Rick and Kristen Brown, owners of Cornerstone Payments in Athens have made a huge impact here and across our country assisting businesses with their credit card processing needs. By saving customers money and offering exceptional customer service, Cornerstone Payments has grown to be invaluable to its customers. From credit card processing for merchants, with or without point of sale (POS) devices, to mobile payments and recurring ACH debits, they can assist you in unique ways to receive payments for your business.
As a 25-year veteran in the telecom world, Rick decided to leave the big corporations behind and begin his own consulting service in 2003. He began by offering free NSF check recovery for businesses. Teaming with local Chamber of Commerce's he offered the free service to their business members. "It's an easy thing we could offer to their members; and it went crazy," Rick proclaimed. "We ended up with about 400 merchants from this free check recovery service," he related of the amazingly quick growth.
As the landscape of payment options evolved toward credit cards, current customers began to inquire about card processing. Rick was leery of the industry because it has not always had a good reputation. Exorbitant fees, three-year contracts, hidden charges, and bad customer service seemed to be the norm. So at first he declined the requests. After continued interest from customers desiring credit card processing from Cornerstone Payments, Rick and Kristen decided to give it a try. They joined on with a processor, but within six months and bad service, the two decided to call it quits on that particular venture.
Some time passed and due to their association with the payments industry Rick and Kristen learned of a respectable processing company that seemed to be different than the others. Integrity was their reputation. Rick explained "if I'm going to consider this again, then I'm going to know who I'm working with." He visited their corporate location in California and spent a week meeting the CEO, Founder and the staff. Rick told the folks there that he was not your typical credit card agent. "Most of my customers know me, and a lot of them know where I live," he added with a chuckle.
Having found a processor that was highly regarded, Rick & Kristen decided in 2005 to "hang their hat" with them and they began offering credit card processing to their customer base. "We did a good thing," Rick said of joining forces with this processor. In subsequent years, Cornerstone Payments has continued to broaden their resources to include other processors. They only partner with processors that are known for their integrity and honesty. Having multiple processors allows for versatility in technology, all the while maintaining a model of trust, integrity, and customer service.
Cornerstone Payments' philosophy includes no contracts and low rates because their goal is to "keep a client forever." They do not charge a cancellation fee, "no games," Rick said. "We are willing to make a little bit of profit for a long time instead of a lot for three years then having to seek other clients," he added. This philosophy has helped break the cycle for businesses where every three years when their contracts end, they search for another company with better rates.
Cornerstone Payments has received great support from the Athens and Cedar Creek Lake area. They service over 400 clients, mostly around the county and local area, however their reach is to 20 states, from Nevada to Florida including a huge equine business in Montana, Utah and Wyoming. "We built our base on relationships; it's all people," Rick related.
Rick and Kristen talked about the changing face of the industry, explaining how portable credit card processing is becoming. It is very important to keep up with all the latest technology. "We want our customers to accept payments however and wherever they are," Rick said. "Whether online, in person, or over the phone," he expressed that payments can be received anywhere.
A hypothetical scenario was presented citing an existing Cornerstone Payments customer, a non-profit organization hosting a clay shoot. If they wanted to sell raffle tickets at the event, would it be possible to do so on a phone or tablet? Rick responded "absolutely." Kristen explained they can use a small wireless terminal, which can be rented for a data fee, or take payments on their tablet or phone very simply with a mobile card swiper. The even keep a tablet ready to loan non-profits for this very reason.
Point of sales POS) Systems for the restaurant industry has become a focus of Cornerstone Payments as well. The industry is now moving toward cloud-based systems and Rick said they integrate with many of these. At the opening of a new restaurant Rick and Kristen offer the owner some POS system options that are geared toward their specific goals. For example, some may be interested in focusing on inventory and cost, where another may be interested in loyalty rewards, or others, how to bring in customers and keep track of them. "There is a different kind of strength for each POS system," Rick related.
Payment security is paramount for Cornerstone Payments. Their business has strict federal regulations, some exactly as what a banking institution follows. They adhere to underwriting guidelines and PCI Compliance as well. The Patriot Act requires a high standard of underwriting for any business who accepts payments. "We process about $100 million annually, and we take security very seriously for every one of those dollars," Rick assured. Once a new merchant is up and accepting cards, the staff at Cornerstone Payments will invest time and teaching the business about safe practices and security guidelines for minimizing risk.
