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United Merchant Services, Inc.

MLS contact:

Jay Yoon, President
Fax: 201-568-7740

Company address:

270 Sylvan Avenue, Suite #105
Englewood Cliffs, N.J. 07632
Phone: 800-260-3388
Fax: 201-541-3186

MLS benefits:

  • Multi-lingual support in all areas
  • Same-day approvals and terminal deployment
  • Web site offers wide range of merchant information and reports for managing portfolios
  • Sales partners can choose to keep 100% above buy rates or split profits
  • In-house equipment leasing and rental program
  • FlexGift Loyalty program to increase residual stream

Speaking the Languages of Your Customers

As the number of minority-owned businesses in the United States continues to grow-the latest U.S. Census Bureau data* show Hispanic-owned businesses make up 6% of the total number of non-farm businesses in this country, and Asian-owned businesses make up 4%-ISOs and merchant level salespeople (MLSs) recognize there is unlimited potential in offering payment processing services to this market.

United Merchant Services, Inc. (UMS) is a 10-year-old ISO based in Englewood Cliffs, N.J. The company focuses on providing bankcard processing services-including Visa, MasterCard, American Express and Discover-and multi-lingual support to two unique merchants niches in the United States: Asian American- and Hispanic-owned businesses.

By pursuing and servicing merchants in large ethnic markets in major U.S. cities, UMS founder and President, Jay Yoon, and Senior Vice President, Shirley Yoon, have been able to differentiate UMS from the competition by "literally speaking the language" of its customers.

In 1994, Jay Yoon founded UMS, which has since grown to employ more than 30 people at its headquarters and support a large network of sales agents across the United States.

"I realized then there was a lot more to be made in the business than just equipment sales," Jay Yoon said. "There was a potential for huge future growth, which made me decide to start my own company."

"There was a lot to learn in the beginning, but every year we built another layer of knowledge and experience into our organization," Shirley Yoon said.

Initially, UMS targeted Korean business owners. "Being Korean, we know most Koreans are small business owners," Shirley Yoon said. "It was just natural for us to start in the Korean market."

But their organization has grown to also include the Hispanic market. In 2000, UMS created a Spanish sales department providing service in Spanish.

"As we grew, we saw that the Spanish market offered a big opportunity, too," Shirley Yoon said. "There were a lot of Spanish-speaking agents looking for a more comprehensive-not to mention profitable-company with whom to do business where we are located. Now we're trying to expand into other Asian markets, including the Chinese market."

Why has UMS been so successful servicing this niche of merchants? The Yoons said that merchants can get bankcard anywhere-it's just a matter of filling out an application. But if their terminals go down or if they get chargeback notices, often they don't know what to do, and that's a big part of UMS' value proposition: customer service.

Because UMS offers support in different languages, the company helps merchants resolve risk, terminal and chargeback issues and other matters that they would have a hard time communicating otherwise.

UMS' MLS and agent partners also understand the significance in this approach to selling bankcard services. Many of them have been with the company since it opened for business, and many are established in their respective markets.

The Yoons believe this is for a number of reasons: The agents feel secure with UMS' stability-the company is not looking to build up its merchant base over the short term and then sell out, wiping out what many agents have worked hard to build up. They can rely on getting their residuals, and they have a partner with whom they can build up their own sales organizations.

The Yoons believe that the quality of their customer service, not being able to offer the lowest price, is the key to their success. "A lot of our agents are Asian or Hispanic themselves," Shirley Yoon said. "I'm sure they know there are a lot of other companies out there, and if they look, they might be able to get better pricing, but I think the type of service we offer and our stability are big reasons why some of our agents have been with us from the very beginning."

UMS sends out regular communications through a monthly newsletter to its sales partners to keep them up-to-date with what's going on in the company and the industry. "We feel that keeping our sales force abreast of what's going on will motivate them to partner with us in actively servicing their merchants, which positively affects merchant/agent retention," Jay Yoon said.

In addition to the ISO/MLS sales channel, the company welcomes agent banks and has a BIN sharing plan for larger partners that want a greater share of profits and a more active role in the credit/sales decisions of their businesses.

