Ed Gillikin and Dave Helmholdt decided in 1985 that they wanted to move from their rented space and purchase a building to relocate their auto service shop, Ed & Dave’s Auto Service. The two decided to talk to a commercial loan officer at United Bank.
They chose Ken Stienstra, who at the time was a commercial banker, to assist them in their application for a construction loan and an SBA term loan.
After receiving the mortgage on the building and paying it off nearly four years early, the pair decided to do something a little out of the ordinary to celebrate.
“I have been here 20 years and have never done anything like this,” said Stienstra, senior vice president of United Bank of Michigan.
“But this is a very rare relationship and something we wanted to celebrate in a memorable way.”
Stienstra said Gillikin and Helmholdt called him and told him they were about ready to make their final mortgage payment — early, too — and wanted to do something to commemorate the event.
“I called the bank and said that I was ready to make my last payment and that I was interested in burning the original papers.
“Ken said he had never done anything like that before but he would try to get the original documents and come on out here,” said Helmholdt, who is co-owner of Ed & Dave’s.
However, burning the original papers wasn’t the most unique part of the mortgage. Helmholdt and Gilikin say what has been important to them through the 20-year life of that loan was the relationship they had built with Stienstra.
The world of banking seems to be synonymous these days with mergers, acquisitions, enormity and change in general. While staying with the same loan officer is not unheard of, it is rare, Stienstra said.
“It is always a pain for small business owners to have more than one loan officer because you have to retrain them and tell your story again,” he said.
“I think it is probably not as rare in a small bank as it in a large bank. In a larger bank they often train their credit analysts and then move their credit analysts into lender positions, and then smaller accounts get shoved off to the junior lenders.
“Our philosophy has kind of been to keep the same loan officer for a while because that is what small businesses like.”
And he said it also helps the continued banking relationship in terms of speed and accountability.
“If there was any piece of equipment we needed, or money, or we were going to go to an auction and we needed them to say our check was OK for a certain amount, it was a phone call away,” Helmholdt said.
“You call him up and say, ‘Ken, I’m going to an auction,’ and he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll fax you over a letter,’ or if it was a credit line, or if we’d say, ‘Ken, we are going to put another hoist in,’ he’d say, ‘OK, I’ll be in with the paperwork in a few days and have you sign it.’
“ It was the personal, one-on-one service we received from him and the bank.”
Starting out in a rented space about a mile and a half from where they are today, Helmholdt and Gillikin remembered that the phone deposit was $100 and had to be put on Helmholdt’s credit card.
“We have really built this business every inch of the way over the past 20 years,” Helmholdt said.
“We have loyal customers and even Ken is a customer and comes in on a regular basis.
“ We have a lot of people from the bank come in for service. I think it helps that our philosophies echo each other, and we both value, honest, personal service.”