Gerald "Gerry" Surell is a busy man. He is a well-respected merchant level salesperson (MLS) in New Jersey. Affiliated with the ISO Business Payment Systems/Tribul Merchant Services LLC, Surell enjoys a high-volume, affluent clientele that includes two of the three largest liquor stores in New Jersey, as well as one of the oldest restaurants in the Garden State. And, oh yeah, he's almost 80 years old.
When Surell retired from his job as Vice President of Sales for a children's apparel business in his early 70s, he realized it was a mistake.
He said he was bored intellectually, and a friend suggested he get into credit card processing.
The Green Sheet (TGS): When did you know you'd be able to succeed in this business?
Surell (GS): First day.
TGS: What about your first day made you realize that you would be good as an MLS?
GS: Receptivity of [the] merchant to a concise, compact sales presentation that was bottom-line oriented. [It] brought back to life my dormant one-on-one sales skills developed and polished in my previous career in the children's apparel industry.
TGS: What about that first day stands out for you?
GS: I cold-called and closed my very first contact - for processing and equipment.
TGS: What is unique about your sales style?
GS: I build my presentation around bringing [a merchant's] credit card processing and their rates into the twenty-first century. ... At the outset I always ask the merchant if she/he does a significant amount of transactions where the card is not present. If the answer is in the affirmative and it's 10% or more of total credit card transactions that opens up another window: MO/TO.
Not only will setting up a MO/TO [account] reduce the merchants' costs of processing, but it sometimes leads to the purchase of new equipment. And it definitely indicates to the merchant that I not only know my business but want to understand his. I find that her or his current or previous processors never thought to ask.
TGS: Is it harder or more time-consuming to sign up a merchant or keep a merchant as a client?
GS: More time-consuming and harder to sign up a merchant.
My portfolio consists largely of high-volume, upscale merchants, so closing a sale involves analysis of three months [worth of] statements, laying out a spreadsheet and then finalizing all the numbers into a proposal format, which I customize for each merchant.
Retaining a merchant means being proactive rather than reactive to rate reviews and adjustments and maintaining regular contact via occasional phone calls, in-store visits, Christmas cards and responding to phone calls as rapidly as possible.
TGS: When making a pitch, do you ever lead with "I can lower your rate"?
GS: Never use "I can lower your rate."
TGS: Why not?
GS: "Lower your rate" is sophomoric. Most merchants are savvy and college educated - they respond more favorably when you talk about the bottom line and reducing costs.
TGS: What are three things an agent should never do?
GS: Never talk too much or talk over the merchant. Never, ever misrepresent [yourself] or lie. Never, ever take your customers for granted.
TGS: If you had to bring a new sales rep up to speed on interchange right away, how would you do it?
GS: Work with the Visa and Master- Card rate charts and explain [to them] step-by-step, and then do a couple of analyses and proposals.
TGS: What software do you use to do analyses and proposals? And how do you use these proposals as marketing tools?
GS: I don't use software. As I stated, I customize the proposals. The basic format remains the same but I tailor the proposal based on my analysis and in keeping with the merchants' statements that I have analyzed. Depending on the circumstances, I may show a merchant [an existing] proposal or two, obviously with names eliminated.
TGS: What is your most successful value-added product and why?
GS: Gift cards because I have so many high-volume, upscale merchants and ECP (Electronic Check Presentment).
TGS: What is the relationship between gift cards and upscale merchants?
GS: Upscale merchants have higher average tickets. And, of course, geographically and demographically, their stores are located in cities and towns with high individual and family incomes. These individuals and families have substantial disposable incomes and, quite frankly, many don't have a great deal of time to shop for gifts, so gift cards are the answer.
TGS: And how does ECP factor into it?
GS: ECP is a logical adjunct to gift cards. Many upscale merchants accept checks. ECP is a timesaver, which is important to these merchants because it eliminates manual deposit of checks. The funds are guaranteed, and the merchant receives a monthly statement, … la a processing statement.
TGS: What does it take to succeed in this business?
GS: An open mind, really liking people, keeping abreast of new products and services, be very responsive to customers' phone calls, read The Green Sheet and conduct business in a very professional and disciplined manner.
TGS: Any advice for newcomers?
GS: Be completely honest with your merchants - and yourself.
And associate with a forward-thinking, exciting, enthusiastic and supportive ISO such as BPS.
TGS: How should an MLS go about choosing an ISO partner?
GS: The people, especially the support personnel; the efficiency and reliability of support services for both merchant and MLS; residual and commission rates; ... a full service ISO offering 24/7 back office support; the latest in products and services; and the ability to reach top management.
TGS: What age did you start working at? And what was your first job?
GS: At 17, I was a camp counselor and while in college worked summer jobs.
My first real job was in the men's apparel industry working in sales support and showroom sales. Interestingly, my immediate boss was Steve Ross who went on to become the head of Avis, Kinney Parking and then Time Warner.
TGS: Did you have a mentor who taught you how to be a good salesman? And what did that person teach you?
GS: I did. I spent 27 wonderful years with one company in the children's and boy's apparel industry, and my job was as Assistant to the National Sales Manager, Mickey Gertler. He taught me disciplined work habits, ethics, professionalism, integrity and the nuances of one-on-one selling.
And he taught me retailing and the industry and especially how to work with large-volume accounts. Incidentally, one of my very good customers now used to be a children's wear buyer for a major New York department store.
He left to take over the family business (plumbing supplies) which is one of New Jersey's largest, and lo and behold, I was referred to him. This was not a difficult sale.
TGS: Any stories you can tell from your long career?
GS: My first job in the company, I spent 27 years with, was as Assistant to the National Sales Manager.
I was then given an opportunity to represent the line on the road in Indiana and Kentucky. After four years on the road I was promoted to Vice President of Sales for the Midwest and moved to Chicago.
I am a native New Yorker, though I now live in New Jersey. The ability to sell is probably hardwired into my genes - my father was a very successful salesperson. The success I enjoyed in Indiana and Kentucky validates this theory - in four years I tripled sales.
TGS: What hobbies do you enjoy?
GS: Traveling, reading, watching sports.
TGS: What's your favorite team?
GS: I am a die-hard Yankee fan and I still love the Chicago Cubs as I lived in the Chicago suburbs for 18 years. I follow the New York Rangers, the New Jersey Nets and the New Jersey Jets and I still have affection for the Chicago Bears.
I enjoy soccer and my two youngest sons were outstanding high school soccer players. I played varsity tennis in college so I follow tennis avidly.
TGS: What's your favorite book?
GS: I am a political junkie, so I devour books about politics.
I enjoy mystery and suspense novels, but any good book relating to politics past and present I enjoy tremendously. And I read a great deal. I have too many favorite books to list them.
TGS: What's your greatest dream?
GS: Living to see my youngest son married and see my grandchildren graduate from college.
TGS: What are the ages of your children, and how many grandchildren do you have?
GS: My children are 51, 45, 42 and 24. I have twin grandchildren who are an absolute joy.
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