Residents of Murray, Ky., are screaming for ice cream because of their town’s community bank. The Murray Bank’s Ice Cream Machine gets employees out in the community to hand out sweet treats and put a smile on people’s faces, one cone at a time.
By Roshan McArthur
Two years ago, Tim Stark, vice president of marketing at $319 million-asset The Murray Bank in Murray, Ky., had a great idea. Who doesn’t like ice cream? And, better still, who doesn’t like free ice cream? Inspired by his friends at Paducah Bank in nearby Paducah, Ky., which had been rolling up to customers’ events for a decade in its Wow! Wagon, Stark decided to buy an ice cream truck.
“I thought we could do something at Murray that was different but still use the same idea, maybe make it a little bit bigger, a little bit better, just make it our own,” he says.
He took the idea to The Murray Bank’s president and CEO, Bob Hargrove, and together they pitched it to the marketing committee. Everyone agreed it would be a great way of reaching out to the community: an ice cream truck that could be booked for events, where volunteers would hand out free ice cream to customers and noncustomers alike.
That’s how the TMB Ice Cream Machine was born. “We thought it would be successful,” Hargrove says, “but we didn’t jump in head first. Initially, we just bought a trailer, like a concession stand trailer, and we would usually pull it with my vehicle because it was the heaviest vehicle we had!”
“There’s never a bad day to hand out ice cream. I’ve never been to an event where I left without a smile on my face.”
—Tim Stark, The Murray Bank
They stocked it with prepackaged ice cream sandwiches, ice pops and other treats, and asked the community bank’s 80 employees to help pass them out. “I was a little bit leery at first about how much we would be asked to bring it out,” Stark says. “We knew people would like it, but we didn’t know exactly how well it would be received within the community and, on top of that, how many employees would want to do it.
“But overwhelmingly,” he laughs, “this has been one of the easiest things to get our employees to sign up to do. It has been phenomenal to watch them jump on board, kind of make it their own.”
Putting smiles on customers’ and employees’ faces
At the end of the Ice Cream Machine’s first year, it had shown up at 160 events, sometimes two or three a day, and The Murray Bank had given out treats to more than 1,500 people. So, the bank decided to invest in a commercial van with its own freezers.
The initiative proved to be a great way of promoting Murray Bank’s mission. “One of our core values is to be engaged in the community in which we live,” Stark says, “so we want our employees to be out, and we encourage that.”
A form on the community bank’s website lets anyone within the area request the Ice Cream Machine for an event. In the two years since it launched, Stark has only had to turn down one request, because it clashed with church on Sunday. They’re trying to reschedule it.
“People don’t usually invite banks to hang out with them at vacation Bible schools or community nights, but this is a way that we can be a part of those events,” he says. “We interact with customers or future customers. Obviously, we’re not pushing bank products at those events. We’re just having a good time handing out ice cream, and hopefully those good-time interactions lead to someone either banking with us or continuing to bank with us.”
Take the man who had just moved to Murray. He visited the Ice Cream Machine and then took out a sizable loan the next day. Or the little boy who came to the community bank with his mother and his piggy bank. His mom pulled Stark aside and told him, “I want you to know that I bank at another bank, but my son came home the other day and said, ‘I want to go to The Murray Bank and open an account because they gave me ice cream.’”
It’s this appeal to the younger generation that Hargrove loves about the Ice Cream Machine. “You’ve got to figure out ways to reach them and reel them in as customers,” he says. “It’s opening doors. It’s not only got us into some places that we might not have been in before, but it’s also got our employees out in the community and got their faces out before people as well. It’s been hugely successful for us.”
Stark, who attends more than half of the Ice Cream Machine events, agrees that it has surpassed their expectations.
“There’s never a bad day to hand out ice cream,” he says. “I’ve never been to an event where I left without a smile on my face. And sometimes I find myself eating a few too many. We might need to speak to HR about getting us all gym memberships!”
Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.