Happy Hour at the Branch

Contributing Writer

2 minutes

O Bee Credit Union honors its roots and mingles with members.

Hosting after-hours beer tastings is a way for O Bee Credit Union to pay tribute to its roots and to change the way members think about their local branch.

“It becomes an inviting place for members to mingle and socialize,” says Lee Wojnar, VP/marketing of the Tumwater, Wash., credit union, which was founded to serve Olympia Brewing Co. employees and their families. Olympia has since been sold to Pabst, but the credit union still embraces its logo and the Pacific Northwest’s reputation for nurturing craft and micro-breweries.

In fact, Wojnar credits O Bee CU’s celebration of its ties to the brewing industry with the credit union’s doubling in asset size to $255 million over the past five years. The members-only beer tastings featuring a different brewery at each event and spirits from Sandstone Distilling evoke how once-popular Olympia plant tours ended in its tasting room.

To comply with state liquor license and branch occupancy rules, the credit union opens its free beer-tasting events to a limited number of members who sign up online on a first-come, first-served basis. Since the first tasting this spring, O Bee CU has learned to keep several pour stations operating so members don’t need to stand in a long single line to try different beers, he notes.

Members can sample beers and take home “swag” from the credit union and brewery featured in the event. The happy hours have been held at several branches and will likely be scheduled as new locations open as a way to connect with local breweries—and their customer base. 

“It’s a chance to get up-and-coming brewers some exposure” and to underscore the credit union’s connection to the industry, Wojnar adds. “By taking care of brewery workers, we’ve been very successful. By hosting these tastings, we’re changing members’ image of what a financial institution can be—and we’re helping local small businesses in the bargain. Starbucks has its coffee, O Bee has our beer.”

Karen Bankston is a longtime contributor to Credit Union Management and writes about credit unions, membership growth, marketing, operations and technology. She is the proprietor of Precision Prose, Eugene, Ore.

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