They also warn their clients of some seemingly dishonest schemes. A customer may receive a call from the "Merchant Services Department" informing them their equipment needs updating. However, unless the call is actually from the local Cornerstone Payments office in Athens, it's most likely a scam. Rick and Kristen said their own staff keeps equipment up-to-date personally. Sometimes customers are approached by a high-pressured salesperson and falls victim to their "promises." They find out the hard way that dishonest and uneducated salespeople are out there. Very often, the merchant returns to Cornerstone Payments for advice on getting out of the signed contract. Rick said that is why Cornerstone Payments does not have contracts. "We do not want to hold people hostage with cancellation fees and long term commitments. If one of our clients finds something better for them or if we are not meeting their expectations - they should have the choice to leave. That puts it right back on us to do what we should be doing, and that is earning their trust every day."
An example of their stellar customer service came one Sunday morning while the Browns were in church. Kristen received a message from a client who owned several donut shops in Nacogdoches. Due to serious storms the previous night, two of their machines were not working. Kristen assured her they would work on replacement machines quickly. After church, she quickly programmed the replacement terminals and then worked with the customer to get them to Nacogdoches. The donut shop had new machines in hand by 3:30 that afternoon. The owner was so very thankful, but we told her that this is just what we do: we want to offer you exceptional customer service," Kristen assured.
The merchant was so impressed she told Rick and Kristen that she would recommend them to everybody," Kristen comments "That's all we want, for you to tell people that you trust us."
Both related how blessed they have been. They contribute it to the support of local businesses, and also to beginning each day with a prayer of thanksgiving and blessing for the businesses they will encounter that day. Kristen sincerely claimed "It's not about us, it's about our customers, and I hope we make a real difference, not just provide a machine."
After 16 years of marriage and working together side by side every day, Rick and Kristen agreed they work together wonderfully. Kristen's family originally owned Oak Lawn Memorial Park and due to a chance meeting during a difficult time when Rick's father passed away, the two met. Kristen helped with the funeral arrangements and the two got to know each other. Rick asked if she would still be there the day after the funeral, which was a Tuesday. Sure enough, Tuesday came and Rick found a note on his car that said "It's Tuesday, I'm still here." Tuesday night date night became a tradition and the rest is history!
As the couple began to grow Cornerstone Payments together, the time being stretched between the two businesses became a growing challenge. In 2015, the couple found their answer in the Autry family of Jacksonville and Athens and sold the Cemetery to them. This allowed a more dedicated focus on Cornerstone Payments and their customers.
Demonstrating their expertise and extraordinary customer service, in 2008 Cornerstone Payments was selected for "Presidents Club," an industry award designation. This began a yearly awards streak reaching through 2016. At that point, Rick and Kristen were honored to be inducted into the PayPros Legends Club, having reached "Legendary status" among other agents in the industry. Cornerstone Payments was the 9th agent in the country to be recognized with this elite status. It's interesting to note that other agents reaching this status award represented larger metropolitan / demographic & customer base areas. But right here in Athens Texas, a small business owner couple proved that their business model could work. It is a prestigious honor.
Over the years, Cornerstone Payments has been recognized in a variety of ways for their community focus. In 2019, the couple was recognized again. "We were in total shock when we received Small Business of the Year award by the Athens Chamber of Commerce." Rick said as he showed the company's plaque. They expressed a hope that being recognized in this way will attest to their customer's trust in Cornerstone Payments.
It doesn't matter how small a business is, be it a clothing boutique, a large municipality, a non-profit, or even where you are located in the country. Cornerstone Payments can meet your card processing needs, and have you up and running in about a week. "Great rates, superior technology, over the top customer service" quotes Rick, is what you will find with us.
For more information and to learn about other events, businesses and non-profits Cornerstone Payments has serviced, or to talk with them about your specific needs, please visit their website or call them - they will answer the phone.
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3100 FM 317 Athens, TX 75751