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<p>WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. -More than being bold, creative and fun, grand openings are about seizing the moment. “There is no better time than the opening of a new branch to focus the community’s attention on your services, products and brand,” said Catherine Hilpert, Design Build Concepts’ Director of Communications. “Everyone likes to see what’s new, and it is a great opportunity to tie your overall objectives into the event while involving the community.” According to Hilpert, the first step to a successful grand opening is knowing your target market. Decide who you are trying to reach and what is your ultimate goal. Think about how to tailor the event to reach your markets and achieve your goals. Sometimes several well-planned smaller events, tailored to your individual markets, may be more effective than one large event. For Vista Federal Credit Union, with its first off-site branch, the goal was simple – awareness. “This is our first facility we actually owned, and we wanted to play up the theme that we were moving into the community and that this would be a welcome home,” said Vista FCU Vice President Marketing/Strategic Planning Jeff York. “Keeping with the theme our grand opening was not your typical suit and tie cutting a ribbon event. We were very casual and basically kept reinforcing to members that this facility is yours and it is your home.” To kick it all off, Scrooge McDuck carried his debit card and made a withdrawal from a fake ATM on stage. The “receipt” served as the official ribbon, and once cut fireworks went off and cannons shot confetti into the crowd of over 750 attendees. The “housewarming” spanned two days and included building tours, educational seminars, more special guest appearances by Mickey Mouse and Scrooge McDuck, and home cooked meals of hot dogs and hamburgers. York admits he was fortunate since he could tap such professionals as Disney Event Productions at a discounted rate. Of the $25,000 spent, $15,000 went to advertising, $5,000 to the event planners including stage, sound directors, greenery etc, and $5,000 for miscellaneous expenses. Wanting the “WOW” advantage, Vista FCU threw its event within four days of being open for business. It also used the event as an opportunity to make money by hosting a car sale. During the two days, the $300 million credit union brought in over $500,000 in loans. Once the goal is set only budget, personal preference and imagination dictate the grand opening. As the Marketing Coordinator for Cincinnati, Ohio-based design/build firm DEI, Tami Linton says, too often the grand opening becomes the last thought when really it should be planned at least two to three months in advance. “This is an event that happens once every 10 to 15 years or however often your credit union builds a branch,” says Linton. “And it is a priceless opportunity for free advertising – call that local photographer or reporter who is dying for another story idea-get people talking.” To build relationships in its community Georgia Telco Credit Union not only had a ribbon made of cash, which was later donated to the local library, but planned its grand opening around the availability of a popular local politician. “The demographics of the members in that area are older people and the politician really drew them in,” said GTCU Marketing Vice President Barbara Takacs. “Roughly 250-300 people attended the event and more importantly they all participated in the educational seminars and activities scheduled.” Big budgets do not necessarily make the event. Campaigns could be as simple as knocking door-to-door in a community and dropping off a gift of welcome or as elaborate as a neighborhood scavenger hunt or an elegant black-tie event. According to experts, any unique event that creates a buzz around town is what credit unions want. “You want to get your credit union name out there and have everyone talking about your new building,” said Linton. “But a successful grand opening from the Martha Stewart side is how many people attend and from a financial side it is about how many members sign up for accounts.” No stranger to creative grand opening expression, Universal 1 Credit Union Marketing Vice President Jill Grushon-Maeder’s ideas have ranged from inviting dogs to the drive-up to pick up special treats, to holding a children’s credit union jingle contest that was picked up by local news stations and eventually became a commercial for the credit union. Maeder puts the same emphasis on originality and thinking outside the box when it comes to giveaways and gifts. “We once took a rendering of our new service center and had it diecast as a bank,” said Maeder. “It was an miniature duplicate of the facility and members loved it. My vendors know to bring me what is new on the market. People like anything free even if cost less than one dollar, and if they haven’t seen it before it makes them want it more and they will do what it takes to get it.” Linton adds that just like the giveaway should be “worth the trip to the branch,” the same attention to detail should go into the invitations and guest list. If an invitation is being sent then it should reflect the event and be memorable. Doing double duty as a direct mail piece, it could even be used as a prospecting tool if the credit union purchases a list of potential members and invites them to the grand opening. Guests should always include local celebrities, politicians and anyone who will get more reporters and members to the event. “I once sent out a two-piece navy blue invitation with yellow stars that looked like the galaxy with planet Earth in the center and asked guests to `find your place in the universe,’ ” said Maeder. “ When the band was removed, the invitation pulled out and it transformed into a 3-D viewmaster with an artist’s rendering of the new facility. We are still hearing about that one.” Whether it is a conservative affair or extravagant experts agree that ultimately the grand opening should match its audience and create a bond of good will between the credit union and the community. [email protected]</p>

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