Bankers Leap Shirt On Their Back

July 14, 2006
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Melissa and “Chef Len” Towne had a dream of opening their own restaurant, but when the time came, their bank turned them down for a loan.

A friend referred the couple to National City Bank, and in December 2005, the bank helped the Townes secure a small business loan that enabled them to purchase a former restaurant on

East Main Street
in Zeeland. Last February, the Townes opened At The Diner, a gourmet breakfast and lunch spot and catering business.

In addition to the loan, Melissa Towne said National City staff helped her locate both an accountant and merchant services for the new business.

“They actually set up the appointments for me and allowed me to meet at their branch with these representatives that they felt confident in,” she said. “Being a new business owner and not knowing who’s best out there at working with new businesses and small business, that helped a lot.”

The Townes and the team at National City’s Zeeland branch, which is headed by sales manager Keith Ykema, also came up with a cross-marketing ploy. On Fridays, the bankers wear T-shirts advertising At The Diner and At The Diner staff wears T-shirts advertising National City, Len Towne explained. When people see the restaurant’s shirts on bank staffers, they often ask questions, and the word of mouth gives the restaurant a little promotional boost, he said. On top of that, a lot of the bank staff eats at the restaurant and tell people how good it is, Melissa added.

“I have to tell you that the No. 1 thing about National City is that they are just the friendliest people and are willing to help you do anything,” Melissa said. “You don’t always find that at banks.”

Sean Welsh, regional president of National City, said he’s extremely proud of the teamwork National City displayed in building the relationship with the Townes.

“Keith and his staff have done an outstanding job of serving the day-to-day banking needs of this client, from routine transaction processing, to problem solving, to recommending an accountant.”

Ykema, who is chairman of the board for the Zeeland Chamber of Commerce, also supported the Townes’ venture by drawing their attention to catering and hosting opportunities for different chamber events. In fact, At The Diner bid on and was awarded the catering contract for National City’s eight-week, Friday night Summer Concert Series, an event series that entertains 40 to 50 of the bank’s top customers and prospects.

“Knowing that we’re new and really wanted to get our name out there, they really wanted to help us out,” Melissa remarked. “The eight concerts are excellent word of mouth for us, especially in the Holland area where we want to grow in to.”

Welsh said the bank is pleased to provide the Townes with the additional marketing opportunity because they have “elevated the quality” of the Summer Concert Series experience “with their outstanding food and service.”

According to Ykema, the foundation of a good banking relationship has a lot to do with integrity and getting to know a customer on more than just a business level.

“You really have to get to know your customers and what makes them tick,” Ykema said. “You have to build a level of trust so that they know that you’re being straight up and honest with them and are trying to do the best for them.”

National City products and services, such as online banking, the bank’s points program and free business checking, are obviously attractive to customers, too, he said.

“But I think it all boils down to the trust factor and being involved not only in customers’ lives and businesses but being involved in the community,” Ykema added.    

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