys at Huey’s Downtown.

All of this, of course, is subject to change.

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.