Travel helped me see retailers in a new way
By Bill Hallan
Many moons ago I had a job that allowed me to see almost the whole state of Michigan. It was the summer between my freshman and sophomore years of college and as much as I wanted to play golf all summer, my parents insisted that I make some meaningful contributions to society.
It just so happened that at the same time, Michigan Retailers Association was about to embark on a massive conversion of its merchant processing portfolio. A backend processor change required Michigan Retailers to physically touch each merchant terminal and conduct a download so each merchant could continue processing seamlessly. Today, terminal updates are almost always conducted remotely, but in 2001, the process was a bit more manual.
My summer intern job was straightforward; I was to assist the sales department by visiting as many merchants as possible to conduct the download on their terminal. While simple, there were a number of challenges that in hindsight, are now amusing. To begin, poor internet connections and cell service made for slow or failed downloads, often resulting in multiple attempts. A downloading terminal isn’t a useable terminal, so it was in both the merchant’s best interest and mine if the process was quick and efficient so they could continue processing transactions.
Just getting to each location required some old school tactics. GPS was not conveniently available on our phones like it is today. Moreover, I couldn’t print out MapQuest directions because my schedule fluctuated so I didn’t always know where I would be coming from. This led me to using a good old paper map. Fortunately, many retailers are located on main streets that were fairly easy to find. If not, I’d simply call the retailer and ask them to guide me in.
Looking back, it was one of my favorite summers. Not only did I get to visit almost every nook and cranny of our state, but I saw firsthand how retailers survive and thrive. There is nothing quite like being behind a merchant’s counter watching them interact with customers to truly appreciate what it takes to be a successful retailer.
The opportunity to experience all that Michigan has to offer lives on at MRA through our Buy Nearby program. Each year (not counting the 2020 pandemic) MRA enlists a team of interns to shuttle Buy Nearby Guy around the state. The MRA mascot attends festivals, parades and celebrations all over Michigan, and our interns are the fuel in the tank. Like any job, there are some drawbacks, mainly being in the costume, but how many internships allow the freedom to explore Michigan downtowns from Marquette to Monroe?
This edition of the Michigan Retailer focuses on travel and its benefits for the retail industry. As we emerge back into the world after a forced lockdown, we’re fortunate to live in such a beautiful state that has so many opportunities for tourism.