Small Business Credit Profile: PianoPiano
Owner Sarah Binder Mehta uses rewards to meet suppliers in Asia, gift employees
Erica Sandberg is a prominent personal finance authority and author of “Expecting Money: The Essential Financial Plan for New and Growing Families.” She writes “Small Business Credit Profiles,” a weekly column featuring small business owners' journey with credit and credit cards for CreditCards.com.
Sometimes the draw of the family business is too strong to ignore. That was the case for Sarah Binder Mehta, president of the Manhattan-based piano rental company PianoPiano. After studying agricultural economics at Cornell, she went to the University of Michigan Law School to focus on product liability defense. Later, she began working as an attorney.
“My parents wanted me to become a professional and not go into this business,” says Mehta. “Things don’t always turn out the way you think, though. I grew up in the piano business. My grandfather started it in the 1930s and my dad took over in the 1950s. As a kid, I went to the opera and the symphony, and it was really fun.
“Then, when I was slaving away as a lawyer, my dad was retiring. I took a six-month leave of absence to help him out and found that I loved working in the family business. It’s consumer facing, so people from all walks of life come in and you really get to interact with your customers.”
In 2014, Mehta formally took the helm. A third-generation piano expert, she’s committed to making sure anyone who wants to experience the joy of a first-rate piano has the opportunity.
That means plenty of advertising, employing new technology and procedures and offering unique financing options to customers. Because the business was operational when she took over, loans to cover start-up costs weren’t required. But for the next stage of the company’s success, credit cards have been instrumental.
Which cards do you have now, and how are you using them?
In my opinion, if you’re not using a rewards card, you’re losing money. Right now we have two, a Business Platinum® Card from American Express OPEN and a Capital One Spark card. With them I charge all of our Google and Facebook advertising and supplies we need from Amazon and Staples. It’s the day-to-day things that go into a business.
I had been an American Express customer for many years, and I appreciate their customer service. Since I had a long history with them, they’ve been very flexible with me and the travel rewards are amazing. Every year we go to Asia to meet with suppliers, and we attend an important trade show called Music China.
My dad and I fly business class to Shanghai with the rewards points. It's money we were going to spend anyway, but to travel in comfort for free is incredible. It’s really easy, too. I transfer the points from my credit card to the airline that’s offering the best deal, and lately that’s been Delta. It happens within minutes, and when the points are there, you can just buy your ticket.
For the Capital One Spark card, we let the points build up and then use them at the end of the year to buy Christmas presents for all our employees. Everybody gets a really nice gift without hurting our bottom line.
We don’t do anything too special to earn the points. They naturally happen, although I do keep track of when they will be higher. For example, at Staples I might get extra during a promotion. I’ll also pay attention to when the credit cards are giving triple points for certain spending categories. And in the beginning I went for the huge sign-on bonuses, but you can’t keep opening the cards every year!
Any charging or payment revelations to share?
Our business is long-term rental, and our customers pay us at the end of the month. At first there was a struggle to pay off our credit card bills because we had to wait for their payments to come in by the due date. So I would often call the credit card companies to ask if they could wait on a payment and hold off on charging interest or fees while we were waiting to get paid. They did, and that was great.
Then I found out I could just permanently change the due dates on our accounts to what works for us. That was huge! I had no idea credit card companies would do this. It sounds funny now, but I thought everyone in the world pays on a specific date. They will work with you – you just have to ask.
See related: How to earn more points booking business travel
What is your best advice for other small business owners, regarding credit?
You can be creative with credit cards. For example, we’re a subscription business, and every month we have more than 1,000 pianos out on rent all over the New York area. Our customers have the option to use their first 12 months of rental fees toward the purchase of their piano at any time, and they have a year to pay off the balance. They can self-finance the remainder with a credit card. It makes it so easy for them and for us. We don’t need to help them get financing.
Credit cards are useful, but you have to get the right accounts for you and your business. Research your needs and know what cards exist before applying. For example, we chose the American Express card because we knew we would be traveling a lot and it was easy to build points. By using them we eliminated a very large expense. But there are so many ways to collect and use the points, and you have to figure out what you want first. Don’t get a travel card when a cash back card is the better choice!