• Home Case Study: Ohio Heritage Bank
  • Project overview
    8,400 square foot, $1,200,000
    bank branch
    Ohio Heritage Bank
    B.A. Widder Architectural Services
  • Case Study: Ohio Heritage Bank

    In times of crisis, there’s no greater comfort than home. Consider the aftermath of the financial meltdown: it rocked the banking and financial industry, toppled once seemingly unassailable brands and ushered in an era of unprecedented weekly bank failures – 150 banks in 2009 alone.

    For small and stable community banks, this turmoil created an opportunity to emphasize their familiar hometown feel.

    Ohio Heritage Bank’s newest location in Heath, Ohio, built by Robertson Construction in 2009, creates the warm, inviting feelings of home. It also represents a stake in the community for the steadily growing bank brand founded in Coshocton in 1995.

    “People are looking for safety and security and where do they get that feeling? At home,” said Renee Brown,banking officer and manager. “They also feel at home going to a branch where they know they can find the bank president if they want to.”

    Christian Robertson, president and CEO of Robertson Construction, one of Ohio’s fastest-growing, locally based construction firms, agrees that the physical environment of a bank branch can play an influential role in easing the sense of vulnerability consumers may feel in this current economic environment.

    Brown adds: “The building is a representation of who we are. Not only is it comfortable, but it completes our whole persona as a bank. We wanted customers to walk in and feel welcomed. The comment we hear the most is that it feels like a custom built home.”

    Indeed, the open and airy design features high-end finishes and beautiful wood frames and doors, the location is more than a branch, operating instead as a satellite headquarters outpost in Licking County. There’s a spiral staircase with white-painted spindles that match the pillars leading into the conference room. A kids’ area includes a TV and coloring books and crayons. A fireplace is surrounded by lush, comfy chairs.

    “So many bank branches today were built in the ‘60s and ‘70s. They were small with a little parking lot and built with the bare minimum,” said vice president, Marty Merryman, who joined Ohio Heritage Bank in 2003 after working in both small community banks and a large, super-regional. “We wanted to build more than just your average 1,200 square foot bank branch. We wanted the people of Heath to feel like this is their main office bank.”

    Yet, how do you add the extras without breaking the bank? “It’s critical to find a construction partner that takes an efficient approach to building,” said Robertson, noting that the lead-time on a new bank location—from concept to grand opening—ranges from 18-24 months and represents a substantial financial investment. Robertson completed the Heath location on time and on budget.

    “The nice thing about this collaborative process—with the architect, the builder and the bank—is that it wasa very open relationship,” Merryman said. “Robertson joined the team early in the process and their project manager would often make suggestions to improve the efficiency or cost-effectiveness of the project. There was a true give-and-take between the architect and the construction firm—none of that good-guy/bad-guy wrangling between them. They kept things going smoothly and I felt it was a benefit to us. It was a pleasant experience.”

    Robertson credits the smooth flow of the project to the similar cultures of the bank and the construction firm he founded in 1997. “We love working with small, regional banks. They appreciate the level of craftsmanshipand efficiency we bring to the project,” Robertson said. “We run our business on the same values they do, the kind that will never go out of style – hard work and a commitment to always keeping customers first.”

    So far, the comfortable, inviting design has helped the branch grow, yet retain its existing culture and feel. “You can walk into any Ohio Heritage Bank and get the same feel. That’s so critical to maintain,” Brown said. “You’ve got to have that synchronicity among all the offices and Robertson captured that here. This was the first time we used Robertson as a builder, yet they delivered exactly what we were after.”

    Despite the industry maxim that it takes two years before a bank branch becomes profitable, within six months of its opening in April of 2009, the Heath location exceeded expectations in deposits and loans. Ohio Heritage Bank has benefited from the fast growth sweeping through Licking County; the county clocked in a 7.4 percent population surge from 2000 to 2006 and its 2010 population will top 161,279, according to estimates, making it the ninth fastest-growing county in Ohio.

    This boom has fueled Ohio Heritage Bank’s growth to its current six-location presence in the region. In 2006, the bank opened two new offices, one in Newark and another in Mount Vernon, followed by the Heath opening in April 2009. The bank continues to look for new communities to serve, but don’t expect to see Ohio Heritage Bank expand to Columbus. “We don’t want to go head-to-head with the big boys,” said Merryman. “For instance, small business lending is frequently ignored by large institutions—especially the $100k - $250k loan—and that’s our cup of tea.”