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Issue 04:01:01
News

Industry Update

Gift Cards Take Off for the Holidays but Come Under Scrutiny

Justice Department Settles with First Data and Concord Over Merger

MasterCard Says PayPass Faster and Easier Than Cash

Security Concerns at Windows-based ATMs

By Ann All, Senior Editor, ATMmarketplace.com

Trade Association News:
Pack the Snowshoes and Bathing Suit!

GS Advisory Board:
The Support is There!

Views

Not the Same Tired Old Resolutions For A Wealthy And Wise 2004

By Michelle Graff

Insider's Report on Payments 2004: Year of the PIN?

By Patti Murphy

Education

Street Smarts:
Top Ten List of MLS Fraud

By Ed Freedman

Interchange Untangled-Part 7

How to Promote Your Web Site

By Peter Scharnell

What MLSs Need to Understand About Underwriting

By David H. Press

New Products

Freedom and Advantages for Mobile POS Merchants

Starbucks Card Gets Upgrade

Company Profiles

Catuity, Inc.

Inspiration

A Golden Rule

Departments

Forum

Resource Guide

Datebook

Making Payments Possible for 30 Years

Give all the credit to General Credit Forms' people, experience and approach to service The people at General Credit Forms (GCF) don't talk about themselves a lot. They'd rather have the spotlight pointed somewhere else, preferring the focus to be on their customers. But give credit where it's due: GCF's products have been making it possible for the payment processing industry to run for over 30 years.

If you think about it, it makes sense that a company that produces the basic components on which all payment transactions are based should have a long healthy life. What's unusual, though, is that a company that manufactures paper forms has emerged as the trusted, venerable advisor to an industry where things change more rapidly than they do in Oz.

Consumer attitudes and habits, as well as the gadgets and gizmos used to process payments, have changed over the years, and GCF has seen it all happen. There are few corporations who've been at it longer than General Credit Forms: after the Visa and MasterCard credit card associations, GCF is the one of the oldest continuously owned companies in the payment industry.

By earning their customers' trust, changing to meet new demands in the marketplace and getting involved in industry organizations outside their own company, the people at GCF have made their company an integral part of the transaction processing industry.

In fact, several GCF staff members can be credited with not only helping to run various regional acquirers' associations; they were instrumental in getting them off the ground in the first place. The Midwest, Southeast and Northeast regional acquirer associations were all started and are managed with the assistance of GCF employees. The recently disbanded Bankcard Association of Southern California had a GCF staff member on its board, who will also continue helping to run its soon-to-be-named replacement association.

GCF has managed to stay viable and relevant, operating behind the scenes as an independent but important element in the processing of transactions. Its products don't come with a lot of bells and whistles, but the company's influence goes well beyond paper forms and receipts. It extends to every corner of the market and is felt by virtually everyone who sells or provides payment processing services, or who has anything to do with any sort of retail business.

Through three decades and non-stop innovations in transaction processing, GCF has been most adept at staying in tune with its customers' needs and adapting to meet them. The company has unparalleled longevity in an industry where companies spring up and evaporate seemingly overnight.

GCF is headquartered outside St. Louis, in Earth City, Mo. Its 160,000-square foot facility serves as a printshop/warehouse/distribution center. In 1995, the ownership of GCF acquired a complementary printing company, Golden Business Forms located in western Missouri, and now it maintains five regional sales offices throughout the United States. GCF employs 150 people in its Earth City facility.

Manufacturing such decidedly low-tech items as credit card slips, rolls of receipt paper, guest checks, and other business forms has kept this family-run company in business. What's made it successful, though, is the people at GCF and their intentionally personable approach to working with their business partners.

Talking with Glen Taylor, GCF Vice-President and Chief Operating Officer, and John McCormick, the company's Director of Marketing and Southeast Regional Sales Manager-and one of the sons of founder Joe McCormick-gives the impression that despite the easy-going, down-to-earth way they describe their business, there really is a lot of serious hard work and thinking going on outside the box. There are plenty of reasons this forms printing company has earned its reputation as a trusted consultant to companies in all segments of the market, from retail and petroleum companies to payment processors.

