Behind the Counter: Why a New Coffee House Picked (and Stayed With) Square


To kick off small business week, Street Fight is launching Behind the Counter, a new series that takes a look at the ways in which small businesses are using technology to get ahead of the competition. Every other week, we will talk with a small business owner about a product they use to run or grow their business, getting insight into why they chose it, whether it’s working and if they would do it all again. 

Street Fight connected with the business below using Alignable, a social network for small businesses.

When Bien Nguyen and her husband Yen decided to open Higher Grounds Coffee House & Bakery in Atlanta a few months ago, they had a clear vision of what they wanted their business to look like. The couple wanted their business to be a place that was not just another coffee house, but a business that was part of the community. A place for residents to come and play games, listen to music and enjoy great food and beverages.

However, the couple knew little about the technology needed to make that vision a reality. One of the most important decisions would be to wade through the deluge of companies offering  point-of-sale systems — an increasingly critical part of the brick-and-mortar business technology stack. After seeing what other businesses in the area were using, and by doing copious amounts of research, they chose Square for its ease of use, flexibility and cost. They also have the Square Register with the iPad, cash box and receipt printer.

Finding the Product
At the start of the research process, Bien and her husband were not married to Square. The two entrepreneurs say they researched a range of systems and were, in fact, very close to considering the Clover Station, the point-of-sale company that payments giant First Data purchased in 2012.

“When everything was said and done we decided against Clover because we felt like Square was a lot simpler to figure out how we were being charged,” she says. “With Clover, even if we were to buy all of the equipment, we still would have been charged regular monthly fees plus transactional fees. Whereas with Square it’s just a standard fee and that’s it — it’s a percentage of what you sell credit card-wise. To me, that’s very simple when I have 5 million other things going on.”

Bien says one of the biggest reasons they chose Square for their business is they wanted something that was not only easy to use, but also offered flexibility.

“Because we have the Square Register and the physical iPad, along with the cash box, receipt printer and all that, in addition, if something happens to the iPad we also have the little Square Reader and smart phones. Business doesn’t stop,” Bien says.

Finding out about Square was the easy part. Bien and her husband had seen it in other places, including another coffee shop, as well as at a Thai restaurant and an art fair where vendors were using the Square Reader rather than just a register.

“It really caught my eye,” Bien says. “Then when I found out what the fees were and how quickly they send you the money you make, well that’s pretty neat too. I thought, ‘well that’s pretty good.’”

Using the Product
Once trained with an over-the-phone walkthrough, Bien says the product set up was very simple, and the customer service was helpful.

“It was a combination of being a new business and not knowing right away what I wanted it to look like and because they had experience with other coffee houses and bakeries, they gave me advice on how others have done it and used the Square system,” she says. “That was very helpful to me.”

While there’s nothing about the product Bien would deem frustrating, she says there are many additional features that could be helpful, but cost extra. For now, they have to go without some of those features — a user management system, for instance, would allow each employee to have his or her own code so they could tell how many people are on the register, the timeframe they worked, if there’s money short at the end of a shift. They also have customer data which Bien said would be handy to email customers about sales and events, but again, that’s at an additional cost they can’t assume just yet.

The Nguyen’s said they particularly liked Square’s reporting capabilities. The ability to segment revenue, for instance, has been helpful in that Higher Grounds has special events where musicians come in to perform. And with Yen being a musician, they wanted to have quality musicians come in and perform and they pay them.

“The nice thing about Square is I can get a sales report between this time and this time showing how much we made. For the people we contract to do gigs with, we can show them physically between these hours what we made,” said Nguyen. The sales transaction report also allows them to change the quantifiers to various dates and hours to compile a custom report.

Would They Do it Again?
If they had to do it all over again Bien says they wouldn’t change a thing — Square would still be their choice. “We would definitely stick with Square for ease of use, ease of pricing, etc… It’s a no-brainer.”

She’s also a fan of using Square for reporting. “When I have to do sales tax reporting, I can go into the sales reporting and because it’s so easy to use I say what month I need it for and can get the data and it takes me a minute. It shows me my sales and I have the data to back it up. Square definitely makes my life easier.”

Liz Taurasi is a contributor to Street Fight.

  1. redsoxmaniac
    May 18, 2015

    The additional costs aren’t “additional” in terms of POS comparisons since mailing lists and marketing campaigns are separate functions seldom provided by any company.

    The mere fact that Square has acquired customer data for you, as well giving you an option to launch and manage campaigns at any point of a venture can’t be undervalued. Creating a system of gathering customer information as well as opt-in functions (blacklists through marketing spam is a huge little-known pitfall for online sites) is hard enough; Square already has the data organized for you.

    Another additional function hard to get from other POS systems: accounting and registering on-the-fly. Hell hath no fury than an IRS audit. Pretty much, a high-volume cash-based business can give the tax man their data, and just walk away. Most POS systems need secondary or additional registering to account for cash.

    Heck, I even type in deductions manually and just note them (gas, bill) as refunds. Since you can download sales data, whatever functions aren’t available can possibly be done elsewhere .

    Point is,

    1. redsoxmaniac
      May 18, 2015

      Point is, Square is highly multi-faceted and provides so much for the business that the fee is well worth it. I think it would’ve been a better comparison to see how much it would’ve cost to acquire all the other functions Square provides as well, since mailing lists, marketing campaigns, and accounting programs are expensive and/or time-consuming.

      If POS systems were simpler, and didn’t have so many fee stipulations (especially with debit and cc cards ), people wouldn’t feel like they were getting lackluster services. And with middle-men getting percentages in the POS industry, it isn’t hard to end up counting up into the 2.5% range when using a different service.

      I hope Square doesn’t monopolize, but helps bring about more innovation in the industry. You should do a comparison article on other programs similar to Square. One of the best thing that’s happened to product start ups in a while

  2. Roger Whitfield
    May 31, 2015


  3. Roger Whitfield
    May 31, 2015

    I have a customer who has found an advantage for both. She has a square account for her cell phone. This enables her to use the square app on her ipad to collect data for her sales and inventory. However, she uses a traditional account and terminal for swiping cards. The reason she does this is because her gross fees range between 2 and 2.50%. That’s better than square’s 2.75%. Fees are taken out at the end of the month instead of daily and she gets free paper. With square she would either have to have retail customers trust her to send an email receipt or buy an expensive printer. This way she gets the best of everything. Lower rates by not using square,free paper and still the use of the friendly and free square app for her sales inventory.

  4. Roger Whitfield
    May 31, 2015

    So you can get the best of both. see below. What many merchants fail to realize is the middle man argument makes no sense. You just need to ask for a low flat rate over wholesale which is interchange and your rates will be better than square. Why? Because the the bank that issued the credit card gets paid the same rate from square as they do from any there processor in the world. In fact the processing end is likely one of the same the square uses. So I guess you could say square is a middleman too. uhmm.
    The difference is square gives a blanket rate or 1 flat blended rate to cover everything. Reality is if you buy interchange plus [as described above] you see all the confusing things under the hood you don’t want to see. But they are still there. Square just doesnt show you because you dont want to know. If you do it right you can get better pricing without square and that’s including statement fees and the whole gambit. You gotta be doing more than $3000 per month to benefit though. Otherwise stick with square. Also stay away from the banks. Most outsource this to someone who will take advantage of a trusting soul. See an independent agent, or call me.

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