It’s a frigid, frosty winter in the remote coastal Maine community of Deer Isle. On the Island, low temperatures in January can average around 10 degrees Fahrenheit. The Island’s population of around 3500 swells in the summer months to as many as 8500 people, when Deer Isle and neighboring Stonington welcome thousands of tourists “from away” who congregate in the area to enjoy the gorgeous sights and sounds of coastal Maine and Stonington itself, the lobster capital of the state.
In Deer Isle Village, the hub of commerce on the tiny island, is an old building that used to house the island’s high school. On the second floor of the historic white building sits 44 North Coffee, founded in 2010 by two female entrepreneurs, Megan Wood and Melissa Raftery. 44 North is an indispensible part of island life in Deer Isle. Since the business has taken off over its first two years, the founders discovered a more streamlined and technologically advanced point of sale system would make the difference between staying a small operation and becoming the vibrant local enterprise that it very clearly is today.
On a recent Monday afternoon, I had the opportunity to talk with Melissa Raftery about how introducing Square and its proprietary mobile point of sale platform has made a big difference in the coffee shop’s daily operations. Both Melissa and her business partner Megan Wood are familiar faces for many Deer Isle locals. In the hour or so I sat sipping a scrumptious Sumatra, a steady stream of local java-philes poured in to load up on whole beans to grind and brew at home as well as the hand-brewed drips the two women make to order. Melissa told me how Square has allowed the small business to avoid those dreaded losses at the point of sale; before, when customers had no cash, they were directed to the bank just up the road. Sometimes they returned, sometimes not. The small town setting also allowed the women to sometimes accept IOUs when their customers’ wallets lacked sufficient cash; again – sometimes the debts were paid and sometimes not. It was clear that 44 North needed to upgrade their payments system, and the business chose Square for its relatively low startup costs and reasonable credit card processing fees.
Raftery says that the majority of locals still use cash, but the ability to accept credit cards makes a significant difference in the summer months, when Deer Isle-Stonington is a major tourist destination. The difference in business from season to season is staggering. In fact, according to Raftery: “65% of 44 North’s yearly income is made in 4 months – June, July, August, and September.” She explained that the electronic transactions “are usually people from out of town just because the local people who have been coming here are used to our startup system of cash and check only. But what’s happening is people who may not have known we had the capacity to accept credit cards are recognizing the Square reader, and they’re asking if they can pay that way.” Clearly, mobile credit card processing is becoming more familiar to the average consumer, and when a customer recognizes that a business has the ability to accept plastic, the customer might be temped to save their cash.
I asked Megan if the 2.75% processing fee 44 North pays to Square for card transactions is worth the cost, especially considering the potential loss from cash IOUs and customers who didn’t want to pay an ATM fee at the local bank. She says that for her business, the answer is a yes: “simply for the reason that if people are here and they are considering buying three bags of coffee but only have enough cash to buy one bag, the fact that we have a credit card acceptance method allows them to buy more in the shop than they would have otherwise. That to me is well worth the 2.75% fee we pay.”
44 North and its owner/managers are not only using Square for credit card processing; they are also running the Square Register app on the iPad and entering cash transactions to keep a closer eye on profit and loss. Customers who complete their payments via Square can have their receipts emailed directly to them, saving paper and keeping with the “green” theme at this very progressive and Earth-conscious operation.
Folks, if you haven’t tried the coffee at 44 North, the pride of Deer Isle, you are really missing out. It’s a whole experience, from the long staircase up to the second floor to the wonderful local coffee lovers who frequent the business to the savvy women who run the show. It’s interesting to see how a mobile point of sale system has made such an impact on a small business, especially considering how dependent this operation can be on those folks “from away” who usually don’t come bearing lots of cash. If you can’t make it out to Deer Isle – and you should! – all their products are available on the 44 North website, here.
Written by Kathryn Cunningham