Finding a site for your new facility is not an easy task. And when you think that you have found a great site, your due diligence is really just beginning. As you move forward in the process, you need to conduct a comprehensive site investigation and evaluation. The site investigation includes an in-depth assessment of the physical property as it relates to the proposed facility from a marketing and construction perspective. You need to understand the permitting and zoning requirements for your new facility and all of the environmental factors. It is also important to address your merchandising and branding needs at this point, as well as technology integrations. Here is how savvy credit unions can address the process of: “Preliminary Site and Facility Design.” To begin this process you need to contact a firm that is proficient in all aspects of zoning and permitting. They should also have experience in dealing with local governmental and environmental agencies. Their site engineering and land development specialists should assist your credit union in land acquisitions, ALTA and environmental surveys, geotechnical investigation, site engineering, permitting and highway occupancy approval. The hired firm should also accompany a credit union representative to all relevant zoning and planning commission meetings in order to expedite land development activities. Many credit unions are discovering the benefits of building “green”. In simplest terms, green buildings incorporate environmentally sound products and planning techniques designed to enhance the well being of a structure’s human occupants, maximize the building’s performance and minimize the impact on the environment. Green design considers site development, materials, lighting, emissions reduction, water conservation, energy consumption and more. The structure should disrupt as little as practically possible of the site’s natural setting. While local environmental factors play a role, the human factors receive greater emphasis inside green buildings. Major indoor green considerations include: * Lighting (ambient, task and natural lighting) * Materials (those with low toxicity, or are recycled or come from sustainable sources) * Energy efficiency (“energy proper” insulation in lighting, appliances, and HVAC) * Indoor environmental quality factors, such as air quality, acoustics and thermal comfort. The benefits of building a “green building” include better equipment performance, improved lighting design and comfort control, effective storm management, low maintenance landscaping, reduced paving areas, and superior comfort and health for employees and members. Merchandising and retail branding is also an important part of preliminary site facility design. There’s no question that in today’s complex financial market, your members need to be able to walk into your new facility and know at a glance what products and services you offer, how it meets their particular needs, and how it improves their lives. The way you design your facility must do more than improve must also help you establish your “brand” identity and support your marketing efforts. So how do you begin to develop a merchandising program that fits your branding plan? * First: You need to understand your credit union’s short and long term retail goals. * Second: Translate these goals into identifiable facilities planning strategies. * Third: You need to research and understand your members, their needs and their behaviors, minimizing the risk of your merchandising investment. * Fourth: With this information, you need to evaluate the merchandising program at your new facility with the intent of creating your new identity through carefully designed goals and strategies with timelines and assigned responsibilities. Merchandising needs to become an integrated part of the interior floor plan as well as your everyday tasks. * Your image and brand identity need to be consistent, especially in regards to your new and future retail facilities. You must monitor and update your merchandising plan on an ongoing basis. Technology integrations should also be considered at this stage. You need to consider your members’ behaviors, their expectations and their definition of service. You also need to evaluate their need for fast transactions and their comfort level with technology. Do their needs justify a heavy investment in technology? The firm you contact should be fully capable of providing technological advantages and alternative retail delivery options. You should closely evaluate the use of un-manned units (remote teller systems), electronic video kiosks, destination centers and other delivery options that will position your financial institution electronically for the future. Technology is another area that should be addressed and updated on an ongoing basis. Careful preliminary site and facility design, including comprehensive site investigation/ evaluation, permitting, zoning, merchandising/ branding and technology, will pave the way to the “Deliverables” part of the process. “Deliverables” are the steps before construction that rechecks and evaluates your new facility before construction. Branching is one of the single most expensive and risky investments a credit union will make.

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