Category: Retail

BizWest 500 highlights largest, fastest-growing companies

Purchase this new publication by clicking BizWest 500. For a preview of the content, here’s the first page.

Welcome to the BizWest 500, an ambitious undertaking that highlights the largest or fastest-growing companies throughout the Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado (and the highest-paid executives).

This special edition of BizWest aggregates content that previously had been published over a span of many months, but it also represents a dramatic increase in the data that we publish on the region’s largest private- and public-sector employers.

In these pages, you’ll find:

• The Mercury 100 list of the fastest-growing private companies in the Boulder Valley, along with five profiles of interesting companies on the list.

• The Mercury 100 list of the fastest-growing private companies in Northern Colorado, along with five profiles of interesting companies on the list.

• A list of the Top 25 highest-paid executives of public companies.

• A list of the 50 largest public-sector employers, including municipalities, counties, universities, federal laboratories, etc.

• A vastly expanded list of the region’s largest employers — 200 companies listed, compared with 50 published last year.

• A list of the largest publicly traded companies based in our region. (We’ve stretched this a bit, opting to include a handful of companies that have shifted their headquarters to the Denver area or other nearby cities, but which retain a significant presence in our region.)

All told, these lists represent the largest number of ranked lists we’ve ever published in one issue, outside of our annual Book of Lists publication.

Most companies cited in these lists responded to our surveys. Others are included based on BizWest estimates, reports by economic-development agencies, news accounts or other sources. Data for the public companies and highest-paid executives lists came entirely from the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission.

This endeavor represents many months of work by our staff, especially our chief researcher, Chad Collins. As with any undertaking of this magnitude, errors and omissions are likely. In particular, our lists of the largest private-sector and public-sector employers will continue to be refined and expanded. If you’d like to see your company included — or if you spot a mistake or other omission — please contact Chad at ccollins@bizwestmedia.com.

It should be noted that we’ve opted to include aggregated numbers for some employers, such as major health systems, as well as numbers for some of their constituent institutions, i.e., a hospital within the system.

If you have a suggestion for the BizWest 500 next year, please feel free to contact me at the number below.

Christopher Wood can be reached at 303-630-1942, 970-232-3133 or cwood@bizwestmedia.com.

Deals of the Year finalists announced

BizWest has announced finalists for its inaugural “Deals of the Year” issue, honoring the top transactions in a variety of industries for 2015.

Deals could include mergers, acquisitions, construction projects, leases, sales, venture-capital funding and expansions. Nominations, which closed Dec. 31, are being evaluated by the BizWest editorial team, with consideration given to impact, complexity and size of the deal, both in terms of dollar volume and, when appropriate, square footage.

“We’re very excited to bring this new concept to readers of BizWest,” said Christopher Wood, publisher and editor. “The Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado have produced some amazing deals in many different sectors. We look forward to highlighting those transactions, delving into their impacts, and relating what’s next.”

Nominations were submitted for the BizWest region of Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. BizWest reserved the right to shift a nomination from one category to another, or to add or eliminate industry categories at its discretion.

Finalists and winners will be featured in a special edition of BizWest in early February. That edition also will feature the players behind the deals, and a look at how the deals came together.

Here are the finalists in each category:

 Apartments

Bell Partners Inc. of Greensboro, N.C., in April purchased the 1,206-unit Horizons at Rock Creek apartment complex in Superior for $250 million from Denver-based Simpson Housing LLLP and renamed it Bell Flatirons.

Invesco Real Estate, a division of Atlanta-based Invesco Ltd. (NYSE: IVZ), in April bought the 374-unit Retreat at the Flatirons under the entity Flatirons Apartments LLC for $94.5 million from Etkin Johnson Real Estate Partners.

Memphis, Tenn.-based EDR (NYSE: EDR), formerly known as Education Realty Trust, bought The Province student-housing complex in Boulder in September for $48.8 million, or nearly $581,000 per unit, from Ohio-based Edwards Student Housing Management Co.

