While at the CUES Experience a few weeks ago, a number of great ideas were discussed both at the conference and at other social events. One such idea revolved around the common bond/affinity aspect nearly all credits unions were founded on and how that seems to be waning in popularity. Aside from some small, specific examples like Mt. Lehman and San Francisco Fire, most CU’s seem to be chasing the growth for growth’s sake model and going after everyone with a community charter.
During a conversation over dinner, a sporting goods store called REI came up. For those who have been to an REI, you know that it is probably one of the best customer-oriented store you’ve ever been to. What makes REI so special? They are manically driven by their products and their customers. Their staff uses their product. They know what works and what doesn’t. Their staff is very well educated for the department they work in. When you go to a Sports Authority, Foot Locker, Dick’s, or Joe’s, how many staff members at those stores can show you how to lace shoes differently to compensate for different shapes of feet or know how to measure your torso starting at your C7 vertebrae?
REI staff loves the outdoors, as do their customers. And it comes through dramatically when they are “selling” product. Walk into an REI, however, and you’ll never feel sold to because they are just trying to get more people to enjoy the outdoors.
So what makes REI so special and what can credit unions learn from them?
- REI knows who they are. Most credit unions do not. They are outdoor enthusiasts and love to help others get involved. They don’t try to be everything to everybody. They specialize in outdoor adventure and that’s it. CU’s need to figure out who they are if they haven’t already how they can meet the needs of their members.
- They have passion. They are passionate about helping people and the outdoors, not selling product. Their employees love what they do, they love what their products have to offer, and the love helping people. Getting passion for FI products it tough, but having passion for helping people fulfill their financial dreams is a different story.
- REI has the co-operative spirit. Check out the email I got from REI when my wife and I first joined. What’s the first thing you notice? I see welcome to your co-op, not the REI logo. The big part of REI membership: their 10% annual dividend. That makes being an REI member actually mean something. Not too many CU’s actually pay annual dividends anymore. Not only are there financial benefits, REI does a ton of charity work and stewardship activities that align with their customers.
Credit unions started as a cooperative venture, but so many CU’s are just converting to community charters and growing because they feel like they have to. Ron had a great post about our visit to Summit Brewing and some of the things CU’s could learn from them. Namely why they need a beer. Summit Brewing and REI make two great examples of companies that CU’s could learn a lot from. Along the way, CU’s have lost the cooperative spirit and we need to get it back if we want to survive, let alone thrive.