Why the Unicorn Doesn’t Take Credit Cards

Recently I decided to bring the Unicorn into the 21st century and start taking credit cards.  I was determined NOW was the right time to do this.  I had researched the option two years ago and decided against it as the fees were so high.  But this time it was different because I wanted to start accepting cards.  Our biggest complaint on the trusty Yelp site is that we are cash only.  And so I found myself in an uncomfortable cubicle at the bank talking percents and transaction fees with a banker and credit card pro that joined us via speaker phone.

I didn’t stop at one meeting.  I called my other café owner friends and asked them for the name of their credit card person and met with them.

After all these meetings I came away with a few realizations:

-Credit cards are a dirty business.  From every angle dirty.

– Credit cards are expensive.  3-4% in card fees, plus .04-.20 cents per transaction.

That would cost the café about $3000-$4000 a year.  But every one of the people I spoke to told me I would increase my sales by 20%.  And I could get gift cards with our logo on them that would only cost me .20 per swipe.

I want the Unicorn to succeed.  I want to increase our business.  I do not doubt that our sales would increase if we started taking cards.  And I love pretty looking gift cards.  But on another more immediate level I do not want to drag the Unicorn into the dirt of this business.  One of the people I met with confessed to me that he had been in charge of selling every Target, k-mart, Wal-Mart, and Menards credit card out there.  That they strategically placed their tables and gave beanie babies away so that kids would want them.  I asked him how he did his job in good conscience and he replied, “fifteen dollars an app.”  That sentiment is the opposite of the Unicorn.  Maybe we are missing out on a great business opportunity by not taking cards.  But if getting that extra business means becoming part of a larger business that takes advantage of both me and you, I will pass.  One of the things I love about the Unicorn is that it is simple.  So…to all you card carrying folk here are some places within steps of the Unicorn where you can get cash.

ATM’s Near Unicorn Café:

CVS: 1711 Sherman Ave: They have an ATM machine.  They also do cash back so if you get a pack of gum you won’t have to pay the service fee at the atm.

Bank of America: 1705 Sherman Ave: Right next to the CVS.

Burger King:  1740 Orrington: They have a Chase ATM and are right around the corner from us.

I’ll reevaluate this again in another year.  And who knows, maybe it will make sense to take cards in the future.  But for now the Unicorn remains in the 20th century and is cash only.




5 comments on “Why the Unicorn Doesn’t Take Credit Cards

  1. Damn, there must be a lot you are NOT telling us about credit cards if they are THAT besmirched!

    Maybe you just need to sell tobacco products!

  2. I, for one, am glad that the Unicorn does NOT take credit. Basically there are two reasons why I ever carry cash: 1- to buy less than $15 of food/beer at prarie moon, and 2- to get myself a delicious cup of coffee at the Unicorn. The Unicorn keeps its small town charm with the wood floors, community atmosphere and sub-21st century technology. Increasing sales 20% also comes at a price, and I purposely go to the Unicorn to avoid the profit-oriented practices of Sucksbucks, Dunkin, Target, K-Mart and others. I like to feel at home and not in defense of my wallet.

    Good decision!!

    PS: I highly recommend the book “The Great, Good Place” by Ray Oldenburg.

  3. Way to go, Tracie! I’m totally behind you 100% – avoid the dirty business practices (as much as you can). I knew there were fees with swiping cards (is it the same for debit cards?), but I did not realize that it costs businesses so much! 😦 I happily use the ATMs nearby. ‘Am so glad the Unicorn is a conscientious entity.

  4. I once put $20 on a Brothers K gift card and charged it to my Mastercard, but otherwise pay for my coffee entirely in cash. I also avoid establishments with suspect business practices when possible and enjoy the charm of the unicorn.

    However, I’m not sure that taking a fee for a transaction is evil. Credit card companies certainly do some morally ambiguous things, but so do some banks. And it’s pretty hard to avoid the US banking system in toto. Taking cards implicates you in capitalism, but if you’ e a business owner, you’re already there.

    So I’m not clear on what bright line you cross by taking cards. I also doubt that the atmosphere of the establishment will change. Your baristas will still be friendly, and your customer base isn’t going to change. I don’t know anyone who thinks “Unicorn is great because they don’t take Visa,” or anyone who would start going to….Starbucks? if you did.

    The only practical change in taking cards is that you would start paying the transaction costs instead of your clients. If I took $30 out of an ATM to get coffee because you don’t take cards, that is likely to be a 10% fee. While some may bank at BofA, many do not–especially students from other parts of the midwest where BofA has little presence. I don’t know that ATM fees are less evil than credit card fees.

    If you took cards, some people who would otherwise pay cash will put it on their card. This is obviously bad for you. It sounds like a giant hassle as well. And if most of your business is people who sit around instead of getting coffee to go, it may be bad business. Plenty of places don’t take cards. Look at the Green Mill. Amex only and going strong! These are all great reasons not to take cards.

    But not dragging Unicorn into the dirt of this business? Are credit cards uniquely dirty? Is your milk all organic from free range dairy cows? Do all the baristas have health insurance? There’s always something one could be doing to be more socially responsible, but you also have a business to run. As a decision made by someone running a cafe, not takings cards is a reasonable decision. Not taking cards as the basis of a political program to more broadly avoid the dirty and evil things in this world—my personal opinion is that the reasoning doesn’t hold up.

  5. Tracie, I see where you are coming from and the anti-corp sentiment you seem to favor. However, if you are sending your loyal customer’s away because you want to keep your integrity, you are not doing them any favors. Chances are they will not be within their ATM network and pay 2-2.50 to keep it real. That hurts them not you. That said you have a great product and people will keep coming because they like your staff and coffee. Bottom line it’s still an inconvenience for the client.

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