Grand Rapids Business Journal: Senator enjoys firsthand look at city’s small businesses

A U.S. senator now has a better understanding of Grand Rapids’ entrepreneurial scene.

Democrat Gary Peters, chair of the Senate Payments Innovation Caucus, took a tour of the Downtown Market last week.

Peters is one of three senators who introduced the SEC Small Business Advocate Act in Washington, D.C., last month. The act’s goal is to establish better lines of communication between small businesses and the federal government.

He said the trip to Grand Rapids helped him see these small businesses up close.

“I wanted to have an opportunity to come to see this firsthand. It’s an example of the vibrant small business community that is in Grand Rapids,” he said. “There’s no question that this is an incredibly vibrant city in the state. All Michiganders should be proud of what’s happening in Grand Rapids. And it is about entrepreneurs.”

Grand Rapids Mayor Rosalynn Bliss joined Peters on the tour. The entourage stopped by The Oddest Supply Co. and Dorothy and Tony’s Gourmet Popcorn inside the market hall, and outside they stopped by A Moveable Feast food truck.

Food trucks and mobile payment methods were of primary interest to Peters and Bliss. City leadership is looking for ways to streamline ordinances, making it easier for food trucks to move into the market, Bliss said.

Additionally, the businesses on Peters’ tour all used Square Reader mobile payment methods.

Square Inc. is a California-based financial and merchant services aggregator and mobile payment corporation that markets a small square device to read credit and debit cards. It can be used with tablets and smartphones, allowing entrepreneurs to be more mobile.

“I was just saying how nice it is for small business owners and farmers and vendors to be able to use that technology to be more successful, and that’s exactly what our story should be,” Bliss said.

“We’ve consistently said that we want Grand Rapids to be one of the best places for entrepreneurs and startups, and I think this is a great example of that work, and we are so fortunate to have a senator who is a huge advocate of small business.”

Grand Rapids is no stranger to Square Readers, Peters said. In terms of business growth, Grand Rapids was ranked No. 4 in the country based on the percentage of sellers in the city using the technology, according to a recent Square report. Additionally, about 65 percent of the businesses in Grand Rapids using Square are seeing revenue growth.

“You’ve got a national company like Square, which is a leader in payments and doing very creative things,” said Peters. “They’re focused on Grand Rapids because Grand Rapids is one of their fastest-growing markets. To me, it’s an indication of the strength of Grand Rapids as a place to do business — in particular, a small business.”

The business world will see “a radical transformation as to how you pay for things,” Peters said.

“Certainly the system we saw today uses credit cards, but we’re going to be moving beyond that so that your phone basically will be a device that will be involved in payments in ways we can’t even imagine right now,” he said.

Using Square is especially important for Corinne Skala, customer services representative for The Oddest Supply Co., an apparel and design business that uses Square. Edgar Hernandez, owner, began using Square when he started the brand more than a year ago, Skala said.

“He was just a pop-up shop at ArtPrize. Square made it so people could buy stuff at his booth, and now he’s kept it. The nice thing is that, since he’ll be at different locations, he can charge people for anything they want to buy there while we’re using it here, too, and he can track everything,” she said.

Square also tracks data that allows Hernandez to see what products are selling at what time of day.

Skala said the technology is secure and easy to use.

“I like it because it’s very easy. It’s more eco-friendly, as well, since I’m not printing a receipt. And the customer’s in control of the receipt. It can be texted or emailed.”

By:  Mike Nichols
Source: Grand Rapids Business Journal