The Green Sheet Online Edition
November 27, 2017 • Issue 17:11:02
A most unconventional convention
By Dale S. Laszig
DSL Direct LLC
Joe Harrington, President and Chief Executive Officer at Priority Payment Systems Northeast, wanted a different kind of conference, so he created one. "It's time for a change," he said. "Companies that invest time and money in regional and national conferences tend to help the industry more than they help small and midsize ISOs."
Harrington's inaugural tradeshow, the 2017 Peer-to-Peer Conference, took place in Warwick, R.I., on Sept. 11. He called it a great day of idea sharing that included presentations, panel discussions and exhibits featuring Clientvine, ADP, ETab, UP Solution Inc. and Giftify.
An atypical show
Following are several features that made this convention highly unconventional:
- Free to exhibitors: Harrington wanted his first-ever conference to be substantive, educational, relevant and especially welcoming to small to midsize business owners. "Our exhibitors were by invitation only and didn't have to pay to exhibit," he said. "We told exhibitors to 'keep it real' and not to be too 'salesy' or product-centric. Give us the real playbook. Show us how your solutions can benefit our company and help us be more efficient."
- Free to attendees: Harrington sent e-vites to local ISOs and anyone who expressed an interest in attending. In deference to attendees who were paying out of pocket for travel and lodging, admission was free. "We wanted our conference to have a certain level of integrity," he said. "There are a lot of offices that can't afford to travel out of state to attend a show. Some will opt out of attending anything that's more than a half hour drive away. We wanted to reach those people."
- Open to competitors: The event was open to non-Priority agents and offices. "We hardly bump into each other out there, and when we do get together, we can find synergies," Harrington said. He coined the phrase "One plus one equals three" to illustrate the transformative power of small and midsize ISOs working together. He said it builds on the idea of "co-opetition" and seemed to resonate with attendees. "People began to identify things we can do together to leverage our economies of scale," he added.
- Curated topics for small ISOs: Harrington has observed that the array of business sizes at most conferences makes it difficult to find common ground, and consequently, topics can become generic. "We focused on topics directly impacting our companies, like PCI compliance," he said. "We explored not just how to stay compliant, but how to share that knowledge and expertise with merchants to develop better client relationships and help them become self-sufficient."
For Harrington, this means understanding things like what a telemarketer experiences while placing calls for eight hours, or demonstrating what it's like for merchants to fill out SAQs (PCI self-assessment questionnaires). It's about connecting with the people who face these challenges every day, he said.
- No sponsors: The conference was sponsor-free, despite generous offers. "ADP wanted to sponsor breakfast, but we said no," Harrington said. "Priority Payments presented at our conference, and we didn't take their money either." Harrington noted that without sponsors, he felt free to explore how small ISOs can work together to improve themselves and the industry.
Taking the reins
Harrington described small ISOs as the lifeblood of the payments industry, because they generate deals. "Big guys have power, but small ISOs can be just as powerful as the big guys because they have the customer relationships," he said. "Big ISOs sign 500 to 600 deals a month, but they make more money from offices like ours, because we don't have the volume to leverage our Schedule A.
"We complain about the big guys, but no one is perfect. Big ISOs support 500 or more offices. Instead of getting negative, let's take care of ourselves. There are so many offices in the Northeast. We don't run into each other, so why not work together? The choice is ours: we can take matters into our own hands or become a dying breed."
Dale S. Laszig, Senior Staff Writer at The Green Sheet and Managing Director at DSL Direct LLC, is a payments industry journalist and content provider. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter at @DSLdirect.
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