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Thursday, Jun 8, 2023

Financial Refresh

Samantha Ettus – an author, columnist, radio host and public speaker devoted to helping women find a work-life balance – has launched a business to give mothers re-entering the workforce a viable career option. Ettus attended a conference for the payment processing industry roughly eight years ago and found a room full of men. Not one of the businesses represented was owned by a woman. But she saw an untapped way for women to be financially independent. That realization inspired Woodland Hills-based Park Place Payments, which Ettus launched earlier this month. The company processes credit card payments for small retailers but differentiates itself in a crowded sector through the profile of its workforce and by its flat rates and transparent invoices. Ettus is Park Place’s chief executive. “Every business, from a dentist’s office to a clothing boutique or a restaurant, has to have this intermediary between the business and American Express, Mastercard and Visa,” said Ettus. “Last year, I was training these women who had no background in payment processing how to sell payment processing, and they’ve been killing it; they’ve been doing incredibly well.” Ettus feels Park Place is a “natural progression” from her time as a motivational speaker and writer to having a more tangible solution for this specific demographic of women. “My entire career has been about helping women reach their potential,” said Ettus. “Before, I was only able to offer inspiration, knowing that the road back would be very difficult for a lot of women. Now I can actually offer them a solution and that has been incredibly rewarding for me.” Competitive advantage Investors quickly saw the potential in Park Place. Adam Nash, vice president of growth at Dropbox; Jacki Zehner, president of the Jacquelyn and Gregory Zehner Foundation; and Bob Daugherty, executive dean at Forbes Business School have put money into the venture. On the sales end, each prospective account executive goes through Park Place Academy, an online training program that allows an individual anywhere in the country to complete the course. Ongoing training sessions also keep Park Place account executives up to date with a quickly changing industry. “Rapid changes necessitate a knowledgeable sales staff. Keeping up is important for us,” added Ettus, mentioning the Apple card launching this summer, with businesses needing to upgrade their Apply Pay application. For clients like Dr. Jon Marashi, who owns a cosmetic dentistry business in Brentwood, signing on with Park Place was like finding a diamond in the dirt. “When you’re a small business owner, with the whole merchant services industry, you just know you’re getting screwed, no matter what,” said Marashi. “No matter what they tell you, you see your statement and none of the numbers make sense.” Marashi was coming out of a tenuous relationship with his previous payment processing company, after the service provider repeatedly denied payment approvals when the client was long gone. The service apparently needed the client there to approve payments, Marashi said. “I was at wits end. I had to find someone, and I was really nervous to switch to anyone,” added Marashi. “As luck would have it, I got introduced to Sam, through happenstance, and she told me about what she was doing.” Marashi got a lower rate than his previous service provider, but was surprised to find that he also got transparency with invoices and excellent customer service. “We’re just not accustomed to that,” said Marashi. The “dentist to the stars,” who is also a father to two little girls, was pleased to find the business aims to carve out a space for mothers to return to the workforce. “When Sam told me that this was part of the core values, providing a great opportunity for women, for me it was more than a feel good. To know that by doing business with them, I’m supporting things of this nature, it’s a win-win,” he added. Many of Park Place’s clients are in the medical space. Hair salons, restaurants, clothing boutiques and a major league soccer stadium are also on the roster, Ettus said. The business aims for clients that make at least $100,000 in credit card revenue per year, rather than “farmers market businesses.” Most merchant service companies sign on a client for roughly three years; Park Place wants businesses for 10. “We want to help businesses thrive and almost like you have an outsourced lawyer, we want to be the outsourced payment partner that cares about your business as much as you do,” said Ettus. For example, Park Place addresses security and fraud concerns in the payment process. Client packages ensure PCI compliance, meaning business and client information is kept safe while processing credit cards. Additional data security tools encrypt sensitive information and puts into play tokenization, which replaces cardholder data with non-sensitive information – a token – to prevent data from being compromised. “It can sometimes be way overwhelming for a small business owner that already has so much on his or her plate,” added Ettus, of security risks. Varied career Women re-entering the workforce after a baby have less than a 60 percent chance of ever having a full-time position again, according to a study from the Center of Innovation. Many opt for part-time gigs selling clothing, skincare or makeup as an opportunity to make money while still having a flexible schedule for their family. Others take advantage of remote work opportunities. That’s the challenge Ettus recognized during her previous stints as an author and speaker on women’s work issues. Some of Ettus’s novels, “The Pie Life: A Guilt-Free Recipe For Success and Satisfaction” and “The Experts’ Guide to Doing Things Faster: 100 Ways to Make Life More Efficient,” provide a glimpse into her efforts to helping people reach their own personal potential, men and women alike. “Working Moms Lifestyle,” her radio show, aims to give working parents the “tools and optimism” to be the best parents they can be. Longtime friend and mentor, Lucy Wohltman, now vice president of sales for Zillow, saw the potential in Ettus during one of her first jobs at Ziff-Davis Publishing. Wohltman was her boss at the time. “We were working for a high-tech magazine selling advertising,” said Wohltman. “I wrote her a recommendation for her to go to Harvard Business School; it was the easiest recommendation I’ve ever written. She is just destined for greatness. She’s a keen learner and has just a sense of customer need.” The sales veteran taught Ettus how to have empathy for the customer, and how to ask the right questions in order to be a better fit for clients. With Park Place, Ettus has coupled empathy for the customer with empathy for the employee, thinking about the best work-life balance she could offer her account executives. “I think she is carving out, providing a real opportunity for people, for women, who have perhaps taken a time out, if you will, for different reasons. This is an opportunity to provide them with a real path,” added Wohltman. “It’s flexible, but at the same time disrupts an industry that, as I understand it, has been sort of the same old, same old, in terms of credit card payments, for a very long time. I think she has two lofty goals. My money’s on Samantha to beat them both.”

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