Every time someone used a credit card to pay for a drink at Westside coffee shop Agia Sophia, credit card companies charged the business up to 50 cents, plus a percentage of the sale, just to make the transaction.
“When someone is charging a $3 cup of coffee, that’s a lot,” said owner Kristin Kennedy.
That prompted the café, situated in an old stone building on northwest corner of Colorado Avenue and 29th Street, to swap out its credit card machines for an iPad and Square.
The Square is a small plastic accessory that plugs into the USB or mini-USB port of an iPhone, iPad or Android phone or tablet and allows the user to swipe a credit card. A free application processes the transaction.
Square assesses a 2.75-percent charge per transaction. That’s slightly more than the average credit card company. But there are no contracts or transaction and monthly fees.
“It’s never a surprise,” said Square spokeswoman Lindsay Wiese. “The business owners can budget for those fees and they know exactly how much it will be.”
That’s a welcome change, said Robert Wulfe, who owns Smudge Dog & Car Wash on the east side of town near Dublin Road and Powers Boulevard.
“I had credit card machines,” he said. “And every month, the statements were completely different and the percentages were totally unpredictable.”
Wulfe was one of the first business owners in the country to start using Square a little more than a year ago. In fact, he was just a little disappointed someone beat him to the invention.
He told his employees he thought someone should start a credit card company that worked like the video rental kiosk, Red Box, which charges a flat fee for every transaction.
His Smudge Dog & Car Wash came into existence when he moved from California in 2006 and decided to open a business. He opted for a dog and car wash because they were both things he hated doing at home.
Just a week after he suggested someone come out with flat-fee service, Wulfe found Square while browsing the business apps on his smart phone.
“I probably cut over $300 a month just in fees alone,” Wulfe said.
At first, Wulfe used Square on his phone. Then he bought a tablet. The money he saved with Square, he used to buy a second tablet, he said.
“It looks a little more professional to have a pad,” he said.
Agia Sophia purchased an iPad, too, but Kennedy said the savings from using Square for just two months has already paid for it.
“People think we’re really on top of things and keeping up with times,” Kennedy said. “You don’t look like you’re using an ancient system.”
Kennedy and her husband found Square because they were looking for an alternative for their photography business.
They found that the seasonal nature of their business meant credit card fees during the down times were tremendous. It was also hard to take payment in the field when their credit card machines were all hard-wired back at the office.
After they found Square, they realized, they were saving about $50 a month in fees.
“But it’s a lot more than that with the coffee shop because of all those small transactions,” Kennedy said.
Square sends products to customers for free, and business owners can also find the plastic Squares at major retailers like Wal-Mart, Target and Apple for $9.95, Wiese said. But when they’re purchased retail, Square credits the user’s account with $10.
Liz Rosenbaum got a Square from a friend who recommended it. Rosenbaum has a mobile restaurant — Her Story Café.
She’s a former history teacher. When she was laid off she decided to pursue the dream of opening her own café.
“Someone gave me the idea of a lunch truck,” Rosenbaum said. “I found a truck, named it Alice and fell in love with it.”
She serves “legendary comfort food,” she said. And she’s especially well known for her soups. Rosenbaum parks at Northrop Grumman, Spring Creek Business Park and Patriot Park Business Center.
She just started in April, but business has been good, she said.
“When I started, I thought I would just do cash,” she said.
In a mobile food truck, Rosenbaum didn’t have any communications hookups or any of the hardware she would need to make traditional credit card machines work. And she was just getting started, so she didn’t have a lot of money to risk on credit card company contracts and fees.
“But I had a lot of people tell me they wished I would take cards,” she said.
When regular customers complained they didn’t have cash, she’d even serve them and tell them they could bring money the next week. Then a fellow business owner handed her one of the little plastic gizmos and told her to give Square a try.
She set up at a 24-hour cycling event next to another vendor this summer and did $200 more business because she could accept cards, she said.
When the event was over, she told her neighbor vendor about Square.
While 2.75 percent is nothing to scoff at, it doesn’t ding Rosenbaum’s bottom line too much. She said the extra revenue is definitely worth accepting cards.
“The fees are not that much,” she said. “I’m mostly glad people can enjoy my food.”