Squaring Up with Business

STORY BY Paula Peters

Even the smallest local microbusiness now can process credit cards easily and securely, without heavy fees, equipment or landlines. Meet Square.

Square is a tiny credit card reader that uses an app to swipe credit cards and email receipts.

“No one is doing exactly what we are,” says Lindsay Wiese, spokesperson at Square, which serves the 26 million U.S. businesses that take cash or check only. “We’re constantly thinking through the whole payment experience, for merchants and consumers.”

Square has shipped 1 million readers so far and processes $4 billion per year in payments, with a $75 average transaction.

Square Inc. was founded in 2010 by Jim McKelvey and Jack Dorsey, who co-founded Twitter. The pair recently raised $100 million in funding.

 “Square doesn’t require a merchant account, which is expensive, complicated and often turns away new business owners,” Wiese says. The card reader is used by freelance photographers, hairstylists and even Dave Matthews Band.


Liberty Belle has an unusual business model. It opens for only three days each month, on First Friday weekends.

During open hours, Linda Henderson might process 500 transactions from 3,500 visitors. Her shop houses 20 dealers who sell antiques, jewelry, furniture and home décor.

“When we’re open, we’re very busy,” says Henderson, who didn’t want to pay monthly for a credit card machine that would be used only three days. Yet if she didn’t accept credit cards, she would lose business. After she did research on several services, she tried Square.

“It has solved every single payment challenge we had,” Henderson says. “Now I can easily set up another checkout when we are busy.”

Connie Wenger has operated Magnetic Works with her husband, Larry, since 1998. The couple travels across the U.S. to sell their homeopathic magnetic jewelry.

“Setting up our credit card system was a hassle,” Wenger says. “You have to run power and a phone line.”

The Wengers run 500–1,000 credit card transactions per year, some as low as $20. Now, she and Larry both carry Square and can check out two customers at once.

“As long as I have a signal, I can run a credit card—even driving down the road, or sitting in a restaurant,” Wenger says. “It’s the best thing since chocolate pudding.”

Raising the $2.1 million budget needed to partner 1,200 kids with adult mentors requires lots of donations—mostly by credit card. Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Kansas City has successfully adopted two different credit card processing systems.

It uses a Web-based system for complex fundraisers, says Kristi Hutchison, BBBS chief marketing officer. The online capability improved the organization’s collection rate from 83 percent to 96 percent.

But when BBBS needs a quick payment option, it turns to Square. “It opens up the possibility of more people giving when you can take credit cards on the spot,” Hutchison says. “We used Square to sell tickets at the door. We’ll use it more next year at events like auctions and raffles.”