For Woodlands Bank, based in little, leafy Williamsport, there’s no place like home.
Led by CEO Jon P. Conklin, the bank communicates that “home-first” message through its social media accounts, new bank accounts, advertising and actions every day.
Recently, an intensive three-month “Go Local” campaign put an exclamation point on their efforts to urge customers to shop locally, give locally, and bank locally. With a reach that encompasses Lycoming and Clinton Counties, Woodlands’ effective marketing effort and charitable giving push won the $390 million-asset bank PACB’s ”Grow Your Community Award,” and an ICBA National Community Bank Service Award.
From April to June of this year, bank leaders reminded the residents of the Williamsport region – home to the Little League World Series and the natural-gas-rich Marcellus Shale rock formation – that money saved, spent and donated at home has a ripple effect that lifts all ships, creating local jobs, opportunities, prosperity and unity.
With its own hashtag, billboards, radio and newspaper ads, in-branch posters, car magnets and Facebook page, customers were attracted to open an account at the bank and to donate to charity at the same time. “Likes” on a Facebook page also sparked charitable donations.
The bank concentrated its stepped-up charitable efforts on four pillars, according to Marketing Manager LeeAnn Gephart: food, clothing, shelter and child development.
At the end of the three-month #GoLocal campaign, this cascade of giving included:
- 9,560 meals to the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank;
- 102 nights of shelter, care and food for displaced families of four to Family Promise of Lycoming County;
- 91 interview-ready outfits to support West End Christian Community Center (WECC); and
- 1,005 hours of extracurricular activities through funding of registration and equipment to In Your Shoes;
Gephart said that the “#GoLocal campaign” was created to “craft a definition of who the bank is and has been.”
This effort was just the latest reflection of the bank’s founding philosophy.
At 25 years old, the bank is one of Pennsylvania’s younger and more forward-thinking community banks. In 1989, area entrepreneurs saw that banks in the area were merging, engendering a disappointing deterioration in service. They aimed to offer the range of sophisticated products and services of the big banks, but with the faces you know in the little towns you love.
This dissatisfaction with the status quo and the desire for something better led to the opening of Woodlands Bank in 1990, with a name inspired by the area’s proud lumber heritage.
The bank’s commitment to excellence and its own home endures. After a quarter-century of operation, the bank was awarded a 5-star rating from Bauer Financial. And it has sprouted branches like the heartiest of trees. The bank now has eight locations, and a staff of over 100.
On Facebook, the bank explains: “Being a local Community Bank allows Woodlands Bank to be hands on with community impact. Over the last three months our #GoLocal campaign was wildly successful.”
Gephart said the Williamsport area remains “very rural,” despite the dawn of the Marcellus Shale gas industry. The glut of gas and the influx of new workers raised the cost of living as communities grew along with the industry. But despite the rosy economic forecasts, the streets of Williamsport are not lined with gold, as poverty remains as much a part of “Billtown” as the natural gas trapped within the fissures below the unspoiled earth’s surface.
But getting bigger has not erased the personal touch at Woodlands.
“We are a true local community bank for the communities we serve,” Gephart noted. “We have an ability that larger banks don’t have so it’s a great thing for us to capitalize on.”
When the award-winning #GoLocal campaign was launched on April 1st – April Fools Day – the bank gave away gift certificates to 40 merchants in the area who were bank customers, from florists and restaurants, to a stationary shop and arts center. Motorists with the popular #GoLocal car magnets got a $10 gift card to an ice cream parlor.
“It was such a great campaign. We worked to show the tangible benefit of the dollars given,” Gephart said, translating money into meals purchased, business suits worn, beds slept in, and shoes bought.
According to Gephart’s marketing plan, the campaign had “many moving parts,” which included a focus on “brand awareness, visibility, gaining a presence on social media, creating deeper relationships with existing customers, acquiring organic growth DDA accounts, and ultimately defining Woodlands as the bank of choice marrying our small business customers together through the #GoLocal movement.”
When a customer would open a checking account, they could choose the organization they wanted to support: Central Pennsylvania Food Bank; In Your Shoes, which helps kids in Clinton County with funding for Extra Curricular Activities; Family Promise housing center for homeless and displaced families; or WECC, which provides “interview-ready outfits” to job-seekers.
The campaign “came full circle” Gephart said, as businesses worked with the bank, and vice versa – while everyone joined forces to help those in need in their midst.
“Giving is not just a part-time thing,” Gephart said. “It is truly who we are every day.”
The bank plans to launch another “Go Local” campaign in the future as well.
Shelly Hepler, Vice-President and Community Banking Administration Manager, who has worked at Woodlands for 11 years, said, “We do so much. Honestly, there is so much!”
She especially appreciated the fact that as accounts were opened, customers could choose where the bank donated: “They get to choose the nonprofits that are of most interest to them.” Many customers had a personal link to the nonprofits they helped. Others learned of the charities for the first time.
“It’s been a joy!” Hepler said.
“We have always had the initiatives, but we have been fairly quiet,” Hepler said. This effort not only shone some light on their giving, but expedited the outreach and attention.
