Saturday, October 24, 2009

extras (tips and tricks for your next show)

In my previous post, I wrote about our new booth design for our upcoming retail show, but that is just one aspect of the mind numbing details that had to be figured out in the last few weeks.
Since I ended up having to research just about everything to get ready for this show, I thought, heck, hopefully I can save at least someone else the absolute horrendously boring task of going through all this minutia themselves, why not share it? (phew, this should make a tiny dent in my karmic debt, right?).

Being someone who needs to picture stuff in my head, once I had a pretty good idea of how I wanted to present product I could start thinking of how customers would pay me for it (yes, others might have started with this part, something I might want to think about...anyhow). Obviously, this brings in a new set of problems. Cash is never a problem, so yes, check that off the list, but what about credit cards?
Being primarily a wholesaler (we sell to stores, who in turn sell to the end user), I made a decision long ago that I would not get too technical or fancy and incur large monthly fees for top of the line/newest fangled credit card processing options. For Visa and Mastercard, we actually have a set up where we can simply call in for authorizations (you can process dozens of transactions with just one phone call), but that won't work at a retail show, I am certainly not going to call in each time someone wants to pay with a credit or debit card.
For American Express, we have a card swipe machine that plugs into our phone line and although we do pay about $25/month for the machine, our telephone processor doesn't deal with Amex, so it had to be done. Now, here's the thing with the card swipe machine, the DC convention center charges approx. $400 for a phone line for the 2 day show- OUCH! Of course, we could go for a wireless machine, but I just can't substantiate the cost at this point.

I started to search around the internet to see what I could come up with, couldn't I simply process cards over the internet? I would only have to make sure that I could get online using my laptop.

Getting online: (call the show's internet/phone line provider)...the DC convention center charges $99/day to get onto their wireless network...ahem, sorry, what now? $99 PER DAY???????????? (are they smoking crack?)...The first person I speak to tells me that due to network interference, I will only be able to get onto their network, but if I really want to be 100% sure about my internet connection, I should get a phone line (yes, for $400) and get a special DSL line installed (sure, no problem...NOT).
I decided to call back again, and thankfully I did not get the same person! This time, the helpful lady on the line lowered her voice to an almost whisper and said- "just use an aircard and you will get online without a problem, no one is crazy enough to pay these prices!"- that was exactly what I was hoping to hear.
Aircards: Don't have one, (yeah I know, I know,  I tweet, I blog, I facebook, I even design and maintain my own website and NO I don't have an aircard, blackberry or even iphone! since I am coming clean on this, you may as well know that my cell phone does NOT even take photos!, which is starting to really suck, because having the perfect child that I do, people want to see photos and I am not going to trapse around town with a photo album, that would be so, well...heavy, anyhow, ok, sorry, back to Aircards.

Well, believe it or not I actually limit my internet use to home/office or hotel (when traveling), I do not have an aircard. I started to look around for a wifi service provider that I could use (as our ISP's pricing was crazy for aircards)...I also asked people on twitter for recommendations. It finally came down to contracts, I decided NO to more damn contracts for now (if possible), why would I pay a monthly fee for something I really only need when I am traveling?, especially, when my goal is to travel less now for business, as we have a baby.

Here's what if finally came down to:
They will send my aircard with limitless wifi access on Verizon to my hotel in Washington and it will be waiting for me when I arrive. I give them the day I want to start and I will only get billed starting that day and when I am done, I drop the aircard into the postage paid return envelope that they send with the aircard and drop it into the nearest mail box to go back to them- DONE! |I will be paying $8.79/day plus less than $10 for all the postage and handling, now that's a far cry from what the convention center was offering!

Great, now that I will have internet access, we can get back to online credit card processing.

This took ALOT of research!
Once again, being the contractual commitmentphobe that I am, I was looking for a somewhat temporary solution, since I am not sure if we will be doing retail shows all that often or not. So after seeing a gazillion sites that had lists and lists and lists of extras and charges, contracts and even the craziest system requirements I have ever seen, I came across one that looked pretty good, (they will remain nameless). As an aside, the great thing about twitter is that you can mention something in a tweet and suddenly BOOM, you get those types of people following you and selling you stuff/services...that's exactly what happened when I tweeted that I was looking for an internet credit card processing company. (do not mistake this for an online shopping cart solution, that's when you want to sell on your website, what I wanted was a company that could provide me with a solution to take cards live (not over the phone or online), swipe them if need be (or not if not necessary, based on rates and via a swiper that plugs into my laptop) and get instant verification and authorization.
So I started to communicate with this company A and the rates weren't horrible and I was told that I did not have to sign a longterm contract. I was told that I would be set up as a moto account, meaning, it was like I was doing business online, so I would not be swiping cards. I asked why I should be set up like this, since I would be swiping cards and I know that you will always get better rates when doing a face to face card transaction than via phone or internet- "not so", he told me (first big red flag!). Then the paper work started arriving into my email box and low and behold, all kinds of hidden costs. If there is no contract, then why do I have to pay a $50/month charge if I don't use it? why can't I just stop the service? I was told that he did not want to do all this if I was just going to cancel the service, HUH? I thought he got that this was the whole point, I wanted to use this type of service when and only when I need it!

I finally found and Chris helped me out with exactly what I wanted. "Yes, of course you can stop and start the service whenever you want and as often as you want, many of our clients do this", "Well yes, of course we will give you better rates if you are swiping cards, as a matter of fact, for just $3/month (which you can send back whenever you'd like) we will mail you a card swiper that you can plug into your laptop, this way when you swipe you will get these great retail store type rates and when you don't swipe, the rates will just automatically go to the moto rates". While he was at it, he sent me the very simple and quick forms to fill out online and actually walked me through it all over the phone- 5 minutes, DONE!
I decided to call back company A to thank Mr. A for all his emails and explanations for their completely cryptic terms and conditions (which he told me in the emails to MAKE SURE TO READ CAREFULLY BEFORE SIGNING, yes, in BOLD) and to let him know that I found another company that could better serve my needs. He immediately emailed back with all kinds of ways he could match them and to tell me , "Nadine, nothing in life is free :-)" (yes, there was a smiley at the end).
Can I just say this, it really pisses me off that we so often are forced to become experts at other people's jobs just to figure out if what they are selling us is actually what we need or not?
It seemed to pay off this time, but I think I would have opted for bamboo shoots being shoved under my fingernails one by one rather than do this legwork again, if given the choice.
(I omitted the story about trying to actually stay with the processor I currently have and simply change the means to online for now, OMG it's amazing how some companies will not even try to keep a client that has been with them for over 8 years!)
Let's summarize: online access, online credit card processing, card swiper.
Now don't for a minute think that the convention center is going to just give me an electrical outlet to plug in my laptop, hot glue gun or breast pump....NO way will PAY for that...stay tuned!

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