One of the key advantages to being a payment facilitator is that it is the desired brand of the merchant that appears on the customer’s statement. That certainly delivers the expected marketing boost (brand reinforcement) for the merchant, but event-booking PF Placefull is fond of that brand appearance for a very different reason: far fewer chargebacks.
“We have always wanted the merchant brand to have the most presence. One of the things we didn’t like with a Paypal or Stripe experience—other than it’s not a pretty-looking site—is that we never wanted to have a broken experience,” said Placefull CEO Ryan Hamlin. “Now it’s ABC Bowling that will appear on the bill statement. The amount of disputes and, frankly, fraud was much higher before because people would see something on their statement and would call and dispute it.”
With the move to a PF model—which Placefull officially completed on Dec. 15—chargebacks have plummeted, Hamlin said. The end customer, “they were booking bowling lanes and now the lane’s merchant name appeared in the descriptor.”
Placefull describes itself as an “end-to-end online booking” operation, but Hamlin said that description doesn’t fully apply any more because Placefull today offers services—mostly in marketing and customer acquisition—that goes far beyond simply booking events.
“We deliver basic marketing capabilities, including lightweight CRM and sending mailers to all past clients. We’re storing data about their customers, interacting through e-marketing, delivering reports where they can pull booking trends such as the time/day of the week that is the most bookable time for them,” Hamlin said. “With the data analytics, it’s a complete suite of small business services.”
As for the kinds of events they book, Hamlin said it varies quite a bit from bowling and paintball to sewing classes, wine-tasting, Zipline adventures and, yes, even Spanish tutors.
The company brought in “a little less than” $5 million in 2015, with a CEO target of bringing in as much as $10 million this year. That is leveraging about 500 customers in Placefull’s paid subscriber model and about 50,000 in what he dubs the firm’s freemium model, which leverages a free Web page Placefull gives to its merchants.
Founded in 2012 and launched in 2013, the company started operating only in Seattle, but has now grown nationally, having done events in 47 states, with plans to shortly expand into Canada.
The move to becoming a payment facilitator is based on a hope that such a move will make payments easier and more profitable as the company projects major revenue growth this year.
Placefull had been using Gravity Payments before, but wanted more flexibility with its merchant customers. It chose to make the move, working with TSYS division ProPay and dropping a $5,000 fee to make it all official.
It didn’t take long, Hamlin said, for the ROI to become apparent. “From a percentage standpoint, it gave us a roughly 30 percent increase in our take, which alone easily paid for itself,” he said.
Hamlin stressed that Placefull’s plans are to not only to expand the number of customers, but to handle far more of the different kinds of payments those customers need. “We want to not just do their online booking, but also their POS, their walk-in business and their phone-in business. This (PF move) allowed us to get far more competitive rates.”
Still, for other kinds of businesses, the ROI impact could have been even more dramatic, Hamlin said. “When you look at our business model, it’s heavily weighted to a subscription model. While it’s a great increase (in margin), in the long run, our transactional revenue” will not benefit as much. “It’s not as massive an effect, from a CEO’s perspective. If my business was mostly based on transactional revenue, it would have been a massive effect.”
Asked if there was anything about the PF transition that he would have done differently—or would advise another company to do differently–he said that he would have allocated a lot more time to let the process play out.
“The biggest thing for us was that I was surprised by how long it took us to go to get all the boxes checked. We also underestimated how long it would take to migrate our existing base” from Gravity to themselves, he said. “We just assumed that because we already had a merchant account, it would be a very seamless process. That wasn’t the case. The burdens of doing the underwriting and the other requirements on us were definitely more. Things like due diligence, KYC, things that we now needed to do.”