Amid an increasingly fragmented financial landscape, Vibrant Credit Union’s leadership team brainstormed ways to expand brand awareness, build member relationships, and generate new business that gives consumers the products they want.
Naturally, they built a coffee shop.
Vibrant Coffeehouse and Kitchen, which the credit union owns, sits on 44th Ave. in Moline, Ill., adjacent to the $1 billion asset credit union’s headquarters. The shop, which opened in late 2022, roasts its own coffee and offers breakfast, sandwiches, soups, salads, ice cream, energy drinks, espresso, tea, frozen drinks, and more.
It also serves up an inclusive, engaging brand without hitting consumers over the head with the credit union connection.
“It's so individuals know our brand,” says Vibrant President/CEO Matt McCombs, noting that the credit union employs a full-time coffee roaster and sells about $5,000 in merchandise each month. “They might not think about it as banking, but they’ll at least understand it.”
The brand message is energy and excitement, he says, “but it’s a comfortable space open to everyone.”
McCombs isn’t new to the coffee industry. While studying economics at Central College in Pella, Iowa, he was hired by roaster Monte Bennett to work at Smokey Row Coffee. The relationship paid dividends, with Bennett initially consulting Vibrant Coffeehouse.
Both believe coffee shops play an important role as community pillars. Vibrant Coffeehouse quickly became more than a grab-and-go shop, with the busiest times being between 10:30 a.m. and 2 p.m.
“It's a gathering point,” McCombs says. “Not only is it a central point, it has a low barrier of entry for someone to try. It has a unique value proposition from an engagement standpoint.”
The goal is long-term engagement. When consumers walk in, there’s no pressure to join the credit union, take out a loan, or open a checking account.
“As a stand-alone coffee shop, it has to be a well-run business that people want to come back to,” McCombs says. “If we turn it into a banking-heavy experience, we won’t get repeat users. No one wants to come into a coffee shop and be bombarded.”
However, getting people through the door and familiar with the brand may lead to financial product use in the future. About two-thirds of the shop’s 300 daily customers aren’t credit union members, which has translated to about 10 new accounts per week.
Prospective members can sign up for the credit union directly in the coffeehouse, scanning a QR code to complete the process in less than two minutes. By the time they’re done with their coffee, meal, or socializing, their member information is in a sealed locker ready to be taken home. They can now use their Vibrant Credit Union card for 20% off all coffeehouse purchases.
The more members return, the better the credit union understands their financial needs.
“Individuals appreciate when you target them for something they actually want,” McCombs says, noting Vibrant simplified its product offerings to be especially good at a handful of items. “If you're trying to blanket sell, it turns people off.”
Less than a year into their coffee foray, Vibrant goes through about 800 pounds of beans each month. Those numbers will likely increase significantly in the next year, as Vibrant Coffeehouse plans to debut an app and add two new locations by the end of 2023.
They’re aggressively attacking their niche in a way McCombs believes is crucial for credit unions struggling to differentiate themselves in the busy marketplace.
“If you take the name, brand, and colors off, is anyone going to tell the difference between you and most other financial institutions?” he asks. “How do we build relationships directly with consumers? Not with something they have to have, but with something they choose to have. How do we create a brand that gives you the opportunity to be successful, and then reinforces that opportunity over time?”
For Vibrant, the answer was coffee.