 Banking and Finance

The merger of Premier Members Federal Credit Union and Boulder Valley Credit Union became effective May 1.

Boulder-based venture-capital firm Foundry Group in July closed its fifth $225 million investment fund, Foundry Venture Capital 2016 LP.

Boulder Ventures Ltd. in late April completed raising its sixth investment fund, worth $61 million, bringing the total raised during the past 20 years to $371 million.

Commercial Real Estate

Seattle-based real estate investment company Unico Properties LLC paid approximately $209 million to Boulder-based W.W. Reynolds in January for 1.5 million square feet of commercial property in Boulder and Fort Collins.

The city of Boulder formally closed in December on the $40 million purchase of the Boulder Community Health campus at the southwest corner of Balsam Avenue and Broadway.

Real estate investment firm Kinship Capital and investment firm/developer The John Buck Co., both based in Chicago, formed a new joint venture with current S’PARK developer Element Properties of Boulder and in late December paid a combined $18.5 million for the redevelopment of the former Sutherland’s lumber yard site at 3390 Valmont Road in Boulder, effectively buying out the Sutherland family’s stake in the $100 million mixed-use S’PARK project that is slated for demolition work to begin in the coming months.

Construction

A groundbreaking ceremony was held Aug. 4 for Phase 1 of Google Inc.’s new 300,000-square-foot campus near the intersection of 30th and Pearl streets in Boulder.

Colorado State University broke ground in August for a controversial $220 million, 36,000-seat on-campus football stadium in Fort Collins that is slated to open for the 2017 season.

Ground was broken in April at the site of the former Golden Buff Hotel and Eads Newsstand on the northwest corner of 28th Street and Canyon Boulevard in Boulder for a 203-room Embassy Suites hotel, a 172-room Hilton Garden Inn and a 42,000-square-foot office building, as part of a redevelopment spearheaded by Denver-based NAI Shames Makovsky and Boulder developer Lou DellaCava’s LJD Enterprises.

Economic Development

The 15-year-old Northern Colorado Economic Development Corp. turned over its resources to the recently established, privately funded Northern Colorado Economic Alliance.

The Fort Collins City Council in May approved $2.1 million in rebates of use tax and development fees that Woodward Inc. (Nasdaq: WWD) paid on its new 101-acre corporate campus on the site of the former Link-N-Greens golf course between Lincoln and Mulberry avenues and east of Lemay Avenue.

The Colorado Economic Development Commission in August added large areas in Larimer and Weld counties — as well as significant portions of Longmont, Broomfield and Lafayette — to its designated list of “Enterprise Zones” that enable businesses located there to qualify for a wide range of tax credits.

Food & Beverage

Belgium-based Anheuser-Busch-Inbev in August purchased Loveland-based American Eagle Distributing.

The parent company of meat processor JBS USA in Greeley in July received a commitment for up to $1.2 billion of long-term financing to be used with cash on hand to pay $1.45 billion for Cargill Inc.’s pork business in the United States.

Following in the footsteps of New Belgium Brewing in Fort Collins, Longmont-based Left Hand Brewing and Fort Collins-based Odell Brewing in July announced that the companies were moving forward with plans for employee ownership.

Health Care

University of Colorado Health won approval to build Longs Peak Hospital on the east edge of Longmont and partnered with Adeptus Health on a new hospital in Broomfield.

Banner Fort Collins Medical Center and adjoining Banner Health Center opened April 6 at Lady Moon Drive and East Harmony Road in southeast Fort Collins.

Longmont United Hospital and Centura Health in August completed an affiliation agreement under which LUH will be operated and managed by Centura in exchange for a long-term commitment of capital and resources.

 Hospitality & Tourism

The Colorado Economic Development Commission in December approved $86.1 million requested by the nonprofit Go NoCO to help developers shrink a funding gap and build the PeliGrande Resort and Conference Center in Windsor, The Indoor Waterpark Resort of the Rockies and the U.S. Whitewater Adventure Park in Loveland, and the Stanley Hotel Auditorium and Film Center in Estes Park.

