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Eenie Meenie Minie Moe, the site we pick, better grow. Ok, so the rhyme isn’t perfect, but the location of your next branch facility better be. Ever wonder if the site you want to buy, or worse yet, just bought, will produce the expected growth projections? Will the site support a $30 to $50 million facility in three to five years? How did you pick your last branch location? Did you simply drive around town to see which piece of land is available? Did a parcel look good, because it was near a new residential or new retail area? Is it near a McDonalds or a Big Box? Was the price right? Did you fly above the town in a plane to get a better view? Did you get advice from your significant other? Did you buy it because a board member or friend had “the perfect piece of land” for sale? Any of the above branch strategies sound familiar? Please don’t get me wrong; if you are from or have lived in the community for 30 years, and have grown up with the community, you probably have a very good feeling about where your next facility should go. Knowing your community or a specific site is a very good starting point, but there should also be data based on several key criteria, to support a `gut’ feeling. The best choice might be to work with a consultant who, before you pick a site, asks many questions to learn more about your credit union’s culture and business plan. The consultant needs to tour the specific town(s) to learn as much about the community as possible, along with having maps developed based on selected demographics and then grade the site(s). Then and only then, should a consultant provide you with a report that substantiates all of the data. With that data, based on specific research, the Team can make educated decisions about the sites to determine which site will meet your credit union’s specific requirements and give you a better chance to succeed. There is a definite process in branch facility site selection. Why do you think McDonalds, Arby’s, and Burger King seem to always be in the `best locations?’ All of these franchises use a similar model to analyze and grade their potential sites before they buy a piece of property. Yes, there is actually a mathematical model to give the potential sites a letter grade, based on different criteria. If the site is graded an A or B, it has potential, if it’s a C, D or F, be careful. A site could have great visibility, which is important criteria, but the site accessibility must also be good. Take, for example, the client who had a facility that had a very steep incline or bump at the curb cut as members entered the site. Many of the lower vehicles would `bottom out’ as they entered the site. This was an ongoing problem causing members to complain. The credit union’s employees could do nothing about it other than apologize. Someone should have assessed that the site grade was going to be higher than the street. The site visibility for this site was graded as an `A,’ but the accessibility was a `D.’ When a branching study is done, mapping alone will not provide enough information to determine if the site is good or bad. Mapping is the research process of gathering specific data for a given area, using such criteria as demographics, household income, where your members work and live, etc. Maps can easily be ordered by any consultant, but that is just part of the process. Meeting with the city’s community development director, city planners and engineers, local residents, etc., are just as important as the maps. And yes, taking the time to drive up and down every street in the town must also be done, because what the maps don’t show, the streets and neighborhoods will. Today, it is becoming harder and harder to find land in the right spot. Land is expensive; so get used to it! Land is generally expensive for a reason; consider whether it’s in an area that will provide the best VALUE for your credit union. I’ve never had a client tell me, one or two years after they move in, when they were boasting about exceeding quotas and growth projections, that they still wish they would have paid less for the land, because by then, the cost of the land has become a `non-factor.’ If you are going to spend anywhere from $1 to $4 million on your next branch or main facility, doesn’t it make sense to spend a little extra time and money to be confident that the site is right for you and what you want to accomplish, resulting in the maximum return on your investment? Historically, credit unions have been `destination points’ for their members. With increased competition and credit unions being granted community charters, the sites will need to be more accessible than before, when their membership was more defined. The number one key to a branch study is the `interpretation of the data’ by the consultant. Let me repeat that, the number one key to a branch study is the `interpretation of the data’ by the consultant. All the maps in the world will not tell the entire story. Interpreting the data is the value of a report. Find a consultant who will not only provide the maps and data, but also has a proven track record of visiting the community and analyzing the data using a mathematical `model.’ A friend once told me that the most successful credit unions are the ones that do everything just a little better then the next. Products, services, staffs, selling abilities and the facilities are all very important. Yes, your credit union can succeed if your location is so-so, but you have the best products, services, staff, etc. But, wouldn’t it be nice to have the piece of mind that you gave yourself and your staff a little head start knowing that you have selected the right location for your next facility?

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