One is that the company's tenure brings credibility to what it says. Through the years, GCF has sold materials and products to most people in the industry either directly or indirectly, Taylor said. And all those customers have come to trust GCF, depending on the collective expertise its people have, to get feedback on new programs, systems and products.

Another is that GCF has remained privately held with no affiliation to a larger parent company. As a result, it's able to talk to different people about a lot of ideas or upcoming projects it might not otherwise be privy to. And that information remains confidential.

In the Thick of Things

The high level of GCF involvement in association leadership stems from the social nature of the way it does business, and from the many contacts it's made over the years.

And that's the way it's been since 1973, when Joe McCormick started General Credit Forms to provide credit card slips to a transaction processor in St. Louis. Tom Hardin, then Vice President of Sales for GCF, was there at the beginning of the Bankcard Services Association, which is now the Electronic Transactions Association.

"There are no shrinking violets here," Taylor said. "It comes out of the social obligation that comes when you're thrust into the center of any activity going on, coupled with the history and heritage of the company. By definition, you're always involved in it."

"What we do is kind of boring," John McCormick said. "We sell low-tech, unglamorous items and just ship paper to where it needs to go. But we do get to go around and talk to people. You have to have good personalities to get out there and know everybody."

McCormick said the first one to get involved in a regional organization was Jacques Breton, who runs GCF's Northeastern sales office in New Hampshire. "When the Northeast [Acquirers' Association] began, it was just a bunch of friends getting together for a golf outing," he said. The NEAA's next meeting will take place in early February in Vermont, and they're anticipating the largest attendance yet.

McCormick said it didn't take long before the idea caught on to establish associations in other parts of the country. Again, GCF staff and board members-and members of the McCormick family-were involved.

"A couple of friends and I got together and thought we'd put on a show, too," McCormick said, who manages GCF's Southeast regional sales office. "We thought we'd see if we had any success and then decide if we'd keep it going. We just had our third one in October.

"My brother Jim is GCF's Midwestern Regional Sales Manager and did the same thing in Chicago," he said. "They're getting ready for the second meeting next summer."

Other GCF employees who make time to get involved in outside organizations include Sherry Friedrichsen, Western Regional Sales Manager, Debbie Dillon, Director of National Accounts, and Rich Barbieri, Vice-President of Information Services. They all play active roles in association management, according to McCormick.

What's the point? "Hopefully we're getting some good information out there with these associations," McCormick said.

An Open Ear For Customer Needs

Taylor's association with GCF goes back to 1978 when he was a customer; he became an employee in 1994. He knows the company-and Joe McCormick-well. "I realized quickly it was a young, fleet, well-managed company, doing some things right," he said. "Joe is the central pulse and heartbeat. He brings the culture to the company that has made it successful."

"We have a long history of bankcard and credit card relationships," Taylor said. "We're kind of the collective repository of the evolutionary history of this business." The company may be stable, but it's not stale; Taylor and McCormick cite GCF's independent status as one reason for its ability to go where the market is leading.

They're an inquisitive bunch, too, McCormick said, asking questions and then listening to the answers, which results in GCF coming up with new ways to serve its customers, including services and nine patented products. A willingness to try new things is certainly a factor in GCF's success story.

"We're not so smart as we are adaptive," Taylor said. "We're not very quick mentally, we're not visionaries by any stretch of the imagination, but I sure do see us as being responsive to industry needs. We're willing to make changes."

While GCF still makes and sells the manual credit card slips it started out with, it has since branched out considerably. It has developed several proprietary and patented security features for forms. GCF now also provides forms management, assists in outbound telephone services such as training and conversion, and helps design acquirer/ISO merchant supply programs.

It also offers comprehensive terminal deployment services, and the ability to store and ship equipment for manufacturers; it repairs and replaces POS equipment in emergencies.

Warehousing and distribution are two additional services the company now offers its customers, but the idea originated from discussions with clients.

"We had no real thought of becoming a distribution company," McCormick said.

