WANT CDs WITH YOUR SALAMI? 1st National banks on 3 new branches in supermarkets

November 20, 1992|By David Conn | David Conn,Staff Writer

FREDERICK -- The days when Maryland grocery shoppers couldn't do their banking at the supermarket now are fading into ancient history -- two days of history, actually.

Yesterday was the grand opening of First National Bank of Maryland's full-service branches in three Weis supermarkets in Frederick. But two of the branches had been open a day or two before the hoopla of yesterday's three ribbon-cutting ceremonies.

The experience so far, according to First National officials, has been encouraging. "We're seeing customers are warm," said William H. Cole III, head of the bank's retail sales division, which includes the supermarket branches. "They're very enthusiastic and they're inquisitive."

And they're opening up accounts and filling out loan applications, he said.

That's the goal. Banks outside Maryland have been in supermarkets for years, and in growing numbers -- 1,100 last year, according to the Food Marketing Institute. But many have floundered under the weight of too many costly check-cashing transactions and too few profitable sales, such as auto and home equity loans.

And many bankers have failed to match the aggressive marketing practiced every day in the typical grocery store. First National is working to avoid that pitfall. Its Amber Meadows branch, was festooned with balloons galore yesterday, and decked out in bright reds, blues and a white neon sign proclaiming "Full Service Bank."

Some of the shoppers at the Frederick store, one of 11 Weis markets in Maryland and 127 in the region, were impressed with the new addition. "You can come to the grocery store and borrow for a car at the same time," said Careth McClain, sounding much like a commercial.

"Nine times out of 10 I have to stop at an ATM machine anyway" before grocery shopping, said the Harpers Ferry, W. Va., resident, who drives 27 miles to Frederick because her mother likes the store.

Others were a bit taken aback. "I think it would be fine for most people, but not for me," said Janet Cramer, a school system employee.

Likewise, Nancy Helsel said she felt a bit put off. "We have a bank [safety deposit] box" at her traditional bank branch, she said. "I don't know if I'd feel comfortable about having one in a grocery store."

She needn't fear that her jewels would be stored on ice in the freezer section. Weis has carved out 400- to 500-square-foot spaces for First National, enough room for vaults holding safe deposit boxes.

But hers is the kind of attitude First National employees will have to overcome, a task they say they relish.

The bank, which is owned by First Maryland Bancorp in Baltimore, is being advised in this venture by National Commerce Bank Services Inc., a Memphis, Tenn., banking company that has created a side business of running and advising banks in supermarkets.

Shoppers are "not necessarily in the mind-set to go buy financial products," said Charles W. Ogilvie III, a National Commerce vice president who helped train the First National employees. "So the training is aimed at listening, developing a rapport, and maybe uncovering a need."

"The basic concept of the training," Mr. Cole said, "is to think like a grocer, market like a grocer, know how to market in a grocery store."

So pass the CDs, please.

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