Broomfield-based Vail Resorts Management Co. (NYSE MTN) continued its pattern of aggressive acquisition, acquiring Australia’s Perisher Ski Resort for $135 million.

The Colorado Senate in April approved a $350 million plan to put Colorado State University buildings at the National Western Stock Show site in Denver.

Jobs

Danish wind-turbine manufacturer Vestas Wind Systems A/S (OMX: VWS) announced plans to add 750 manufacturing jobs at its Windsor and Brighton factories.

Englewood-based Teletech Holdings Inc. (Nasdaq: TTEC) said in August that it wanted to fill 600 new jobs at its call center in Greeley, which would bring its employee count at the center to 1,300.

SCL Health. which operates eight hospitals in Colorado, Kansas and Montana, in July finished moving some 360 employees from the Diamond Hill office complex in downtown Denver to the Interlocken business park in Broomfield.

 Natural/Organic

New Jersey-based Pinnacle Foods Inc. (NYSE: PF) struck a deal in November to acquire troubled packaged-foods company Boulder Brands (Nasdaq: BDBD) for $710 million — or $11 per share — and to assume about $265 million in Boulder Brands’ debt, bringing the full value of the deal to $975 million.

Meyer Natural Foods, a producer of natural-beef products, acquired 4.35 acres of vacant land at Centerra in Loveland from University of Colorado Health and plans to construct a building for its corporate headquarters.

WhiteWave Foods Co. (NYSE: WWAV) closed its $550 million acquisition of Vega and also struck a deal to acquire California-based Wallaby Yogurt Co. Inc., for about $125 million in cash.

 Retail

Twenty-three stores and seasonal kiosks were open for business Nov. 13 when Foothills, the Fort Collins shopping center that underwent a $313 million redevelopment project, held a holiday tree-lighting and other festivities.

Tenants began opening their doors in November at Village at the Peaks in Longmont, the redeveloped Twin Peaks Mall, but Whole Foods announced in December that its opening would be delayed 11 months.

A 250,000-square-foot Sheels sporting goods store in the 2534 development in Johnstown is expected to employ roughly 400 people when it opens in September 2017.

Technology

Seagate Technology plc (Nasdaq: STX) in October completed its $696 million acquisition of Longmont-based storage-technology company Dot Hill Systems Corp.

Houston-based CA Technologies Inc. (Nasdaq: CA) in July completed its $480 million acquisition of Boulder-based Rally Software Development Corp. (NYSE: RALY), a provider of Agile development software and services.

All-flash storage systems maker SolidFire will continue its Boulder presence and its plans to move into the new, high-profile PearlWest development despite being acquired in December by Sunnyvale, Calif.-based NetApp (Nasdaq: NTAP) for $870 million in cash.

Venture Capital

Broomfield-based AppExtremes Inc., a developer of document generation and reporting applications operating under the trade name Conga, received a $70 million investment from Insight Venture Partners, a New York-based private-equity and venture-capital firm.

Broomfield-based Datavail Corp., a provider of remote database administration services, raised $47 million in funding led by New York City-based Catalyst Investors, which was joined in the round by Tahosa Capital and Lumerity Capital Partners, along with existing investors Boulder Ventures, Meritage Funds and MC Investment Fund.

Boulder-based robotic toymaker Sphero, which makes the toy version of the BB-8 droid from the new “Star Wars” movie, completed a new $45 million funding round.

 

BizWest seeks nominations for ‘Deals of the Year’

BizWest is seeking nominations for the inaugural “Deals of the Year,” honoring the top deals in a variety of industries for 2015. Deals can be mergers, acquisitions, construction projects, leases, sales, venture-capital funding, expansions, etc. Deals will be evaluated by the BizWest editorial team, with consideration given to impact, complexity and size of the deal, both in terms of dollar volume and — when appropriate — square footage.

