WELLINGTON, Ohio-When LorMet Allied Credit Union CEO Daniel R. Cwalina moved to small, historic Wellington about 25 miles from LorMet's main office in Lorain several years ago, he was impressed with the old-fashioned look of the town.
So when LorMet Allied CU decided to open a fifth branch about a block north of town square in an area full of stately old homes, Cwalina realized during a board meeting one day that just because there was a modern automated teller machine going in next to LorMet Allied CU's new fifth branch, there really was no reason why it had to look modern.
As he sketched out an idea he'd had to put it in a (fake) horse and buggy, everyone at first thought he was joking.
"Initially, everyone laughed," Cwalina said. "But when we began to reflect on the idea and think about it, we said, `Let's try it! Let's do it.' "
The problem was that no one at LorMet Allied had ever heard of anything like that being done. So the first thing they did was take the idea to an architect, who drew up the plans. Then, a buggy builder, Arkinetics Inc. of Lakewood, was located in the Southern rural part of Ohio. They had an employee who could build buggies.
"So he built this for us and it turned out fantastic," Cwalina said. "And the community likes it!"
Earlier, officials at the CU knew that they needed an ATM because members who lived in Wellington wanted the convenience.
"We tried to look at the standard buildings that house ATMs, and it would not have complemented the town. We wanted to preserve the historical nature that attracted us to the community, both personally and professionally. I moved there with my wife and three children because of the historic nature of the town."
Of course, once the building process began, there were problems. Because the buggy builder actually builds functional, working buggies, it was frustrating for him to try to make a non-functional buggy.
"Here's somebody who builds road-worthy buggies, and he couldn't do it this time. It took a lot of work, and there was a lot of frustration for him, but all in all, when you see it, everything's authentic as far as the wheels, the suspension... It's made out of wood, and it's laminated in aluminum for weathering," Cwalina said.
On Jan. 10, Wellington's new ATM in a Victorian-style buggy opened for business, said LorMet Allied CU Marketing Director Joseph Modarelli.
"And now we're almost causing accidents on the street with it," Modarelli said. "We've had a number of people tell us, `Hey, I almost hit the car in front of me looking at it.' Our CEO Dan Cwalina is pretty active in the community and people keep coming up to him and raving about how they like it and how it fits so well into the area."
Wellington is a town of about 3,000 people.
"Many of the homes there are older, Victorian homes, and the town square there is Victorian, and this really fits right in. Everyone loves it," Modarelli said.
The only person with misgivings has been Wellington's police chief, who expressed concern about the ATM's safety during football season, when kids are feeling high-spirited and sometimes turn to pranks.
Modarelli shrugs that one off.
"It won't be a problem!" he predicts.
LorMet Allied CU staff had their hearts set on getting the ATM up and running in November when the branch opened, but unfortunately, it wasn't finished in time.
"First, we had to find the gentleman who could build it, and then we had to take that thing and hoist it over the ATM with a crane and get it all working which took a little bit longer than we'd hoped..." Modarelli said. "It was a disappointment when we couldn't get it up and running for the holiday season, because what we'd planned on doing was outlining the entire thing in little white lights. We'll do that next year, and it'll be gorgeous." One concern that LorMet staff had was how the area's Amish community might react to the ATM in a buggy, but so far, they haven't complained. The buggies they use on Wellington's roadways today are different, Modarelli noted.
When the buggy was first delivered, there wasn't the fine attention to detail that staff at LorMet Allied CU wanted, so it was sent to a sign company to get that taken care of. When it came back, the horse looked like a real horse. And everybody agreed the buggy was an eye-catcher.
LorMet Allied CU held a ribbon cutting for the ATM in mid-January, and invited Wellington Mayor Barbara O'Keefe. Also attending were Heidi Augustine, Wellington branch manager, Mary Prieto, president of the LorMet Board, other directors and Cwalina.
Since then, scads of people have been using the horse and buggy ATM, both members and non-members.
"They respect the creativity," notes Cwalina. "They enjoy it!"
LorMet Allied CU, which opened in 1936, today serves more than 20,000 members, and has assets of $90 million. As part of its expansion plans, officials there have applied for a federal community charter that will allow it to serve all the residents of Lorain County. -