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The Merchant Experience: Electronic Check Conversion

By Michelle Graff

The industry has produced a lot of dialogue lately around the demise of "checks as we know them," and has written much about electronic check conversion (ECC) and Check 21. Every business is unique, and check acceptance policies and procedures vary based on factors including risk and cash flow and the hassle of manually reconciling check deposits.

I recently spent some time speaking with two users of NOVA Information Systems' Electronic Check Service (ECS) product, and I wanted to share the merchant experience.

The two merchants profiled below run very different types of businesses: a beauty salon and an auto service repair shop. As you read through these real-life scenarios, put yourself in their environments and think about how you would tailor your sales pitch to meet their unique challenges.

A Beautiful Time Saver for Gary Charles & Associates Salon

Gary Charles & Associates Salon has been a fixture in Philadelphia for 30 years. L'Oreal ranked it as one of the top World Class Color Salons in the country; however, this upscale, high-volume shop faced a delicate problem with returned checks.

The salon processes more than 350 checks per month. With an average ticket of $75 - $130, not including retail product purchases, bad checks can quickly add up.

Before implementing ECS, the salon had no way to verify that the checks accepted were good. And since it had already performed services, it had little recourse. In addition, when a check was returned due to insufficient funds or from a closed account, the salon had no system in place to recover the lost payment.

· Recovering Lost Revenue

"The Electronic Check Service has been wonderful," said Jamie Hoagland, who oversees front desk operations at the salon.

"Some customers who gave us bad checks were not repeat customers, and once they walked out the door, we'd never see them again. We're happy to know we don't face the frustrating task of recovering that money."

· Labor Saving Benefits

ECC has paid off in other ways as well. With business hours that stretch until 10 p.m. five nights a week to accommodate its customer base, the salon was happy to shave off time from bookkeeping at closing.

"Since the checks are processed electronically, we don't face the task of having to manually record each check on a deposit slip when we're settling the register at night," Hoagland said.

"Plus, trips to the bank for check deposits are greatly reduced, allowing the front desk to be manned at all times."

· Smoother Operations

Finally, having one solution for credit, check and electronic gift cards streamlines both front-end checkout operations and backroom accounting and reconciliation efforts since reports and statements reflect all electronic payment activity.

Repairing Check Operations: Tire and Auto Center

The Tire and Auto Center in Salisbury, N.C. is a full service auto repair shop and tire store with 12 employees.

"When we first started, we were a small business so we knew all our customers personally," said co-owner Randy Hall. "As we've grown, so has our customer base, and we don't know all our customers on a first-name basis anymore."

· Eliminate Hassles and Consolidate Statements

The Tire and Auto Center had a check verification solution from a third-party provider. Yet another company provided credit card processing. Each month, the merchant received separate statements from these companies and set about reconciling their receivables, chargebacks, fees and rejected check costs.

"The paperwork was so confusing, we hadn't been able to balance our checking account to the penny for quite some time," said co-owner Ashley Honeycutt.

The Tire and Auto Center decided to switch providers; it selected a processor that offered a single solution for both its credit and electronic check processing.

This enabled the store to streamline its reports and statements and eliminate the confusion from its bookkeeping, while saving money on the services.

"With our previous solution we couldn't balance our books; we were getting hit with fees we weren't expecting and our deposit dates didn't accurately track," Honeycutt said.

"The new solution has been so much easier; we got a good price, and we've balanced our books from the very first statement."

· Ease of Implementation

The employees who process the customer transactions at the point of purchase could easily implement the new solution, too.

"We went from having to use two separate terminals to only one, and our sales rep was on hand during the installation to make sure our employees were comfortable with the new equipment and processes," Honeycutt said.

"There was practically no learning curve; it's been easy to work with all the way around."

· Accept More Checks

NOVA's ECS has delivered other benefits to the store as well. Located right off of Interstate 85 in North Carolina, the Tire and Auto Center has between five to 10 out-of-town customers a week.

Using ECC with verification, the store now feels confident in accepting checks from these often-stranded travelers.

"We can get folks in who've had a flat tire or occasionally a much larger auto emergency. With ECS, we'll take checks we wouldn't have felt comfortable accepting before," Hall said.

· Reduce Fraud

With an average ticket of $500 - $600, an uncollectible check is more than simply a minor inconvenience.

"Checks account for about 30% - 40% of our payments, and we occasionally get some checks topping $1,000," Hall said.

"We recently requested and got an increase in our check limit though, and it's enabled us to feel confident about accepting checks for even very expensive auto service work."

Michelle Graff is Vice President of Marketing for NOVA Information Systems. E-mail her at .

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