“We’re very excited to bring this new concept to readers of BizWest,” said Christopher Wood, publisher and editor. “The Boulder Valley and Northern Colorado have produced some amazing deals in many different sectors. We look forward to highlighting those transactions, delving into their impacts, and relating what’s next.”

Nominations may be submitted for the BizWest region of Boulder, Broomfield, Larimer and Weld counties. BizWest reserves the right to shift a nomination from one category to another, or to add or eliminate industry categories at its discretion.

Finalists will be announced in mid-January, with finalists and winners featured in a special edition of BizWest in early February, which will also feature the players behind the deals, and a look at how the deal came together.

Nominations may be submitted online.

Distiller’s List tells spirited stories

An Aspen entrepreneur has created Distiller’s List, an online collection of videos featuring the country’s ever-growing list of independent liquor makers.

The website, which went live on Monday, also hopes to provide delivery of the alcoholic beverages it feature. As The Denver Post describes it, it aspires to be “the 1-800-FLOWERS of boutique booze.”

 


Boulder Chamber announces 2015 Esprit Entrepreneur winners

BOULDER —The company that created the BB-8 Droid that is based on a droid in the latest Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens,” will receive the Entrepreneur of the Year award from the Boulder Chamber at Esprit Entrepreneur, Nov. 18.

Sphero’s robotic toy BB-8 Droid is based on a droid in the latest Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.”

Sphero’s robotic toy BB-8 Droid is based on a droid in the latest Star Wars movie, “The Force Awakens.”

Boulder-based Sphero, formerly Orbotix Inc. and led by chief executive Paul Berberian, is being honored for demonstrating innovative spirit, determination and values that exemplify the Boulder community’s brand of entrepreneurship.

Having graduated from Techstars in 2010 as Orbotix, Sphero has created a new category of app-enabled connected play toys.

Other winners to be honored are:

Entrepreneur Legacy Award — Dave Query, founder of the Big Red F Restaurant Group, for building a lasting tradition of success, bold vision and values that is a model for other entrepreneurs and businesses to follow.

Entrepreneurial Community Builder Award — Peter Grant Johnson, for his work and volunteer service as he helped shape Boulder’s entrepreneurial culture that drives the innovative spirit. Before his passing and still today, Johnson is renowned as a “Champion for Good,” bringing people together to build a better community. Johnson was an Olympian, business trailblazer and networking czar of the Van Heyst Group.

The awards will be presented during the Esprit Entrepreneur event in the new Touchdown Club at the University of Colorado’s Folsom Field.

The chamber also will crown the winner of the Esprit Venture Challenge to be selected at the event. This year, startup social entrepreneurs will compete for cash prizes by demonstrating how they will do good while doing well: using their business skills to help solve big problems. The winner will be selected by audience vote at the Esprit Entrepreneur celebration, Nov.18.

Learn more here.

On Nov. 19, NewCo Boulder will feature onsite presentations at local businesses that embody the area’s innovation and entrepreneurial leadership.

For more information about the Esprit Entrepreneur event and to register, go here.

This year’s sponsors for Esprit Entrepreneur include Elevations Credit Union, the University of Colorado Boulder, EKS&H business advisors, Colorado PERA, Terrapin Care Station, Google, Anthem BlueCross Blue Shield, BizWest, the Daily Camera, Metzger Albee Public Relations, bivio and Hazel’s Beverage World.

 

Mobile-friendly websites more important than you think

Last April, Google released a major change in its search engine that will dramatically impact the online traffic for mobile-friendly websites. In fact, it is pushing responsive websites to the top of search results, while moving nonresponsive websites further down.

You may have been living under a rock if you haven’t heard about the hype over recent mobile website trends.

Responsive (mobile-friendly) websites are a great way to improve your online traffic, considering that more than 50 percent of searches today are performed from mobile devices.  However, the benefits of a website built for all devices can have other dramatic impacts on more than just the online experience:

Gain more traffic: Simply put, responsive websites will receive more online traffic than those that are not. You have to consider this path if you are to remain competitive with your online competitors. Google called its algorithm change in April “Mobilegeddon” for good reason.

