"We are the advocate for the MLS," says Edward K. Freedman, President and CEO of one of the payment processing industry's most talked about ISOs-Total Merchant Services. "From the first day we opened our doors, we strongly believed not only in paying MLS more money but also in treating them more fairly than anyone else. I know first hand how hard it is to be a successful merchant level salesperson because I came from the streets, having sold my first few thousand accounts personally. Our allegiance is to MLS because we value the hard work they do."
Total Merchant Services has put its money where its mouth is. In 2003, the company completed its most ambitious improvements to date-a 15,000 sq ft brand new, state-of-the-art facility built specifically for the needs of its MLS partners and their merchants. Hand in hand with the new digs came hundreds of thousands of dollars spent to improve its IT systems. The result Total Merchant Services can build download programs automatically upon merchant set up, deliver account information to sales partners quicker than ever before and board merchants faster-in hours as opposed to days. This translates into outstanding service for their sales partners and merchants. To push the envelope even further, Total Merchant Services brought all merchant support and terminal help desk services in house. Lastly, Total Merchant Services dramatically increased the staffing of every work group to insure all calls are answered quickly and efficiently.
"We are making sure our sales partners still feel like they are getting the personal touch offered by small companies," says Freedman. "This approach has placed us in a unique position where we are big enough to provide world-class service and support as well as reliable and accurate residual reporting, but small enough and well-staffed enough to provide personal attention to every one of our valued sales partners."
Why is Total Merchant Services spending so much at a time when others are scrimping and saving? According to Freedman, the answer is simple.
"Our goal is to become, hands down, the most respected and well-known ISO in the industry," says Freedman. "We spent a lot of time and money investing in our future to insure that we remain a flagship property in the marketplace. For us, that means an organization that is not only well known but also admired and respected by its peers.
Total Merchant Services has become the standard of a top ISO. Last year, this Colorado-based acquirer achieved a milestone. Total Merchant Services closed out 2003 in excess of 25,000 active, income producing merchant accounts-processing just under $2 billion in transactions. But there's another area that is contributing to Total Merchant Services' look and feel of a super ISO. In a word-acquisitions.
When asked if he wanted his company to become a super ISO, Freedman responded quickly and emphatically.
"At this point, I believe we are a super ISO. If you were to compile a list of companies that have reached such milestones, that list is a pretty short one. There are only a handful of ISOs that can compete with our resources, revenue, infrastructure and scale. The other important difference between a super ISO and a smaller ISO is those that are acquiring companies as opposed to being acquired."
Total Merchant Services is currently in an offensive pattern and successfully pursuing acquisitions, as evidenced by their latest acquisition of Money Tree Merchant Services.
"Money Tree was our most significant acquisition of 2003 as far as size," says Freedman. "We competed against the largest names in the business that were bidding for Money Tree. We succeeded because of our winning formula, which is win-win for all parties. We came out ahead not because we paid the most money but because we had the right structure."
Freedman admits it was a great honor for a "little guy" to compete at the highest level against super ISOs and ultimately partner with such a leader like Mitch Lau, President/CEO of Money Tree Merchant Services.
"Just the other day, Mitch said to me that there is not a day that has gone by since the acquisition that he has ever regretted doing the deal," says Freedman. "He said it has truly been a win-win transaction and it has made him and his company very happy."
That happiness may be attributed to the fact that Money Tree Merchant Services continues to operate under its own brand. This particular acquisition has established a long-term partnership between the two companies. Total Merchant Services has acquired the assets of Money Tree, but Mitch Lau continues to helm the organization-a smart move on the part of Total Merchant Services, considering Lau's 20 years of experience and expertise in the industry.
"It has been an honor to work with Mitch over the last year," says Freedman. "After partnering with him these past twelve months, it is easy to see why he is so successful. Both he and his team continue to perform at a very high level and I am truly excited about our future together."
Total Merchant Services' philosophy of acquisition through long-term partnership is making it the choice for ISOs under 15,000 merchants to team up with.
"We have taken the same philosophies and strategies that have made us successful in the MLS marketplace and are applying them to the acquisition marketplace," says Freedman. "We might not be the one you immediately think of as being active in acquisitions, but we have been quite successful and are continuing to do so. I welcome the opportunity to explore other potential partnerings and share our winning formula with those ISOs wanting to learn how to maximize their value and embrace a go-forward program that leverages their sales expertise with our solid infrastructure."
Freedman has great pride in the success and growth of Total Merchant Services. That growth has translated into an impressive 300% level of increase in all areas of business this past year. That growth also translates into a challenge.
"I take a lot of pride when I walk around our offices," says Freedman. "We are all excited about our business, our growth and the fact that we are meeting the challenge at an incredible pace while delivering superior quality of service and support. We continue to set the standard and refuse to sit back and say we have done everything we need to do. We stay ahead of the curve with programs like the most lucrative pay plan in the industry with more upfront bonuses and increased residual income, new 1.46% buy rate, terminal equipment subsidies, new and improved lease factor rates, residual buy-back program, health care benefits and the most comprehensive list of valuable free services."
In 2004, Freedman sees Total Merchant Services shining as a service company as well as a compensating company. With its enhanced infrastructure, increased staff and specific attention to the needs of the MLS, Total Merchant Services plans on being a top-level service provider and not just the ISO that pays the best.
"We want our partners to say the service they receive is unmatched," says Freedman. "That is the separating factor between Total Merchant Services and other ISOs. There is a difference at Total Merchant Services and I want every person to experience it."
To back up that bold statement, Freedman makes this challenge to those MLS and ISOs who are serious about taking their business to the next level.
"Let me fly you out to our offices at my expense and let you see first hand the shop you could be working with. At the end of the day, you tell me who you want to do business with."
Freedman welcomes calls and is willing to talk to any sales agent or ISO interested in joining his team. He believes this accessibility also sets him apart from his competitors, since so many MLS and ISOs don't personally know who their CEOs are."
Using his name, Ed Freedman, as an alternate brand to Total Merchant Services, this quintessential professional actively participates in industry advisory boards and committees, appears as a regular columnist for trade publications as well as a guest speaker engagements at regional association meetings, trade shows and ETA-sponsored annual meetings and conferences. For Freedman, sharing knowledge and improving the industry through education and integrity is just as vital as providing quality service, lucrative compensation programs and comprehensive free services. But like so many aspects of this highly competitive business, this too comes with challenges.
Nevertheless, challenge seems to be something Freedman and Total Merchant Services thrive on. What will be the biggest obstacle they anticipate in 2004?
"The biggest challenge we will face this year is what we face every day-to continue doing what we do each and every day," says Freedman. "It is tough to get up at dawn and work till dusk, accomplishing what we do. The ability to get up every day and have the grit to get it done is our biggest challenge. To succeed at this level, we throw everything we have at it. We are dedicated to being not only the best in service but also the most lucrative for our partners so they will always feel confident being affiliated with us."
Freedman takes this opportunity to send a strong message to merchant level salespeople and ISOs everywhere. He urges interested MLS to review Total Merchant Services partner program in detail at www.upfrontandresiduals.com as well as invites ISOs to contact him directly at 1-888-84-TOTAL, Ext. 314.
"I make this personal appeal to all hardworking MLS and ISOs. Select Total Merchant Services as your partner. We won't let you down!"