Peach State Bank & Trust has been there for small business customers John Baxter and Ben Filchak for years. When their landscaping company was threatened by COVID-19, the community bank came through with a vital Paycheck Protection Program loan.
By Roshan McArthur
John Baxter and Ben Filchak met in kindergarten and have been friends ever since. Today, the two own Deep Roots Landscape, LLC, a full-service landscaping company in Gainesville, Ga., with 35 employees. They have an additional long-term partnership in $394 million-asset Peach State Bank & Trust, to which they turned when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.
For Filchak and Baxter, their long friendship makes their business partnership even stronger. “Looking back on my childhood,” Filchak says, “John’s always been in it. We’ve always been extremely close friends. We have pictures from elementary school when he was a foot taller than me. We used to split wood in high school, and as soon as we could drive, we would fill up the back of my truck and go sell firewood, cut lawns and stuff like that.”
Putting down roots
Straight out of college in 2010, Baxter took this enthusiasm for outdoor work and used his newly acquired business management degree to set up Deep Roots. A year later, he persuaded Filchak, recently graduated with a marketing degree from the same college, to join him.
When he started the business, Baxter was using a national bank. In 2010, it gave him a loan to get his first truck. The rate was high, however, so he spoke to his sister, Elizabeth Baxter, who works at Peach State Bank & Trust. Soon, Baxter refinanced with the community bank. “I wanted to go with a community bank from what I’d heard from other small business owners,” he says. “Sometimes it’s a better fit, because they know your financial situation a little bit better than a national bank would.”
In such a close-knit community, banking with Peach State Bank & Trust made sense to Filchak, too. “I really liked the people [at Peach State Bank] and had known some of them for years, even the president [Ron Quinn],” he says. “I went to school with his kids. It kind of felt like family. We can just call or text or walk in, and they know who you are and say hello. You have no trouble getting anything you need, whether it’s a line of credit or setting up a new account.”
A few years later, Baxter went as far as chairing Peach State Bank & Trust’s Future Leaders Board to encourage younger members of the community to join the community bank. Once, he even found his face on one of the community bank’s billboards.
A moment of crisis
Deep Roots has gone from success to success and recently celebrated its 10-year anniversary, albeit under unexpected circumstances. In April, the business was rocked by the sudden economic downturn. “When the pandemic hit,” Baxter says, “Ben and I had a discussion about what we needed to do. We figured the economy was going to get in pretty bad shape at some point, so we set a lot of options on the table.”
Filchak recalls feeling nervous. “Some of the commercial accounts that we handle reached out to us and said, ‘We’re shutting our doors for April, so we need to suspend service.’ Then we started having residential customers saying, ‘Hey, monetarily I need to cancel right now.’”
One of the first things they did was contact Peach State Bank & Trust, which had been feeding them information about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). Andy Stewart, their longtime loan officer at the community bank, recalls the situation at the bank. “When the legislation passed, the last Friday in March, I remember it vividly,” Stewart says. “Boy, we put in some long hours, even weekend hours, for the next two weeks until we got people in here to sign their loan documents.
“We want to help them so that, in turn, they can focus on their customers. That was the key thing for us.”
—Andy Stewart, Peach State Bank & Trust
“We’re all about helping people out as best we can, so we were going to stay as late as we needed to, work as many hours as we had to, to make sure that our customers were taken care of.”
Baxter is pleased to report that, with the help of Heather Wilbanks, a vice president at the bank, the PPP loan went through without any issues, and Deep Roots Landscape was able to stay afloat. In fact, it eventually took on five more employees. “Having the loan in place to provide some certainty for our guys has been really, really good,” he says.
Filchak agrees. “Having a bank that’s been able to stand behind us and say, ‘We’re rooting for you guys,’ has been huge.”
For Stewart, it’s been a matter of supporting Deep Roots like Peach State Bank does for all its customers. “We want to help them so that, in turn, they can focus on their customers,” he says. “That was the key thing for us.”
Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.