Convert more sales: With more traffic comes more sales. By having an improved user experience, people will spend more time on your website and enjoy interacting within it. This is especially crucial for eCommerce businesses where the shopping environment must be quick, organized and efficient.

Look professional: Your website is often the first impression a user will have of your business.  You want your audience to be engaged and impressed by your brand, and a website built for mobile devices can do just that. It is difficult to gauge how many missed opportunities could come from a negative website experience.

Tablet and smartphone sales are exploding and have been surpassing PC purchases since 2012.  The mobile market is not going away, and neither is Google and the other search engines. Be sure that you stay ahead of the trend and remain competitive in your industry by optimizing your website to suit the needs of your consumers.

Hans Broman, a sales and marketing strategist at iPoint in Fort Collins, can be reached at hbroman@ipoint-tech.com. 

MinuteKey locks down self-service keys at key-copy kiosks

If you have ever gotten a key cut that doesn’t work in the lock that it’s supposed to, you’re not alone.

Customers complain all the time about how long it takes to get keys made at retail stores and getting them to work, said Randy Fagundo, president and chief executive of Minute Key Inc., a key-copy kiosk company in Boulder.

Minute Key Inc. is on a mission to change that – one key at a time.

MinuteKey, as it’s called, has 3,080 instant key-copy kiosks in Walmart, Lowe’s and other retailers across the county. The high-tech duplication system is “very reliable, very accurate and automated,” Fagundo said. The machines take about 60 seconds to cut a key once a customer makes a payment to the automated system.

With an estimated 600 million office, home and padlock keys made every year, the company is on the fast track for growth. An estimated $1 billion is spent on key duplication annually. MinuteKey cut its 20 millionth key in 2014.

“Everybody’s got keys in their pockets. It’s one of the few things we all have,” Fagundo said. “Even if we capture 20 percent of that market, it would be a big business.”

MinuteKey president and CEO Randy Fagundo says the high-tech key-duplication system is “very reliable, very accurate and automated.”

MinuteKey president and CEO Randy Fagundo says the high-tech key-duplication system is “very reliable, very accurate and automated.” Jonathan Castner/For BizWest

The company had 2014 revenue of $23.3 million and about 150 employees around the country, including about 35 in Boulder.

In the next three years, MinuteKey officials want to add about 6,000 new locations in drug stores, grocery stores and other retailers, Fagundo said.

With such rapid growth come serious capital-investment needs.

Venture capital firms Serent Capital and Matrix Partners, both with offices in San Francisco and around the globe, and Main Street Capital Corp. (NYSE: MAIN) and Community Trust Bank, both in Texas, have invested a total of more than $80 million so far in the company.

Fortunately, the automated key-cutting business is “quite profitable,” and both Serent and Matrix have ample reserves to support it, said Kevin Frick, a Serent Capital co-founder. While Frick declined to discuss the cost per machine, he said each key-cutting kiosk has a planned payback period of three years, based on previous performance.

As the automated self-service industry continues to grow, MinuteKey is expected to grow with it, Frick said. He compares current automation in kiosk machines such as MinuteKey with the automated teller machines used by banks.

“The dynamic is changing,” Frick said. “People are looking for convenience in a specific experience, and they find that in kiosks.”

MinuteKey has been ahead of its competition by a couple of years – one of the reasons it has done so well, Frick said.

“Randy and the team … has built a great consumer experience and a value proposition,” Frick said. “We continue to build around that. It’s very successful.”

MinuteKey seems to fit into the future of vending/kiosk machines generally, with its focus on technology, said Jo Bradshaw, a spokeswoman at the National Automatic Merchandising Association. Automation is growing, as is the use of preloaded money cards, Bradshaw said.

