Emil Billman sold his successful New York printing business in 1988 and retired to sunny Palm Springs, Calif., at the age of 45. The life of leisure agreed with him at first, but five years of tennis and golf left him "feeling a little stagnant." So he readily agreed when a golfing buddy suggested selling transaction services on the West Coast for Bancard Inc., a Boulder, Colo.-based ISO.
Already a seasoned salesperson from his years in the printing business, Billman reveled in his second career. But three years later, a bigger ISO swallowed up his employer, forcing him to take stock again. That's when he and a partner decided to launch an ISO and "do their own thing." They called it TransPay Processing. By then it was 1996.
For a year or so, they worked out of Billman's house to avoid the cost of setting up and maintaining an office in a commercial building. "That way, we built a nice nest egg," he said. The cash helped finance the move to an office park in Indian Wells, Calif., about a mile from his house. Two decades later, the company has managed to stay in the same location by renting enough adjacent space to double its square footage.
In the meantime, Billman and his original partner parted ways. Billman's son, Mitchell, joined the business as a sales rep and advanced to President. To ensure a smooth transition when he leaves the company, the elder Billman made his son the sole owner. Billman believes this is the best way for the company to continue to sustain employees who depend upon it for their livelihood and continue to serve clients who rely on its processing services. "I'm the old man who still comes in every day," Billman said of his current status.
Finding a niche at TransPay doesn't require being a blood relative. Kristy Razo, rose to Director of Operations after joining the company in 2004 as a receptionist. Razo now manages underwriting, risk assessment, chargeback analysis, sales agent management and customer service. "She is a mainstay of the company," Billman said. "She runs the show."
Billman noted that TransPay works with 18 to 20 independent sales agents, with the 80-20 rule in evidence: 20 percent of the sales force accounts for 80 percent of sales. Some write for several ISOs; others work exclusively with TransPay," Billman said. "Some are in the low five-figures for monthly residuals checks." He added that the company searches for experienced candidates who value honesty. "Never, ever lie to the merchant," he said.
While Billman declined to specify how many merchants are under contract, he hasn't hungered for prodigious growth because he's seen too many ISOs spin out of control as they expanded the support staff too quickly and lost sight of customer service. "We'll sacrifice scale to keep that personal touch," he said.
Customer service requires being available, Billman stated. "We're always here to answer the phone during the day," he said. At night, customers can reach the company on employees' cell phones or home phones. To guarantee the staff can handle customer requests, employees cross-train in multiple jobs so they can fill in for each other when needed. That emphasis has paid off, Billman noted. Ten years ago, the Electronic Transactions Association chose TransPay as the No. 2 ISO for customer service in the nation, he recalled. "We're very proud of it," he said.
Great customer service has resulted in a portfolio of merchants who have been with the company for an average of eight years and who average $35,000 in monthly transactions. The ISO doesn't specialize in any particular merchant types, but it does process for a large number of nonprofit organizations and sporting events. Overall, it beats a life on the links and the tennis courts, Billman said.
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