By Nina Huang
NORTHWEST ASIAN WEEKLY
What do you get when the Seattle CEO who made headlines in 2015 for announcing he will pay his employees a minimum of $70,000, partners with a Thai computer engineer?
A successful partnership that helps the Thai restaurant community work more efficiently and profitably.
Saksit Udompanit, CEO of SmilePOS, moved to Seattle in 2002 and started SmilePOS in 2006. The company began after Udompanit created his own software with friends. Another friend opened a restaurant and wanted to use the software for his business and that’s how the idea for SmilePOS came to be.
Udompanit earned his computer engineering degree in Thailand before moving to Seattle to get his MBA.
Based in Lynnwood, SmilePOS slowly grew and later Udompanit met Gravity Payments’ CEO Dan Price in 2008 at a Thai restaurant in downtown Seattle.
Udompanit’s friend, who owned the Thai restaurant, had already been using Gravity Payments, but also wanted to use SmilePOS — thus began a successful partnership.
Emery Wagner has been with Gravity Payments for three and a half years and spent the last two and a half working closely with SmilePOS, as well as other internal departments.
Wagner explained that their industry is one of the most opaque and complex in credit card processing.
This makes it hard for a business owner to operate in the industry. It is harder for folks who are newer to the industry or to the United States.
“There is so much complexity in it that it’s impossible for a business owner to fully understand the credit card processing industry. You can spend the time to understand every bit of it, but it’s unrealistic and it’s definitely important to find a partner that you do trust because there’s going to be a need for that trust in operations,” he said.
About 500 restaurants in the country, including those in California, Florida, Maine, and Oregon, are currently serviced by SmilePOS and Gravity Payments. Three hundred of those are restaurants in Washington.
Wagner sees a lot of opportunity to build trust and improve that community. The company is taking baby steps to improve the industry and make it easier for business owners to navigate the waters of credit card processing.
Gravity Payments and SmilePOS share the same values and goals, which makes the partnership work.
Wagner added that SmilePOS created a great software to service Thai restaurants and just needed a partner who was an expert in credit card processing to team up with to benefit the community. Because the employees at SmilePOS speak the same language as their customers, it’s easy for them to communicate and help them with questions or problems that may arise.
“It was a small partnership that grew over time. It’s been a great opportunity to build trust in the Thai community,” Wagner said.
Wagner explained that Gravity Payments run the backups on the credit card processing side and provide industry expertise and knowledge. SmilePOS does a lot of the technical and software development, as well as the customer service and support in Thai.
“Gravity will set up an account and Smile will get all the equipment ready and go out to the business to do the installation. Gravity attaches the services in equipment and gets the business up and running in a matter of days, or a couple of weeks,” Wagner said.
A custom solution
SmilePOS works with customers on a proposal that includes what terminals and equipment they’ll need and combine the credit card processing services in a package. Customers would pay a one-time fee for both the hardware and software, and the credit card processing fee is a percentage of the volume of sales, Wagner explained.
How Gravity Payments differentiates itself from others is its ability to provide a custom solution that most businesses need. Since SmilePOS operates completely in Thai, Gravity Payments provides that custom experience for Thai business owners and the partnership becomes a one-stop shop.
“We see a lot of businesses stuck in terminal leases and end up not having the time or language skills to read and understand it. They end up paying for cheap equipment 10 times over the course of that lease,” Wagner said.
He also reiterated how important it is to gain the trust and understanding with a partner in the credit card processing industry.
Gravity Payments is currently developing a cost-effective POS (point-of-sale) system to transition from a credit card terminal to a POS system without incurring a setup cost. They are trying to determine through experimentation the best fit for clients and how to improve on that.
“There are a lot of Thai restaurants in the U.S., and we want to help them as much as we can and do business with them to create long-term relationships,” Udompanit said.
“Gravity is the best partner that I’ve ever had. They’re very honest, professional and they also have very creative ideas,” Udompanit said.
What has helped SmilePOS over the years is Udompanit’s ability to work effectively with Thai restaurant owners. When his clients are happy, he’s happy.
For more information about Gravity Payments, call (206) 388-5900 or visit gravitypayments.com.
Nina can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.