In the future, MinuteKey also may be able to take advantage of the “micromarket” areas in office buildings that started taking off in 2011, Bradshaw said. “Micromarkets” are general concierge areas offering sophisticated vending options that dispense food and drinks in the manner of a convenience store without the attendant, Bradshaw said. For example, a machine might dispense bottles of milk and other more traditional grab-and-go items, she said.

Fagundo and Frick both have ideas for where the industry is headed, although they declined to talk about possible new concepts for competitive reasons. Coin counting and electronics recycling machines continue to hold their own in the market, while Redbox and other movie services are expected to shrink, to be replaced by streaming Internet video, both men said in separate interviews.

“We don’t want to give away our secrets, but there are other things we do every day that can be automated,” Fagundo said

In the meantime, MinuteKey follows a revenue-share model in putting its machines in new locations, Fagundo said. Pilot machines are placed at key retail locations during try-out periods. If the retailers like the amount of revenue the machine offers, MinuteKey pays a percent of its revenue generation to continue to use the space, he said. Retailers pay for the electricity, he said.

Fagundo is no newcomer to the vending/kiosk machine industry. He previously was president of Coinstar Entertainment Services, which placed about 27,000 skill-crane machines, bulk vending machines and kiddie rides in retail chains across the country at one point. Coinstar Inc. became Outer Wall Inc. (Nasdaq: OUTR), which continues to operate a network of coin-cashing machines as well as movie- and game-rental kiosks nationwide from its Bellevue, Wash., headquarters.

Fagundo met MinuteKey company founders and brothers Ari and Dani Freeman in California in 2010. He convinced them to allow him to grow the company from Boulder, where he lived, rather than move to Los Angeles.

Employees in Boulder handle administration and warehouse work; other employees around the country fix the machines and restock them with blank keys. The machines are “really smart” and they’re networked – sending messages to a central hub when they need to be fixed or restocked, Fagundo said.

MinuteKey was No. 302 on the 2015 Inc. 5000’s list of fastest-growing private companies, one of 132 companies in Colorado to make the list this year. It was No. 11 in 2014. Its three-year growth curve is 1,520 percent, according to Inc. magazine.

Instacart says local shift from contractors to employees not spurred by lawsuit

BOULDER — Grocery-delivery service Instacart announced Monday that it is offering its contractor in-store shoppers in the Boulder market the chance to apply for employee roles, though the company isn’t saying how many such hires will be made.

The move is part of a shift that San Francisco-based Instacart has been rolling out gradually across the country since February. Rather than a contractor shopping for a customer’s groceries and then delivering them, the shopping and delivery roles are being split among different people. For the most part, shopping will now be done by part-time employees of Instacart stationed in individual stores who will hand off the orders to contractor delivery drivers.

The shift comes as Instacart faces a class-action lawsuit in California that alleges the three-year-old company has been misclassifying workers as independent contractors and, as a result, has wrongly avoided paying contractors for expenses and offering them benefits like workers’ compensation insurance or overtime pay. That lawsuit was filed in January.

Instacart vice president of communications Andrea Saul said the lawsuit did not influence the company’s decision to hire on shoppers as employees, and said it was more about improving customer service.

“This is something that was completely about our business,” Saul said.

Saul said Instacart has found that by offering training and oversight — of aspects of the job such as picking out fresh produce — to shoppers the company has cut down on order errors and has also led to more on-time deliveries. The drivers, meanwhile, will remain contractors because the company doesn’t feel like the same training and oversight is needed for their tasks.

“In order to provide the best quality experience for Instacart customers, we wanted the ability to train and supervise our in-store shoppers, and that requires us to make them employees,” company founder and chief executive Apoorva Mehta said in a prepared statement. “We’re already seeing the benefits in terms of higher customer satisfaction and higher shopper retention rates, so we think in the long term, it will be well worth the extra costs we are incurring.”

