Retail stores, from clothing outlets to grocery chains, are very mindfully designed and laid out. The color scheme, lighting, graphics, furniture, merchandising of products and even the flooring; it’s all part of creating an environment conducive to sales. So why not the same careful planning, interior design, architecture and retail merchandising in the case of a bank or credit union? That’s the same thought process Richard Grow, president of Cincinnati-based DEI Incorporated (DEI), had in the early 1990s when he realized a void in the financial institution marketplace.
“DEI has been around since 1985,” shares Grow. “We started as a small regional company supplying bank equipment. After a few years we got into construction and by the early 1990s DEI went from a regional firm to a national provider of design-build for banks and credit unions.”
Tricks of the trade with a new application
In an effort to set DEI apart from the rest of the crowd, Grow started researching retail merchandising and how it could apply to a financial institution. “We needed to find a way to set ourselves apart so we turned to retail strategies,” he explains. “We started asking questions; how do you attract a customer from the outside and once they’re in, how do you entice them into other services as you would in a retail store?”
Using retail tricks of the trade as a guideline, DEI began changing the banking business for the better. “We put the teller counter at the back of the space, very much like a supermarket puts the bread and the milk at the back of the store,” compares Grow. “When the customer wanders through, they pass points of interest and services they might not be aware are offered by their financial institution.”
By the mid-1990s, DEI’s innovative concept began receiving accolades from the financial industry. “We were the first to receive awards for retail merchandising in a financial environment,” Grow shares. “The design concept builds business and essentially pays for the building and construction for our clients.”
An expert team
Today, DEI’s specialties lie in retail design and all aspects of facility planning. “Our niche is not just construction but what attracts people in, from the lighting at night to signage,” Grow explains. “We educate customers through visuals and entice them to use other services.”
However, having an idea is one thing; execution is another. Grow needed a team of experts to grow DEI with him. “Early on in my career, I met people from different parts of life that worked for retail corporations,” he recalls. “I hired people who understood how to design retail space and how to affect the buyer inside the space.”
DEI now employs a talented, close-knit team of 32 professionals, working on a nationwide basis. “My lead architect has traveled the U.S. and the world designing retail and amusement parks,” reveals Grow.
Grow also hired Andrea Simler-DeGolier, now head of retail design and concept development for DEI, around the same time. “She has traveled the U.S., designing Polo-Ralph Lauren [PRL] stores and managing the PRL creative team for 16 years,” Grow explains. “This experience garners an understanding as to what attracts consumers and what makes people want to buy.”
“We’re a small team, but we’re really efficient because we have all worked together for years,” adds Simler-DeGolier. “From our project managers to site managers and design teams, we have all disciplines under one roof, including architecture, construction, retail and interior, graphic design, equipment and strategic planning.”
Function, flow and regional design
DEI delivers strategic planning, brand implementation, retail concept design, interior design, architecture and construction while turning a project into a growth opportunity. “Every project we do is unique and custom designed,” explains Grow. “We don’t just work with the major banks, we work with smaller regional banks and credit unions who want to attract more customers and members. We help them answer critical questions, such as who are their customers and what services do they want, while focusing on the regional aspect of the area and the environment.”
For smaller banks and credit unions, the local community truly makes the business a success and DEI’s creative team realizes that significant factor in creating a branch that fits the setting. In the case of Kansas-based Meritrust Credit Union (MCU), DEI was tasked to develop two rebranded branches with a more contextual feel.
“We designed the first branch for MCU, which was previously Boeing Credit Union in 2009,” reveals Simler-DeGolier. “Our design team created a very different concept for the upcoming 2014 branch, factoring in the new brand standards. A red Meritrust focal wall in the center of the facility displays video merchandising; visuals of elements indigenous to the community are featured as a suspended element over the lobby area. We also focused on hospitality seating solutions, which offer built in charger stations and sets the tone for a contemporary approach.”
“Normally when you go into a financial institution there is a physical barrier, that being the teller line,” continues Simler-DeGolier. “We created dialogue teller pods, taking the barrier away to make for a more personable, comfortable relationship building platform.”
At Michigan-based Lake Trust Credit Union (LTCU), DEI formed another prototype, this time focusing on using lighting to the advantage. “LTCU recently underwent a major merger with a large credit union and rebranded,” explains Simler-DeGolier. “For the interior and exterior design, our team took cues from the Michigan Lakes community, from log walls to glowing aesthetics reminiscent of lighthouses.”
DEI illuminated LTCU with more effective nighttime exposure. “Your building is essentially your billboard,” examines Simler-DeGolier. “We help clients take advantage of really good lighting and graphic placement to speak to customers at night, as well as in the day.”
A cohesive unit
From a few branches at a time to 36, DEI can carefully execute a range of projects. In the case of Ohio-based Peoples Bank (Peoples), the company was tasked to deliver the brand implementation offering for 36 branches.
“Peoples needed a strong brand identity to unify all 36 branches,” explains Simler-DeGolier. “Before, there was a myriad of architectural styles, from historic property to old houses; the challenge was to take all of the branches and create a prototype that delivers a cohesive retail environment and brand experience.”
Simler-DeGolier and the design team start the prototype design process, meeting and brainstorming with the new brand guidelines to select everything from the color palette to flooring, textiles and furniture profiles to a graphics package and custom-designed casework. “Once you have the prototype, you have the tools to make the branches look consistent,” she explains. “Part of the process involves meeting and interviewing the branch staff. We’ve discovered it’s important to listen to their ideas and feedback and get people within the organization excited for the brand implementation change. When all was said and done, DEI turned overall 36 branches for Peoples in just one year and three months.”
Regardless, DEI doesn’t stop there. Grow says part of DEI’s process is to go back and have clients answer a 15-question survey after a project’s completion. “We want feedback from the customer’s perception,” he adds. “We use the feedback for a bonus program to reward our employees for a job well done.”
After 28 years, the nation’s banks and credit unions would certainly agree DEI has delivered a job well done. With one of the best teams in the industry, DEI Incorporated develops unique, retail-driven facilities that foster a positive well-branded sales environment for customer’s growth and success.
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