"A number of banks and one large customer asked GCF if we would store product and ship to merchants for them. From a cost standpoint, we're more efficient, and we discovered we had a knack for it. And we have a great location-St. Louis is the central point in the United States, and we have a major UPS hub around the corner and a FedEx center nearby."

"This gets back to us being adaptive," Taylor said. "We might not have gotten involved in that aspect of the business except that a customer had a demand and asked us to do it. They gave us the idea.

"Once we got started, we found out we understood it and started investing in information technology to manage data and telecommunication systems, Internet processes, file transmission and database management of all merchant files and a very robust reporting mechanism.

"Then we invested back into warehouse and distribution equipment. We found that efficiencies of scale made it very affordable for our clients."

One thing GCF won't do is get into payment processing. "Very deliberately, we set out to never compete with our acquirer customers," said Taylor. "We don't want to be seen as a competitor. We're independently owned, managed and spirited, and we have an obligation to our customers. They deserve to be able to rely on people without conflicts of interest, without competitive ties to other companies."

Something else the company doesn't do a lot of is sound its own horn. GCF does little proactive marketing, advertising or public relations, but instead believes its reputation says enough.

"We don't have to do a lot, we're so well known," Taylor said. "But we're also a very private company. Our strategy is that we don't want to get out there and be so visible that we appear to be a threat to one of our customers. We don't want to draw a lot of attention to ourselves."

As marketing director of a company in a sales-driven industry, McCormick said spending time with customers and getting to know them, their businesses and their needs is the best way to promote GCF. It's also an excellent way to learn. "When you're face-to-face with folks in the industry, you learn the most," he said. "I can't overstate how much we value that personal relationship."

Knowing the Ropes and Sharing What They Know

Considering that many of the employees have been with the company for 15 or 20 years (McCormick said he's known some since he was in grade school), that adds up to a collective knowledge base not found elsewhere. For example, Taylor said the top six executives at GCF have a combined 200 years' experience in the industry.

McCormick credits Breton and Friedrichsen's involvement in the credit card industry since its infancy with their abilities to advise clients. "They're able to take that knowledge and really help their customers out as advisors, as much as they do selling supplies to them," he said.

McCormick, who has a law degree from Washington University in St. Louis learned the ropes about the way GCF does business when he came on board; Breton and Friedrichsen taught him there's more to it than selling product.

"When I first started doing sales with the company, I was traveling with Sherry and Jacques on sales calls," he said. "I realized that in a meeting that took an hour or so, not once did we talk about paper or supplies. They were just bouncing ideas off each other about different ways to work in the business."

This approach has worked very well for them over the years. Taylor said, "The reason you don't talk about the product much is that it's a given; if you're going to buy tangible products like sales receipts, ribbons and rolls, we just come to mind.

"Anyone who's in this industry for any period of time knows who we are, what we do and how we do it-and the integrity with which we do it," he said. "Many times we make sales calls where not one mention was made of actual products that we make, service or sell. It's not uncommon at all that a discussion will focus on technological and operational consultation than on product.

"It always consumes most of the time, because those areas are less defined than the product lines are."

GCF's role as consultant springs from these informal discussions-it doesn't charge a fee and never will, Taylor said, to share information with clients. "Our customers know we've seen a lot of things over a long period of time, and have seen many different needs as described and defined by many other players who also had a specific interest or need.

"We never once considered selling our consulting services-we see this as something you get free when you do business with us."

Taking Steps to Stay in the Game

As the payment industry moves toward electronic methods in processing all transactions, what's in store for General Credit Forms, manufacturer of printed forms, money orders and receipt paper? Taylor is more than confident the company will remain in the game.

"What's going to change in the next 10 years? I don't know, but we'll be there," he said. "Strategically, we may make some acquisitions of synergistic companies-a ribbon manufacturer, for example, or label companies around the world that would benefit our business."

"But we don't want to stray too far from our core interest. We'll stay central to those things we know how to do and understand how to make. Because of the culture of GCF, we're able to staff the company with innovative people with an open ear to change," Taylor said.

"We may have to take many steps, but wherever the industry goes, we will be there."

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