American Metro, a Shoreview-based supplier of cash registers and credit card processing equipment to major golf tournaments and other sporting events, is teeing up for rapid growth.
The company already provides registers to the U.S. Open and the PGA Championship, two of the four major tournaments in men’s professional golf, and supplied 210 events last year.
American Metro President Tim Mueller said the company is gearing up to serve merchants and concessionaires at 300 events this year and 500 in 2014 after having focused on refining its event service model over the past few years.
“We’ve taken it probably a little bit more conservatively than what we could have to make sure we have built the foundation properly,” Mueller said. “We feel like we’ve created a real stable launchpad and now we’re ready to actively go out and market the business.”
He believes the effort will pay off because, as he’s discovered, there’s good business in helping others sell things, whether it’s a veggie wrap at the Sony Open tennis tournament in Miami or a beverage at New Orleans’ French Quarter Festival.
American Metro had revenue of $1.25 million last year, an increase of more than 20 percent from 2011, Mueller said. Roughly 80 percent of the company’s revenue comes from events, with the balance from its long-standing cash register sales and service to small businesses in the Twin Cities metro area. The company has 11 employees, including Mueller’s three sons, who are among the employees who do on-site event setup.
The company was founded in 1977 by Steve Scharchar, who died in 2005. Mueller was hired in 1982 and had earned a stake in the business before buying it from Scharchar’s family after his death.
The key to American Metro’s success and its future growth, Mueller said, is the service it provides in addition to the registers, credit card processing equipment and inventory management software it rents and sells. In the company’s staging area, dozens or hundreds of registers from an inventory of 1,400-plus machines can be programmed and set up for on-site use.
“If there’s any magic in our business, this is it,” Mueller said. “We can set up somebody’s entire event right here. When it gets delivered to the spot and comes out of the box and they plug it in, it’s going to be flawless. That’s worth its weight in gold. There’s nobody else that can do it.”
The workhorse register has a built-in credit card reader and is connected to a cellular modem. Register data is beamed nightly to an online database, where event staff can track sales and inventory. Despite such advanced features, the registers are easy to use.
The company, which is debt-free, is in a good position to carry out its growth plans, Mueller said. American Metro could finance a 50 percent increase in inventory in-house and would need to hire perhaps only four or five more people to handle on-site setup for the new events he hopes to add in the next two years. “It’s a system that we know how to duplicate pretty well at this point,” Mueller said.
American Metro got its start in events at the 1991 U.S. Open at Hazeltine National Golf Club in Chaska, working with Prom Management Group, better known as Prom Catering, an event management company based in Oakdale.
American Metro supplies cash registers and on-site tech support during U.S. Opens and other events, said Brian Ruggles, general manager of special events for Prom Management Group. “They do a great job, they’re a team player,” Ruggles said. “They work with us to customize our software and reporting so we get the information we want. ... We have a long history with them and there’s no reason we can’t work together and grow both companies.”
Dave Stover, business manager of the French Quarter Festival in New Orleans, said American Metro will supply all of the nearly 100 registers for this year’s event, up from about half that number last year. “They’re very smart and they know what they’re doing,” said Stover. “Their equipment is so far superior and so is their customer service and problem solving.”
The expert says: Jay Ebben, associate professor in the entrepreneurship department at the University of St. Thomas’ Opus College of Business, said American Metro appears to be on the right track with its plans to expand its event business.
“One thing that’s always smart, especially for a small business, is to answer that question of ‘what can we be known for?’ ” Ebben said. “It sounds like they’ve established themselves as a go-to company for providing those services they provide at events. The credit card processing and equipment space is pretty full, so by finding a specific niche to target where they can provide value ... that makes a lot of sense to me.”
Todd Nelson is a freelance writer in Woodbury. His e-mail address is email@example.com.