The company said it's flexible in tailoring a program to suit each individual sales partner's needs, since every partner differs in size and geographic region. UMS rolled out a new Web-based program called "I-APP" to allow these partners to input merchant applications directly into its merchant maintenance program.

UMS offers a choice of 100% above buy-rate or split profits-all with no liability to the sales partner, and the ability to fax in merchant applications. The company offers incentives such as a cash-signing bonus, and various other compensation plans, including cash rebates or free equipment. And most importantly, UMS said it pays residuals, guaranteed.

UMS' MLS partners use a variety of methods to target merchants such as advertisements, referrals and door-to-door work. "A lot of Korean and Chinese businesses are concentrated in a certain area, and often they operate the same type of businesses," Shirley Yoon said.

"In the Korean market, for instance, a lot of people have dry cleaners, nail salons, restaurants or retail stores that are in a certain type of location, so the agents know where they can go or where they can look to find prospective merchants."

"Sixty to 70% of our merchants come from referrals," Jay Yoon said. "We have built up a pretty good reputation in the market. Our agents and our merchants are more loyal than the mainstream market merchants."

UMS now has agent partners located all over the United States. The company's presence originally was on the East Coast, including N.Y, N.J., Georgia and Florida; parts of the Midwest, including Chicago and Detroit; and Texas, but it started to branch out to the West Coast in 2000.

In 2003, UMS opened a sales office in Los Angeles to coordinate its sales efforts on the West Coast. "We've been concentrating on developing that area, and we've seen a lot of movement and growth there," Jay Yoon said. "We also recently began penetrating parts of Arizona, Hawaii and the Seattle area."

Between 2002 and 2003, UMS began expanding the business in other ways, too. The company started its own in-house leasing division and began offering a gift and loyalty card program, called FlexGift Loyalty.

The Yoons said they brought leasing in-house because of customer service issues with third-party leasing companies. "Many of our merchants couldn't communicate with the leasing companies, especially on collection issues or end-of-term buy outs," Shirley Yoon said. "That's when we decided we needed to provide a better solution."

"Our merchants don't know the leasing company; they only know United Merchant Services because they signed the lease through United Merchant Services," Jay Yoon said. "So it began to reflect negatively on our reputation."

One aspect of UMS' business that has made it so successful is its customer service. The company offers customer service and help desk support in English, Korean and Spanish. They also provide documentation and manuals in these languages. The Yoons believe this gives UMS and its partners an advantage with their merchants.

UMS handles everything-from credit underwriting and data entry to risk management; front- and back-end support-all in-house. And each department has multi-lingual service personnel.

"Since we offer customer service in languages other than English, our merchants only recognize United Merchant Services," Jay Yoon said. "They call us to solve their problem. We're trying to bring all of our services in-house. If you outsource any part of your service, there is a limitation to providing the best service."

UMS has seen a lot of demand lately for its FlexGift Loyalty program, which offers two options: a gift card and a point reward program. The gift card replaces paper gift certificates, and the cards can be encoded for any amount up to $200; they can be reloaded again and again.

The point reward program tracks and records sales transactions of the cardholder and rewards the cardholder with redeemable points. A company can manage, add or debit accumulated points on a customer's card by Web access to their FlexGift account.

Merchants can run UMS' FlexGift Loyalty program on VeriFone, Inc.'s Verix platform for Omni terminals and on Hypercom Corp.'s terminals.

The program allows merchants to maintain their own client data via the Internet. Merchants can print out customer address labels for direct mail campaigns or e-mail upcoming sales all through UMS' Web site.

For single-location merchants who don't have a lot of money to invest on equipment and processing fees for gift and loyalty programs, UMS also offers the FG 1000, which is a stand-alone POS terminal that enables merchants to implement a gift or loyalty program right out of the box.

If prospective merchants or agents ever have questions about any of UMS' products or services, UMS says they can always contact the company to receive more information-and they will most likely be able to communicate in their own language.

The company's vision is to continue expanding its services-and in more languages, nationwide.

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