BRAUNFELS, Texas-After learning the ins and outs of effectively running a branch and becoming an accomplished branch manager for several years, Brandon Blanchard got a new lesson this year-understanding what it takes to get a new office off the ground.

Having been a branch manager for four years at San Antonio-based Security Service FCU, Blanchard was given the task last November of heading one of the credit union's newest locations, located in New Braunfels, Texas.

"I learned quickly that it takes a lot of elbow grease, really grassroots efforts to get out into the community, meet with businesses, and hand out your card," said Blanchard. "In a fairly short amount of time, we hit a lot of the major retailers, small employers, and the mom-and-pop shops."

Then it means getting involved in networking, explained Blanchard, meeting with chamber of commerce groups and local organizations like the Lion's Club and Jaycees. "From there you keep your ear to the ground, maybe learn of a trade show coming to town, any opportunity to let people know who you are and where you are."

The effort takes time, and it's easy, said Blanchard, to want to get focused more on managing reports and making sure the numbers for the new office are being reached. "But you have to make the time, because this is about building the base for your office, and from that a lot of the results follow. You can't overlook the burning need to get out of the office and into the community when you open a new location."

The New Braunfels branch of the $6.8-billion Security Service, tries to get as many staff engaged in community involvement, and Blanchard said the weekly efforts can run six to seven hours, sometimes even 12. "We go out two at a time, one staff member with one of our management team. So it becomes a coaching session as well."

It takes the right kind of follow-up, and just the right amount. "You reach back, and you don't wait too long, if someone does not get back to you," explained Blanchard. "But you never want to overdo it with the same employer."

Blanchard also found that his office, in a small town sandwiched between the big Texas cities of San Antonio and Austin, has to do a lot of explaining about what a credit union is. "In those large cities there is a high awareness of Security Service and what a credit union is. But here we run into that common problem of people thinking they can't join our credit union."

The other challenge with opening a new office, added Blanchard, is finding the right staff. He said that was not easy in a small town where the number of prospective candidates is limited.


A Task Worth Tackling

"We have certain traits we are looking for in our employees-one who wants to give the best service to the member, one who is interested in getting out into the community to support local efforts, and someone who understands the greater purposes of the credit union and comes to work for those reasons and not just the paycheck."

All the efforts are paying off, said Blanchard, who noted transaction totals are growing every month, now at about 9,000. "It takes a lot of time, and effort, to get a new branch off the ground. That's something I've really come to understand this year and it's a task that I, and my team, enjoy tackling."

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