Feb 5, 2013

Are We All Square, Now?

Using the Square Card Reader

Tim is the technology and efficiency person here at Swede Farm.  He researches, and I implement his ideas.  One idea that he shared with me several years ago was "Square", a device that would give us the ability to connect a credit card reader to a smart phone and take credit card payments at our farmers markets.  I rolled my eyes, at first.  All of our regular customers know to bring cash to the markets.  We do take checks.  What would a card reader add to our business model?  Our customers appreciate knowing that they are buying directly from the farmer.  How farm-like is the ability to take credit cards?  Would it not belie the bucolic image?  I suspected that a big part of the attraction for Tim was the ability to "stick it to the man"...to have the flexibility to offer a service to our customers without having to grovel before some behemoth credit card company.  The very concept of being able to accept cards without having to go through an application process and jump through anyone's hoops appealed to his independent streak.

We were spared from friction over the argument by the wildfire evacuations.  I completely forgot the entire conversation in the light of more pressing concerns until a week after the evacuations, when he showed up at market.  He was Miquel.  He was going door to door (or rather, tent to tent) sharing with vendors about the Square credit card reader.  Ah yes...I remember Tim telling me about this!  I was still dubious as to the value that farmers would find in being able to accept credit card payments, but I knew that Tim was interested in a card reader and that he certainly could use a diversion from the wild and crazy events of the week prior.

I ran to find Tim, who was meandering about the market, chatting with other vendors.  I told him of the young man who was at market signing people up for a card reader.  To my surprise, Tim was not interested, in fact he waved me off...

"No, I already know who I want to use...I want the Square reader..."

I told him that this was the Square reader.  He spoke with Miguel.  He signed us up.  We started using Square that very week.

I cannot say that Square immediately changed the course of our business (although we know that there are many who have had that experience).  For us Square simply added a new dynamic to our ability to serve customers.  It was also more convenient for us.  We have always accepted checks, but living in the country it can be days before we are able to get to our credit union as each branch is at least 40 miles away.  With Square we see the payments hit our account within a matter of days, usually Monday after a Saturday market.  Square was also used within the first week for customers who wanted to give donations in the first few days after the wildfires.

Since signing up with Square we have investigated other readers...there was a local option from Austin that intrigued us, but we were never able to make it work  We see representatives from other card readers at market...but we are not interested in switching.  Square was simple, seamless.  It was straightforward.  The customer support was fantastic.  We loved what the company stood for, "empowering small businesses" and their transparency.  Our appreciation for Square has only grown in the seventeen months that we have been using it.

In typical Tim fashion, he evangelized for Square.  He showed it off (the perfect marriage, to him, of independence and technology).  He pitied those who had the ill luck to be tethered to the "old" way of taking credit cards.  He rolled his eyes at anyone who doubted that this would be a useful tool for a farmer.  He prided himself at being ahead of the curve.

He also delighted in Miguel's story.  When we met Miguel he was pounding the pavement, signing people up with Square--on his own dime.  He so believed in Square that he was working for them for free.  He applied for a job with Square, did not get it, kept pounding the pavement for Square on his own dime until he was finally hired at Square.  He now works at Square headquarters in California.  It was fun to be able to watch from the sidelines as someone persevered in what they believed in and saw it pay off.

Apparently Miguel felt the same way about Swede Farm.  We heard periodically from Miguel  Each time he told us that he had shared our story.  Once he asked would we be interested in participating in a video 'to promote Square to other small businesses?'   Of course, we were.  We did not hear anything else from him for several months and assumed he was on to bigger and better projects.

This January we were contacted again by the folks at Square.  It seemed that Miguel was not exaggerating when he said that he had shared our story.  In fact it seemed that everywhere that Miguel went, everyone he spoke to in the Square organization knew our story.  He shared about the farmers who used Square when he spoke to small businesses about accepting credit cards.  He shared it with corporations who were intrigued by what Square was doing.  He shared it with anyone who would listen at Square headquarters, and apparently they wanted an update.  We agreed to chat via Skype.  We love using Square and had no hesitancy in sharing how we use the card reader and the differences we have seen in our small business.  We jumped in with great gusto, telling them how much we loved using Square.  They stopped us.  This was old news.  Apparently they know that Square changed the face of small business, they are well aware of how it has truly empowered small businesses.  They were not interested in hearing more of the same rave reviews of their products and services, they wanted to hear about Swede Farm.  How we came to farming,  How we see customers as community.  The wildfire evacuation experience, and the recovery.  They wanted to know Swede Farm itself.  They asked if they could come to the farm to film.

They came to film, with a crew of five.  They spent the first day doing interviews, getting ideas.  They had read, it seemed, every word I had every written on this blog and their questions were often shaped by past blogs.  They asked about the rewards of working with our children.  They asked about the nature of having our customers sharing in our lives on such an intimate level.  They asked us to relive the experience of the fire. Some of the questions brought me to tears.  They definitely touched the deepest part of the essence of what farming has been for us.

The second day involved actually filming interviews and taking still shots of everything from baby goats playing, to Judah's boots.  Their patience had to be tested by their subjects needing to take unannounced breaks to run and check on laboring goats--we had five separate kiddings the day that they were filming on the farm!  I suspect that they had also never been nibbled on by baby goats while filming!

The third day they met us at our downtown Austin SFC market.  They filmed us selling product and (of course!) using the Square reader.

From what we understand, the plan is to distill the three days spent with the farmers at Swede Farm into a photo essay and a three minute video to be shared with potential corporate partners.  Their desire is to share the human side of the small businesses that use Square.  We are excited about this because so much of what we do is about relationships.  Tim left an industry where people were known by the name on the account.  He rarely spoke to the individual participants in a pension plan and most definitely did not know what they looked like or the details of their lives.  We see our customers every week.  We are able to ask how the broken arm is healing and how the visit to see the new grandbaby went.  We are touched by their reliance upon us to feed their babies who need milk and their fierce dedication to us when we falter.  Their support is not simply a side benefit to being able to provide them with our products, it is what keeps us going when we grow weary.  In a visceral sense, seeing the once tiny and frail babies grow into sturdy dirty toddlers that visit  the farm feels like a personal victory.  Have the services we receive from Square been the missing link that makes it all possible?  No.  However, hearing from Square about their desire to share the personal side is, in some small measure, a vindication.  We have long believed that personalizing business, bringing business down to the level of individual relationship is absolutely essential to retaining our humanity in an increasingly impersonal, standardized, and industrialized age.  Being able to work with a business that recognizes this even as they skyrocket in size and scope is validation that others believe as we do and that it may yet be possible even at the highest level of business.

And that is really cool.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What a treat to learn about your experience first-hand, LeeAnne! Thanks for sharing this. We're honored to get to be a part of the story. Looking forward to more.

Susan Leibrock, SFC