The In-Person Touch

As the pandemic threatens traditional storefronts, some companies stand by their IRL locations

Long before COVID-19, many if not most companies had already begun to move their business online. Six months of quarantine and stay-at-home orders only served to heighten a shift that was already happening nationwide. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. re- tail e-commerce sales for the second quarter of 2020 were up $211 billion—nearly 32%—from the first quarter of 2020. Yet total retail sales in the United States were down 4%.

In an era when virtually anything can be bought on Amazon—including groceries—and attorneys, doctors and accountants all offer their services over Zoom, do some industries still benefit from actual storefronts?

Yes, said Joseph Catti, founder, CEO and president of FineMark National Bank & Trust. FineMark recently completed building its three-story, 60,000-square-foot headquarters at the corner of Winkler and College in Fort Myers. That’s a bold step when a recent American Bankers Association survey found that two-thirds of Americans use online and mobile banking as their primary banking channel. But FineMark believes the new building is the right move. “It can’t all be done remotely,” Catti says.

The new bank’s first floor is dedicated to general banking with traditional teller windows. “We want to make things convenient for our clients from a technology standpoint,” Catti says, “but that doesn’t replace person-to-person contact in our business.”

The building also has conference rooms, private dining rooms and a large community room. It even has a full commercial kitchen. Why? It was built for entertainment—private lunches for FineMark’s clients, fundraisers for community organizations, meetings for nonprofits. All of this, Catti believes, is essential to FineMark’s operations. “We’re in a business where personal relationships are paramount to what we do,” he says. “Historically—and I believe it will stand true going forward—developing strong personal relationships requires personal contact.”

This is a lesson that can benefit many local businesses. Successful small retailers often say that they’re not trying to compete with the big-box stores or online shops—they can’t. Their goal is to carve out a niche for themselves in the local market, and that means building relationships that go beyond the purely transactional. A brick-and-mortar location is essential to that process.

But it doesn’t end there. A traditional storefront also has the power to send an important signal. When FineMark built its original building in 2007, the bank chose to lay 6-foot slabs of granite across the lobby floor. “We wanted to make sure that there was a substantial foundation when people came into the building,” Catti says. “That’s especially important when you’re dealing with people’s financial assets.”

Though some industries can dodge this need for gravitas, others are still beholden to traditional perceptions. For them, a website alone just won’t cut it. That’s what FineMark is banking on.

Sanibel Captiva Community Bank opened its eighth location, the Bridge Branch, in July at 9311 College Parkway in Fort Myers. The $5 million newly renovated building is the bank’s largest branch in Lee County, comprising 16,000 square feet, and one of six branches that are located off Sanibel Island.

Cogent Bank opened a 2,500-square-foot de novo, full-service community banking office in August at 14421 Metro Ave., Ste. 102, in Fort Myers. A second location is planned for Naples during the first half of 2021, pending regulatory approval.

Fifth Third Bank is developing a new 1,819-square-foot branch office with a drive-thru at 2898 Tamiami Trail E. in the Bayshore area of East Naples, and has redevelopment projects in the works for two other new offices in the city of Naples.

PNC Bank recently converted the former Preston’s Steakhouse into a new branch office on the southeast corner of U.S. 41 and First Avenue South in downtown Naples.

 

Photo Credit: Getty