IMS Inc. is a 15-year-old company with 70 employees serving more than 15,000 diverse merchants: a successful venture by most any measure. But rather than sit complacently on its laurels, the company decided to combine the wisdom of experience with the spark of imagination to take the business to new heights.
With a fresh vision clearly defined, the IMS executive team recently revitalized the company, emphasizing the following elements:
To top it off, the company adopted a new tag line, "Beyond the transaction," to reflect its invigorating transformation.
"One of the problems with the industry today is that it is so transaction driven," said Bryce Gartner, IMS Chief Marketing Officer. "It tends to be a grab two, lose one environment. We want to move the industry forward; 10 to 1 is a much better ratio. We know we won't keep every customer, of course, but if we build on this model, we will see much longer-term relationships with our merchants."
Don Smith, IMS President and Chief Executive Officer, said the way to realize the company's vision is to live its tag line. "We don't just want to make deals; we want to create a better experience for the merchant and the sales agent," he said. "It's pretty simple, really. Our team has a lot of experience and a lot of success behind it."
IMS considers itself its merchants' partner with a vested interest in each one's success. "We strive to keep it simple; deliver funds fast, securely and accurately; and answer questions quickly," Smith said.
"We put ourselves in our customer's place. How would you feel if you were a merchant trying to help a customer, and your payment processing wasn't working? Pretty helpless. We don't want our merchants to feel that way." Smith said being open about IMS' business practices is another way to fulfill the promise of the company's tag line. "We have a level of transparency here that I don't believe exists in the market today," he said.
He noted that IMS discloses exactly what its actual costs are and how much partners will be paid. Partners can track online revenues, expenses, merchant application status and so forth to determine the amount of revenue they are due at any given time. Smith pointed out that the company designed its merchant application process to be straightforward. "We've never given away a free terminal, and we never will," he said. "Our founder, Chris Kazor, said that 'if it's free, you've set the value, and the value is zero.' People know that nothing is really free, and we won't pretend it is when it's not."
Technology investment is another area that will help IMS embody its tag line, Smith noted, adding that IMS wants to challenge the domestic industry to lead the world in payment processing.
Smith believes the United States is lagging behind other countries in mobile, pay-at-the-table and contactless solutions, and consumer adoption of payment technologies is accelerating faster than the industry is moving.
"The [U.S.] industry on the whole isn't moving that fast," Smith said. "In Europe if you eat in a restaurant, they don't disappear with your card for 10 minutes; you pay at the table, and you swipe your card yourself. It's more secure for the customer, and it's more efficient for the restaurant."
According to Smith, restaurateurs are not the only merchants who could benefit from pay at the table technologies. "I was talking to a high-end furniture store about that," he said.
"I asked how many people say they want a piece of furniture but balk during the walk across the store to pay? For a lot of people a couch really is an impulse item; once it's out of sight, they focus just on the money. How much easier would it be if the salesperson could take their payment while they were still sitting on that couch?"
IMS' current portfolio is diverse, but like many processors, its merchant breakdown is about 80 percent traditional retail, 15 percent Internet and 5 percent wireless. Smith said that will change. "We are focusing more on the Internet and wireless," he said. "If this industry wants to do the best it can, it needs to focus on what the merchant needs. Some of the newer technologies can make a big difference in a merchant's success, and we want to be part of that success."
To increase its own, as well as its merchants' knowledge of new technologies in action, IMS has purchased state-of-the-art equipment and tested it in a number of merchant locations.
Until recently, IMS' sales force has been in-house, but it recently signed agreements with its first ISO and MLS. "We'll work with a cost-plus revenue model," said Larry Daniels, IMS Executive Vice President. "That is the cleanest way to account for funds and to show our partners that they are distributed the way they should be.
"We'll use an interchange pass-through model with a traditional revenue split. We think this kind of transparency will attract the quality of agents we want to come to us." Daniels said IMS is highly selective in screening ISOs and MLSs. "We want people who will represent our core values to the marketplace."
Another initiative IMS just launched is the IMS Cares program in which IMS donates 20 percent of its fees to charities of merchants' choosing. Gartner said the only requirement is that recipient charities be Internal Revenue Service-recognized with 501(c)(3) designations.
Smith came up with the IMS Cares idea when he learned of Cut It Out, which is a program of the Salons against Domestic Abuse Fund, a nonprofit organization dedicated to eliminating domestic abuse in communities throughout the United States.
Cut It Out builds awareness of domestic abuse; it trains salon professionals to recognize warning signs and refer clients to local resources for aid.
Cut It Out is the first recipient of IMS Cares funding. But individual merchants can select their favorite charities, national or local. For IMS, this is just one more piece of going beyond the transaction. "If we do the right thing, everything else will fall in place," Smith said.
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