The company hasn’t disclosed the specific pay rates for its hourly employees, but notes that it will be higher than minimum wage in all markets, with opportunities to make more through tips and commissions. How the pay rates will ultimately differ from the shoppers’ pay as contract workers is unclear. Saul said the formula for paying contractors was complex and not easy to compare.

“It’s just going to be different,” Saul said. “There’s just really no way to break that down.”

In addition to Boulder, Instacart announced the same changes for its Denver and Philadelphia markets on Monday, with the employment option now offered in 15 of 16 markets nationwide in which the company operates.

Instacart launched its service in Boulder in September 2014. The company’s Boulder service area includes the communities of Louisville, Lafayette and Superior, while the Denver service area stretches north roughly to Interstate 76.

Saul said there are no immediate plans for expansion of the Colorado territories.

AG’s office launches website geared to help stop fraud

BOULDER – Colorado’s Attorney General John Suthers on Tuesday announced the launch of a new website, StopFraudColorado.gov, aimed at helping the state’s residents and businesses better learn how to protect themselves.

The attorney general’s office said in a press release that consumer protection issues have long been the most read part of the office’s website, driving the need for the new resource.

StopFraudColorado.gov will educate Coloradans about common types of fraud and offer tips on how to avoid falling victim. The site will streamline the process for filing fraud reports, which aids the office in identifying patterns of fraudulent behavior and prioritizing its limited resources to pursuing the most impactful cases.

The site is being launched in conjunction with a new statewide marketing campaign to introduce Coloradans to the site, a campaign that will introduce six anthropomorphic animals that represent the most common types of fraud seen in the state like identity theft, charity fraud, predatory lending and investment fraud.

The campaign and website are being funded by settlement money recovered by the attorney general that were earmarked for consumer education and outreach.

“As people begin spotting these animals on buses, billboards, websites and TV stations throughout the state, we hope that they will remember StopFraudColorado.gov whenever they need information about a particular type of fraud or need to report a fraud that has occurred,” Suthers said in a statement.

Holiday season opens with trouble in the cards

It seems only fitting – given that it’s black Friday – to weigh in on a shopping issue, and it’s this: When you walk into Target or Home Depot or TJ Maxx or any of thousands of retail stores online and on main street, how secure is your debit or credit card?

Not very.

As reported in our banking section this week, after a series of recent high-profile card breaches at Home Depot and Target, among others, retailers and banks and credit unions are battling over who should pick up the cost when hackers invade electronic payment systems, rendering the cards, whose security has been breached, useless to consumers and the issuers.

Banks and credit unions maintain that retailers should pick up at least some of the cost of re-issuing new cards and notifying consumers of how to activate them. Retailers, however, say that the considerable card-related fees they already pay these financial institutions is compensation enough.

Unfortunately, this problem isn’t a small one. As noted in Doug Storum’s article, millions of consumers nationwide are being forced to cancel and reactivate cards, erase and recreate PIN numbers, cancel and reactivate automatic payments and worry more every week about whether those small pieces of plastic that now govern retail commerce are safe.

In the argument between retailers and financial institutions we think the consumer’s interests are being overlooked. Frankly, we don’t care who picks up the tab to fix the problem. Sooner or later it will all get passed on to consumers. Fair enough. But we think, in exchange, that we deserve to have secure cards and we think the institutions that thrive as a result of our patronage should be doing more to bolster our financial security.

We also believe there should be more transparency and that financial institutions and retailers should be held accountable when systems are breached and cards rendered null and void. As consumers, just as financial institutions now are graded publicly on their financial soundness, it may be time as well to publicly assess their electronic security.

Obviously, it’s not going to be easy. Technology and endlessly innovative hackers are, as usual, far outpacing the ability of financial institutions, security firms and retailers to keep their transactions secure. All we can do is work harder.

Anyone who has been through a breach knows that it is a giant hassle. With the largest shopping season of the year upon us, it would be nice to know our debit and credit cards are breach-proof.  In the interim, it’s starting to look as if cash may be the safest payment method out there.