John Wenstrand, a customer of Malvern Bank for more than 16 years, credits the community bank with a back-to-basics approach that helped him launch his business and get him through the pandemic’s uncertainty.
By Roshan McArthur
As COVID-19 began to spread across the country, John’s Heating & A/C Services, the company John Wenstrand started 11 years ago, faced an existential crisis. As clients cancelled orders and work had to change to accommodate social distancing, Wenstrand had to assess how to move forward.
That’s where Malvern Bank came in. A family-owned, $160 million-asset community bank, it has served Malvern, Iowa, and the surrounding rural community since 1892. In July 2009, Wenstrand, who had already been a customer for several years, got to know the bank’s no-nonsense approach further when he decided to start his own HVAC business. Concerned about straining his family’s finances, he contacted Allen Burdic, the bank’s former president, for some advice.
“I had no clue about how to start a business,” Wenstrand says. “I had nothing. I had a five-gallon bucket of tools. That’s all I owned personally. Now, I’ve got to get a truck and I’ve got to get equipment, I’ve got to get someone to sell me furnaces, I’ve got to establish credit with vendors and wholesalers. I didn’t know what I was doing, so I had to go seek out someone who did.”
He spoke to Burdic at length. “I kept wanting to skip forward to ‘show me the money,’” Wenstrand laughs, “and he kept reverting back to the basics: ‘You need a shop. You need a truck. How are you going to reach your customers? You don’t have any right now. How are you going to get some?’”
Burdic gave Wenstrand a calendar and circled a date three weeks in the future, telling him to come back then. “On that date,” Wenstrand says, “I called him up, scared out of my wits, and said, ‘Can I talk to you now?’ I asked him, ‘What’s up with this calendar thing?’ He said, ‘It takes three weeks—21 days—to start a habit or quit a habit, and if you came crawling back to me after three weeks, that tells me that you’re pretty interested and it’s not just a whim.’”
The strength of a small community bank
Wenstrand continues to follow Burdic’s advice, which was to minimize borrowing, especially credit cards and store credit. He keeps his borrowing at the bank, so he can see how much he owes and can dial back spending if needed.
Burdic’s son, Jay Burdic, now runs Malvern Bank with that same back-to-basics approach. When the pandemic hit, Wenstrand was reluctant to borrow money, but he didn’t want to let any on his team go. He called the community bank, and EVP/chief lending officer Kate McGann told him about the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP).
“It happened so fast,” Wenstrand says. “I told our oldest daughter, Kassie, who runs our office, to get hold of Kate. Then the whirlwind started. Holy cow, the email exchange between Kassie and Kate, filling out forms … then all of a sudden, change of plan. It changed every three or four hours. Finally, it all got done.”
McGann remembers the whirlwind all too clearly. “With the PPP, we weren’t even sure when the program rolled out that it was something we could handle or manage, just because we’re a small bank,” she says.
But, she acknowledges, it was important for bank customers to get those funds so that they could weather the uncertainty. “At that point, our decision was made for us, because we obviously weren’t going to let those businesses fail or go without, just because we didn’t have adequate resources with a small staff,” McGann says. “It’s really important to us to make sure that our customers feel heard and helped.”
Jay Burdic credits the Malvern Bank team with educating themselves about the program quickly and reaching out to customers. “From a customer service standpoint,” he says, “a bank our size, with only 24 employees, we basically had three people in the bank who were administering these loans, and they worked night and day to process them for people.
“The thing I took away from it,” he adds, “is that small banks handle things like this better. That’s what small banks are. We are customer-service oriented. This program played right to our strengths.”
“You’ll never be able to purchase service on Amazon. A drone’s not going to drop it off. … That’s what keeps our rural area alive.”
—John Wenstrand, John’s Heating & A/C Services
Wenstrand’s business started picking up again, and he didn’t have to lay off any employees. In fact, the day after the company’s loan, he and his team went into Malvern Bank and fixed the heating and cooling systems. “We’ve had an incredible May, June, July and August—the best ever in business,” he notes.
Wenstrand thanks the community bank for being there to support him when he needed it most.
“When I started the business, one of my goals was to provide something that you cannot buy on the internet, and that is service,” he says. “You’ll never be able to purchase service on Amazon. A drone’s not going to drop it off. Malvern Bank provides great service that you can’t get on the internet. That’s what keeps our rural area alive.”
Roshan McArthur is a writer in California.