Born in a brewery in 1955 O Bee Credit Union was literally run from a shirt pocket. Founder Ted McGill worked in Bottle House “A” of Olympia Brewery. He would walk around the brewery with membership cards, loan applications and receipts all stuffed in a pocket.
60 plus years later the seven-branch community based credit union, headquartered in the Olympia Washington area, has a problem – too much business. Lee Wojnar, VP of Marketing says radio has helped make O Bee very successful and that has created a dilemma.
“Believe it or not, we were actually told to slow down our growth by our auditors because we were growing too rapidly. We’ve been doing double digit growth over the last 10 years and in our auditors view that’s not sustainable. The auditors don’t like it when you grow to fast because it throws the numbers off. The law says credit unions have to show balanced growth because we don’t have shareholders or stock. So our deposits have to align with our balance and vice versa.”
Radio Ink: Tell us how you use radio.
Wojnar: In the beginning we used a number of stations all over the state. We are basically in a tier two or three market. The largest local station we use is KXXO, Mixx 96. They cover Olympia all the way up to close to Seattle and then down towards the ocean. They have a big reach. The value is really good for us. They do a great job in doing creative stuff for us.
Here’s our quandary now. Because of our growth we had to slow down advertising, and that was frustrating. But we are doing regular radio now on Mix 96 and Public Radio, KNKX in Tacoma. It’s all about demographics. In our area Public Radio is slightly older; the people who are savers. Mix 96 is younger, people that borrow and have families. Knowing your target and how to target your advertising is the key to success. That’s why we use different radio formats.
Radio Ink: O Bee has a unique brand, “Pub Style Banking”. Can folks get a growler fill at your branches?
Wojnar: (Laughing) We launched this ‘Pub Style Banking’ to embrace our brewing heritage and history. We offer debit and credit cards with the Olympia Brewing beer logos on them. Also, Some of our branches look like pubs.
We got some local publicity for that, so I thought, maybe when the branches are closed we can invite folks in to have private tasting parties. The liquor control board said you’re marketing this, and I said no we’re not. The board won and I got my hand slapped so we had to stop for compliance reasons.
We pride ourselves in knowing our members, so those that frequent our local branches are known by their first names on sight. You know – that pub ‘Where everyone knows your name.’
Radio Ink: How has the COVID situation affected business?
Wojnar: We are considered an essential business plus as a credit union we have laws about how many days we have to be open and how we service our customers. Right now of course we are only operating with drive-thrus. Some of the services we are providing now are by appointment only at our drive thrus. We have DocuSign so we can provide some of the services via on-line banking. Thanks to technology there is a lot of stuff you can do on-line now that you couldn’t do in the past.
Radio Ink: How are you keeping in touch with the community?
Wojnar: We are using our radio partners to help get the community through this by sponsoring a coloring contest. The contest runs thru May with cash prizes of 750, 650, 550, 450, 350, and 250 dollars. We are doing a match with this and giving each food bank in our county, $3,000 each. It’s a fun way to help our community and help the food banks.
Radio Ink: What does the future hold?
Wojnar: I believe we are going to be fine. There are going to be some rough patches ahead because of the high unemployment. We do as much research as we can, but how the recovery unfolds; we don’t know yet.
We weathered the economic meltdown of 2008 and 2009 because we marketed through the downturn instead of pulling back. That’s the secret to any good business you have to work through it. During those times people run from the market saying they don’t want to invest money. It’s about brand awareness that you develop during that time that helps you survive.
That’s why we are running the coloring contest and giving away this money. We would be doing this anyway because we walk-the-walk in our local community and this doesn’t stop because of these circumstances. You have to embrace your community. When it struggles you have to be there for them.
Thanks to Toni Holm,VP 3 Cities Inc. / Station Manager, Mixx 96.1