Laura Ashley Inc., the Blue Goose grocery chain in Chicago, and the Carlye & Co. jewelry group each closed deals with major transaction processing providers in recent days.

Laura Ashley signed with SPS Transaction Services Inc., Blue Goose with Fifth Third Bancorp's Midwest Payment Systems unit, and Caryle & Co. with First Data Retail Services.

Each customer praised its respective supplier for both pricing and flexibility, illustrating the high level of competition to serve merchants' growing card-acceptance needs.

Laura Ashley

SPS, formely a part of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and now controlled by Dean Witter, Discover & Co., said it signed a five-year agreement to handle Laura Ashley's private-label credit card, the British-owned apparel retailer's first such product in the United States.

The support services will include marketing and account solicitation, credit approval, issuance of credit cards, statement processing, cardholder inquiries, remittance processing, collections, and staff training. SPS, which owns Hurley State Bank in South Dakota, will control the receivables.

"We needed a private-label card program that could accommodate everything from the sale of women's and children's clothing to catalogue orders to the sale of custom-made fabric and home furnishings," said Stephen Cotter, president of Laura Ashley Inc. "SPS has an impressive record of designing customized programs and servicing high-profile customers like Laura Ashley's."

Marketing of the card is beginning this month, and it will initially be usuable at 180 Laura Ashley retail shops and in a mail-order service, Laura Ashley by Post.

SPS senior vice president of sales Robert Archer said the "start-up program for one of the world's premier specialty retailers" gives the Riverwoods, Ill., company a chance "to further demonstrate our expertise in private-label credit."

Midwest Payment Systems won the Blue Goose contract to process MasterCard, Visa, and Discover card transactions, a sign of the increasing popularity of credit cards in supermarkets and of the continued growth of the processing affiliate of Cincinnati-based Fifth Third Bancorp.

Timothy D. Ballinger, senior vice president of Midwest Payment Systems, said its economies of scale sealed the deal.

"We process more than 75 million transaction each month for retail and financial institution customers," he said. "That volume allows us to offer low-cost services in addition to extensive experience."

MPS said that in the first quarter of 1994, it added 330 new companies to its merchant processing service, with over $382 million in annual credit card sales.

Caryle & Co.

Caryle contracted with the retail service division of First Data Corp.'s electronic funds services unit in Omaha to perform all credit and customer service functions for the jewelry retailer's Caryle, Jewel Box, and J.E. Caldwell divisions.

The 82-store chain, based in Greensboro, N.C., has more than 200,000 credit accounts, making it one of the larger clients of First Data Retail Services.

"We were impressed with serveral features the FDRS system will provide, especially the loation-reporting capabilities," said Reuben Mercer, Caryle's vice president of sales and credit.

Melvin D. From, vice president of First Data Retail Services, said its sysstem can deliver more flexibility and marketing capability than did a previous supplier. "This flexibility will help them expand their existing base of accounts and increase sales," Mr. From said.

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