FAIRFIELD, Iowa-Renee Rebling knows all about the importance of standing out, as she manages a CU branch in a small town whose trademark is business diversity.

Rebling runs the office of the $400-million Community 1st CU in Fairfield, Iowa, a quaint town with a business district that features a white gazebo bordered by rose bushes and a main street lined with numerous small, eclectic shops.

"We have a health foods store, a kitchen products shop, a business that sells unique furniture, and a lot more," said Rebling. "There are many different cultures here and people who come from all walks of life. We're arts oriented. Iowa Governor (Terry) Branstad called us the entrepreneurial capital of Iowa."

Rebling said that most of the 9,500 local residents expect a business here to have its own brand and identity. She said that at first glance consumers may not think her branch is unique among the other FIs in Fairfield, but that's not what many say after they've been served by her staff.

"I don't like to compare my branch to the bank down the street," Rebling told Credit Union Journal. "I want to have our own identity and have people like us, and our products and our services, for what we are, and for that reason not go to the bank down the street. But with all the financials providing similar products at competitive prices, service lets us stand out."

The thinking has been working, as the Fairfield office of Community 1st has been growing members every year since Rebling came on board as manager 12 years ago. She reminded that it's not the policies or procedures that create great service, it's the staff.

Rebling, over the years, has subscribed to the formula of hiring the right kind of people, learning their strengths and weaknesses, and then tailoring training to their abilities.

"I try to get the right people into the right positions," explained Rebling, who manages a staff of eight. "I hire on talent, not just experience. I get to know the people, find out what their talents are, what they want to do, and then focus on their strengths. I steer away from their weaknesses so we can focus on the positives, which I think in the end gets people to their right positions. By focusing on their strengths employees are more eager to learn and want to learn more. The process tends to build on itself."


'Suited For This Town'

Fairfield is home to the Maharishi University of Management, which offers a popular business track for entrepreneurs. Rebling said the university is a big part of the town, not only having shaped and developed many of the small businesses, but having brought people and jobs to a farming town that 20 years collapsed due to an agricultural crisis. "Now we are more of a college town and a tourist destination."

That has led to a lot of transient business, especially from students who eventually move back out, added Rebling.

"As I said, the residents of Fairfield come from many different walks of life and from all over the country, which I have found tends to make them very informed consumers. They know what they want, and they know what they should expect from a financial institution. Great service is a big part of what they want, and when they get it they tell a lot of people. The credit union is doing well here in Fairfield, and we are suited for this town, and the people know that."

Community 1st is headquartered in Ottumwa, Iowa.

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