Case Study: Personality a Major Component in Retail Locations

Expanding to a retail location doesn't mean that you just move some of your current credit union employees to the new branch.


"Sometimes we look for bartenders. Hairdressers. People who are used to having
conversations with a relative stranger."

This from Michael Warrell, Manager of Sales and Service at Service Credit Union ($1.0 billion in Portsmouth, NH), when asked about the kind of employees they look for to work in their retail branches in New Hampshire Wal-Marts.

There are a lot of differences between traditional "brick-and-mortar" credit union branches and retail location branches: location size, operating hours, foot traffic. It only makes sense that those differences extend into hiring and staffing.

Exposure to Thousands of Potential New Members
"The number one responsibility in a retail branch is driving new business," explains Warrel.

There's a lot of potential for that in a retail credit union branch. When faced with a national member growth rate averaging below 1%, it's no wonder that the retail outlet growth rate has almost tripled compared to traditional offices (32% and 11% respectively), as was noted in the Callahan and Associates retail strategy webinar, “Increasing Visibility: Using Retail Outlets to Relay the Credit Union Advantage."

Warrel and Service are taking aim at the 7,000-8,000 Wal-Mart shoppers that pass by their location every day. The employees needed to reach all those potential new members need more than just the share, certificate, and auto loan rates at hand. Sometimes, they actually need to lend a hand. And that's where personality comes into play.

The Counter Barrier
"In traditional branches, there is that barrier of the counter," explains Warrel. "All the business is taken care of by employees behind the counter, because a member comes in expecting looking for a member behind the counter to take care of them. If you want to develop business in a retail location, you can't do it behind the counter."

Instead, Service's staff members are out in the crowd -- chatting with people who are using their ATM and walking the aisles.

"A lot of our staff know more about where to find stuff in the Wal-Mart than the Wal-Mart employees," said Warrel.

Even interviews take that direction, as store managers walk with applicants throughout the department store and go over what it takes to turn strangers into credit union members.

Does it work? Service seems to think so. Their first retail partnership resulted in 355 new checking accounts, 65 new credit card accounts, and $1.8 million in deposits -- in just six months! They have subsequently opened six more branches in Wal-Marts throughout New Hampshire. They have subsequently opened 4 more branches in Wal-Marts throughout New Hampshire with plans to open three more in 2007 and 2008.

"At the end of the day, it's all about relationships," said Warrell.  You've got to have the employees who can make that connection and develop that relationship. We actually have the luxury seeing the same potential members several times a week coming through the Wal-Mart doors -- therefore we need to be aggressively cautious in our approach to these people.  We stress the convenience and hours throughout our conversations and focus on asking questions to uncover the member’s needs. Once we know what’s important to the potential member we simple focus on the appropriate SCU product and benefits that member would receive by becoming an SCU member.”

Personality is not the only place where credit union hiring practices and retail business meet up. Learn more at Lessons from Retail: New models, trends, and tips in hiring and training, a human resources webinar brought to you by Callahan and Associates.




Feb. 12, 2007


  • Isn't this true for more than retail branches? Members' expectations of service are rising and more than our look needs to be like Starbucks, so does our service...
  • Many of the banks in our trade area have pulled out of retail locations like Walmart and Grocery stores. I can't stand it when someone tries to sell me a credit card or checking account when all I wanted to do was get bread and milk. Is that the type of brand statement we want credit unions to be associated with...?
  • Sometimes it is hard to evaluate employees against a new set of criteria that are markedly different than our traditional ones (eg. what a "teller" needs to be good at vs. an in-store client rep). Thanks for the reminder to think differently when trying new business models.