For the West End Christian Community Center, for example, Hepler said the nonprofit provides two outfits for men and women to interview in, and then job-seekers can purchase additional work clothes for an extremely inexpensive cost.
“Most of us give our extra clothes there as well,” noted Hepler, who also served on the board there, and whose mother-in-law currently serves.
She also embraces the mission of Family Promise. “If someone is displaced, Family Promise keeps the family together. Area churches provide meals.”
Hepler often cooks and serves Saturday night meals at Family Promise. They may even have a special pizza and wing night, with soda as a rare treat. She eats and plays games with them.
“You get to talk to people and you get to hear their story, and we share about ourselves,” she relayed.
The volunteers are very careful to “Never make them feel inferior because they are already going through an awful time in their life.” Confidentiality is also a must, as she has even seen people she knows there from the community who have fallen on hard times. Their privacy is protected with the utmost care.
The volunteers receive training. For example, they are discouraged from asking, “How did you get here?” Instead, they ask about the residents’ kids and may play basketball with them, depending on their age and abilities.
“#GoLocal allowed customers to choose and brought awareness to these nonprofits,” Hepler said. Many customers would even say, “I knew about the Salvation Army, but I didn’t even know WECC was there.”
“I personally had never heard of In Your Shoes,” where the current president is very involved.
Hepler worked at a big bank for 25 years before landing at Woodlands. “I feel so lucky working here.”
“It has a trickle-down effect,” she said.
She said in customer surveys ranking bank satisfaction, “The comments are over the top.” The feedback is almost 96 percent positive, as customers rate banking products and customer service.
On the question of “How likely would you be to recommend this bank to a friend?” she said, “Almost 100 percent said they would be ‘very likely’ to recommend us to a friend.”
“I am blessed to have this job to oversee all these offices and do what we know is right for our customers and be ingrained in the community as well.”
“We are always doing something,” Hepler said.
Other initiatives beside the #GoLocal campaign include an Out of the Darkness Walk spotlighting suicide prevention, a diabetes camp, a Geisinger Blood Drive, held in the bank’s basement in September, and a veterans effort that sends coveted items to our current military serving in Afghanistan.
The bank offers Friday Dress Down Days where employees make contributions of $2 for their local charity. The SPCA, the Clinton County Arts Council, Habitat for Humanity, and Crosscutters Baseball are also beneficiaries of this generosity.
“There’s always something going on there.”
“We really try to give customers what they need and do right by them–not to cross-sell. It’s a different world. It’s just a great place to work,” Hepler said.
John Engel, Commercial Lending Manager, who has been with the bank for nine years, said, “We work at the organizations we contribute to.”
For example, at the food bank, 13 of them went to package 400 boxes to help people in the community when “the food bank was under the gun.”
They also donate funds as individuals and as a bank, he said.
He cited Step, Inc. in Lycoming County, which gives funds to some 40 groups, including Meals on Wheels, and weatherization efforts.
Recently, the bank raffled off a car to raise funds, with the car parked on site to help sell tickets, as part of Customer Appreciation Days.
“We spotlight our customers so we can generate business for them.” Engel said.
“Local is important around here, and easier to do because we’re small. People are more receptive” than in sprawling, highly populated areas like Philadelphia, Engel said.
Jon Conklin, who also serves on the PACB Board, joined Woodlands in 2010 as the bank’s CFO, later being promoted to CEO in 2013. He came from the public accounting world before becoming CFO, doing audits and consulting.
“I really liked the bank, its culture, and how it is very connected to the community,” Conklin said, noting its strong and multi-dimensional relationships with businesses, consumers and nonprofits.
He also loved the humility of the bank. They didn’t ”pat themselves on the back. They were a very laid-back type of personality and atmosphere.”
“They did so much for the community but never touted it or tooted their own horn,” Conklin said.
After the financial crisis caused confusion among the public, Conklin explained that the bank decided to change the conversation. “The average person does not pay attention to banking, so you have to differentiate yourself.”
He knew the local edge was a true competitive plus. “Decisions are made locally and it is owned locally. You see the heads of the bank in the grocery store.”
LeeAnn was brought on as part of the strategic plan, to illustrate the values we have, he noted.
But this is not all marketing spin. Their work is real, he emphasized.
“Everybody is genuine and hard-working,” Conklin said. “We are authentic.”
“People see through it if they don’t see it as genuine. That is why people connect with us,” Conklin said.
“Success comes from the founders and their values. We are as blue-collar as you can get for a financial institution. It’s not a stuffy environment. The lenders are approachable and down to earth,” Conklin said.
“People say, ‘It’s a breath of fresh air’” here, Conklin noted.
And while the bank is laid-back, the pressure to reach their personal and professional goals is high, albeit mostly self-driven. Each employee strives for their own personal best.
And the bank’s giving attitude pervades every aspect of their lives, both on the job and after-hours.
For the Little League capital of the world, Woodlands’ “#GoLocal” message is having a major-league impact on their corner of the field.