A popular new shop in an East Lansing, Mich.-area mall has already closed its doors on the holiday shopping season after just a two-week run.

On Sunday, Dec. 17, East Lansing-based Michigan State University Federal Credit Union wrapped up a two-week pop-up shop in the Meridian Mall, the first time the $3.7 billion-asset CU has featured such an operation. According to Chief Marketing Officer Deidre Davis, the concept was the brainchild of CEO April Clobes, who saw the available space while shopping one weekend and wondered how MSUFCU might make use of it in order to expand awareness.

“We used this kind of as a test, because we’ve just opened a new branch in Grand Rapids [about an hour west of East Lansing] and we’re well-known here in the Lansing area, but we’re not as well-known on the west side of the state,” explained Davis. “We’d been thinking ‘Is this a model we could replicate in other areas?’ We were looking at it as more of a branding exercise than anything else, but we wanted to use this one here because it’s nearby, we knew the location and we could execute it pretty quickly.”

From concept to design, acquiring the space, IT, set-up and more, the pop-up shop only took about two weeks to put together, said Davis, speaking to CU Journal before the shop's final weekend. Additionally, mall management helped them select the right time-frame for maximum holiday traffic. During the first few days, the space “only had a few visitors,” but thanks to word of mouth, increased traffic on the weekends, social media postings and more, visits increased to the point where on Saturday, Dec. 10, more than 150 people stopped by.

Michigan State University Federal Credit Union's holiday pop-up shop in the Meridian Mall near Lansing, Mich.
Michigan State University Federal Credit Union's holiday pop-up shop in the Meridian Mall near Lansing, Mich.

The space was set up for a variety of functionalities, explained Davis. Ten iPads were set up throughout, including some equipped for account management, others to demonstrate the credit union’s mobile app and online banking systems to non-members, and others with apps for children of different age levels waiting on their parents – everything from financial lessons for toddlers to details for older kids on how to budget. There were also iPads that can be used to join the credit union.

“We can’t complete the [membership] process 100 percent, but they can at least begin that process,” said Davis. “We also have an Amazon Echo set up with our app so we can show people how they can manage an account using a voice-recognition device.”

In addition to the tech component, the shop included a photo booth for kids, along with coloring books and crayons, as well as a “survey wall” with questions about P2P payment preferences, consumers’ future major purchases, and products or services they’d like to see the credit union offer.

“We’re gaining insights so we can help cater the next release of products to our members’ and our community’s needs,” said Davis.

Spreading the CU’s name

Visitors to the shop were about a 60 percent to 40 percent split of members versus non-members, said Davis, and the credit union contracted with a third-party tech vendor to do geo-sensing so that consumers within a certain proximity of the pop-up get a mobile alert letting them know about it. While the two exterior windows displayed info on MSUFCU’s current credit card and auto lending offerings, the emphasis has not been on writing loans.

“Those conversations are absolutely happening there – I believe we’ve done a few loans, but I wouldn’t say it’s been hundreds or anything,” she said.

“We didn’t go into this saying we want to get loans; it was ‘We want to get our name out there,’” added Davis. “Although we are well-known in this area, there are many people who don’t have accounts with us, so we wanted to see how this went so we could possibly replicate this in Grand Rapids or other areas throughout the state where we’re trying to let people know who we are or what we offer, but we don’t necessarily want to build a branch, per se.”

The project was successful enough that “we definitely think we will mimic this going forward,” said Davis, though the timing and location haven’t yet been determined.

MSUFCU also learned some lessons as a result, she noted. Employees working the shop have offered condensed, 20-minute financial education seminars on a variety of topics, but Davis said “we are finding that’s not as popular as we thought…Not that people don’t think they’re valuable, but we’ve probably learned we don’t need to have as much of the emphasis on that as we thought we did, but letting people know that’s something we offer at other locations throughout the year.”