© 2020 Arizent. All rights reserved.

Michigan State University FCU's pop-up shop pops up again

Register now

For Michigan State University Federal Credit Union, a 2017 holiday experiment has been the gift that keeps on giving.

For two weeks last December, during the height of holiday shopping, the East Lansing, Mich.-based institution set up a pop-up shop in a local mall to lure in new business and as a way to provide financial education to the community.

The program was successful enough that the $4.1 billion-asset credit union revamped it for 2018, setting up a similar storefront in Grand Rapids. But this year’s effort focused on a strength from the 2017 shop – developing name recognition. MSUFCU is less well-known in Grand Rapids, which is about an hour west of its headquarters.

“We think [the 2017 shop] was successful in regards to talking to people and getting our brand out there,” explained Chief Marketing Officer Deidre Davis. “It was designed as an experiment to see if we could do it and whether we could pull it off in other markets, because we knew we had more markets coming up this year and in the future.”

The Grand Rapids pop-up shop ran for three weeks in November, including during the busy Black Friday shopping period after Thanksgiving. This year’s location had about 20 percent more foot traffic than last year and led to three new memberships and two Visa credit cards and checking accounts, Davis said.

Executives are also betting that there will be residual growth beyond the shop’s closure, thanks to “contact me” cards that representatives handed out. The cards were used to set up phone appointments with potential members who didn’t have time to chat during the hours the shop was open.

While the focus in 2017 was on financial education and budgeting for holiday spending, “what we found last year was that when people were at the mall they didn’t necessarily want to participate in a 20 to 30 minute seminar about a particular financial education topic,” said Davis. “This year we had more snippets of information available regarding financial education topics.”

Credit union representatives also kept iPads handy to work one-on-one with shoppers this year rather than doing educational sessions in a classroom style like last year.

While MSUFCU is the dominant credit union in mid-Michigan, it is less well known in the western part of the state, so Davis said the most common question representatives received this year was about membership eligibility and how to open accounts. The credit union currently has a branch about 15 minutes from the mall, but has no further plans to expand in Grand Rapids at this time.

Davis said that after two years of trying the pop-up shop model, MSUFCU is convinced a similar strategy can work for other credit unions, including smaller ones. But, she advised, CUs attempting to replicate it should also take into account various concerns such as the space available to the credit union and what resources will be needed to set it up and run it effectively.

And, she added, while credit unions are well-known in Michigan – more than half the state’s population belongs to a credit union – this strategy can also be effective in locales where consumers aren’t as familiar with credit unions.

“If people don’t know about credit unions they certainly don’t know the technology credit unions offer,” Davis said. “Sometimes there is a stigma associated with credit unions that they’re not as technologically advanced, so we wanted an opportunity to be able to show off our apps and various technologies members can use.”

For reprint and licensing requests for this article, click here.