Amid the ongoing devastation of Hurricane Harvey are thousands of small businesses, which make up 99 percent of the city’s corporate community. As small business owners work to rebuild their lives, many with homes and property irrevocably damaged by the storm, they’re also working to rebuild their businesses.
First Data happens to have a broad customer base in Houston and in the wake of such personal and business devastation, Dan Charron, Executive Vice President and Head of Global Business Solutions at First Data, gathered a team and flew to Houston to help small businesses, customers or not, in their rebuilding efforts.
"It's hard to comprehend," Charron told Karen Webster of the devastation he's witnessed. "Inside the buildings everyone is starting to rip out all of the water damage - it's traumatic."
Like so many others, Charron and his team are pitching in the rebuilding efforts. In addition, First Data is providing a critical service to small businesses in particular: giving SMBs with the ability to accept payments again, a small but crucial step towards normalcy - big businesses and small.
According to Charron, the businesses his team is helping “run the gamut, from big businesses to small businesses.
"We have bank partners with branches that were submerged," Charron added. "We have tens of thousands of business customers here, and bank partners and distribution partners, and we're making sure we can help them get up and running."
To help these businesses regain the ability to receive payments, First Data is providing them with its Clover Go solution, a mobile debit and credit card reader that quickly lets businesses accept card payments using only a mobile device. The company is also providing new Clover devices to businesses whose payment hardware was destroyed by Hurricane Harvey free of charge.
Some businesses, Charron said, have equipment and inventory in storage and warehouses that weren’t damaged by the storm. But without a way to accept payments, that collateral cannot be put to good use.
“These people are trying to get their lives and their businesses all up-and-running simultaneously,” he said. “They can’t accept payments, they can’t sell anything.”
Charron spoke with Webster while at one of these small businesses, a used car dealership owned by Amy Sirdoreus, a single mother who told Webster that her business was her entire livelihood. Reports said hundreds of thousands of vehicles have been destroyed by the storm, and Sirdoreus said that her lot was no different.
“I believe that 98 percent of them are going to be a total loss,” she said in between taking phone calls and demolition efforts. Her business, Texas Bay Area Pre-Owned, had several inches of flooding ravage the building, with the waters incapacitating her credit card machine. As a single mom, and with her business her only source of income, Sirdoreus had to figure out a way to start making money again, and quickly.
“We had customers calling, wanting to make payments, and we couldn’t take them,” she explained. “The fact that [the First Data team] came to us so quickly when we needed them was wonderful. It was one less thing that was going to be a hassle.”
Sirdoreus said her home does not have flood insurance, but as she begins to source more vehicles to sell in nearby states, she hopes that the anticipated spike in demand to buy cars will help get her business back off the ground as rebuilding efforts continue.
According to Charron, enabling a business owner like Sirdoreus to accept credit card payments again via mobile payment technology is one example of how tech can act as an unexpected champion for small businesses. But since coming down to Houston and getting hands-on in the relief effort, the executive also said it’s abundantly clear how important the human element of business service is.
“I’ve been in this industry for 25 years, and you’re always looking to help people accept payments, but this is so much more than that,” he said. “It’s helping them rebuild their life, their business, their community. There’s a much bigger impact when you feel the human side of business.
“You combine technology and humans, and it’s pretty powerful,” he added.
Sirdoreus is just one of thousands of small business owners who need help and who Charron’s team will hope to serve in the coming days and weeks. With Hurricane Irma expected to make landfall in the continental U.S. in Florida this weekend, Charron said First Data is gearing up to help small business communities there, too.
“They’re all by themselves,” the executive said of the small businesses facing damage and destruction from these storms. “Like Amy, it’s a single mother that owns it. They don’t have a big corporation that will come in and take care of these issues. We’re in business together. It’s time to be a partner when the small business has needs, not when you have needs.”
Charron lauded the small business owners’ gratitude as volunteers continue to lend money, support and manpower to relief efforts. That aid can come in many forms, with First Data showing the power of payments technology to play its role.
“It means a lot,” Sirdoreus said of the support First Data and other business partners have shown. “I had a bank rep who’s helping me tear out sheet rock. The support has been overwhelming. I can’t say thank you enough. That doesn’t seem to even touch the gratitude for all of the help.”