With membership rates up, O Bee Credit Union has been steadily growing, opening new branches in the South Sound, the latest of which is set to open in Yelm in October.
For each of the last three years, its membership has grown about 12 percent, which is double the rate of other local credit unions and four times the rate of those nationally, said O Bee’s vice president of marketing, Lee Wojnar.
“We’re in the top three percent of credit unions in the entire country for membership growth,” he said.
Wojnar credits the nonprofit’s success in recent years to the revival of its heritage – the credit union began as the Olympia Brewing Company Employees and Families Credit Union in 1955. All four of the existing branches are being remodeled to reflect the company’s local history and the Yelm location, which will open in a former Blockbuster building, will also feature the new branding.
“Before, we didn’t embrace our heritage,” said Wojnar. “Now, if you come into one of the branches, you’ll see the builders of the brew house from the turn of the century. A lot of people like that. It kind of resonates.”
Wojnar said the company is investing in its branches, because brick-and-mortars are still important to its business.
“You do need a presence in the community, even though the younger generations won’t come into the branch,” Wojnar said. “It shows you are rooted in the community.”
Other local credit unions, like BECU, have taken a similar strategy of increasing its footprint with more, smaller locations, he noted.
The company is hiring four locals to staff the new approximately 2,500-square-foot branch.
Along with the October opening, O Bee will launch a collection of heritage debit cards, featuring the old brew house, the classic blue and orange Olympia logos and the logo for Rainier beer, which was also brewed in the old Olympia Brewery.
“We’re tying it back into our tradition and our values here at the credit union,” Wojnar said. “The Rainier brand (and) the Olympia brand are iconic in the state of Washington. People reminisce. When you talk about ,’Hey, when did you have your first beer?’ (people say) ‘Oh, I had it with my dad.'”