Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms Promoted to Assistant Vice President at Merchants Bank in Onalaska

Dawn Garms, Mortgage Lender

Mortgage Lender Dawn Garms has been promoted to Assistant Vice President, according to Steve Christiansen, Merchants Bank President in Onalaska and La Crescent.

“Dawn’s people first attitude has helped her customers get into the homes that are right for them,” Christiansen said. “She does everything she can for her customers, and that has helped Dawn be successful.”

Garms joined Merchants in 2013, after spending a dozen years with another organization serving customers. She has consistently been one of the top mortgage lenders in the Merchants organization, building a broad referral network and consistently receiving high marks from her customers for her service to them.

“I know that buying a home can be stressful, and there are so many things for someone to think about. My goal is to take care of my customers from the start of the process to beyond the end of it,” Garms said. “If they have a question, I am there with the answer.”

Garms is an active member of the La Crosse Area Builders Association, La Crosse Area Realtors Association and La Crosse Area Chamber of Commerce, where she serves as an Ambassador. She is a graduate of Northern Iowa University, where she majored in Finance and minored in Real Estate.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its location in Onalaska. Minnesota locations include La Crescent, Winona, St. Charles, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has another Wisconsin location in Eau Claire. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Meet Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender and Home Loan Expert

Tina MuellerGet to know Tina Mueller, Mortgage Lender at Merchants Bank in Onalaska.When did you start your banking career?

Tina: I started in 1992, and I came to Merchants Bank in Onalaska in 2005. I’ve been a personal banker, consumer loan officer, branch manager and of course a mortgage lender. I have always worked for a community bank; I believe in local decision making as key decisions are made locally by people who live and work in the community.

What is your best banking tip?

Tina: The best thing people can do is develop a good credit rating. Be diligent about spending and make your monthly payments on time. Having a major credit card from your local bank is a great way to establish credit and paying off the balance in full each month is a good way to develop a credit rating. It is important to maintain a good credit rating to have a chance at obtaining the best rates possible on loans when they go to make a major purchase like a car or a home.

My coworkers have put together a great video series on building a good credit rating: Watch here.

What’s one thing your mom or dad taught you about money?

Tina: One thing my parents taught me about money is how to save, which was huge. My first job was when I was in high school and the rule was if I was going to work, half of my pay check had to go into a savings account. I was amazed at a young age at how quickly funds would add up in a savings account. Paying yourself first and establishing a savings pattern builds discipline and good financial habits. Building savings also provides a sense of financial security and builds wealth.

If you $1,875,000 what is one FUN thing you’d do with the money?

Tina: That’s easy! I would buy a tiny place on the beach which I would share with family. I love relaxing by water and being in the sun. There is nothing better than the sound of waves crashing, birds chirping and the warm breeze blowing.

Besides money, what’s your favorite green thing?

Tina: The Green Bay Packers – Go Pack Go!

Picture your dream home. What is your favorite room and why?

Tina: My favorite room in the house is the great room. A place where the whole family can hang out together. Whether we are kicking back and enjoying great conversations, or maybe watching a Packer game while grabbing something to eat. This is the room we tend to gather in. Big windows with a nice view would make it even better.

Dawn Farrell: Celebrating 30+ Years of Service

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FarrellDawnDawn Farrell started working at La Crescent State Bank in 1981. When it was acquired by Merchants Bank in 1990, she stayed to continue serving the La Crescent community. Merchants thanks Dawn for her commitment to excellence over the years. In June, she will begin a new adventure: Retirement.

How did you get started in banking?

Dawn: I’ve lived in La Crescent my entire life, and it was important to me that I stay in La Crescent to work. I applied for a Teller position at La Crescent State Bank in 1979 and actually didn’t get that job. Three years later, the position opened again and the Teller supervisor called to see if I was still interested. Naturally, I was. Eventually I moved to the proof machine to track all of the Bank’s daily transactions, which I discovered I didn’t care for. I much prefer working with people. Then I started in customer service and I knew that was where I was meant to be. When Merchants Bank acquired La Crescent State Bank in 1990 I was very happy to continue in my role.

What has changed in banking since you started your career? What hasn’t?

Dawn: Technology and regulations have changed the most. In the early days, when someone would come in to open an account we wouldn’t even ask for an ID, we’d just take down the information they gave us. Now of course we are more diligent and detail-oriented regarding our customers’ identity.

The only thing that hasn’t changed is our commitment to service. We have always cared about our customers and our community. I enjoy getting to know them and hearing their stories. I will greatly miss making those connections.

What is your favorite part about working with your customers and colleagues in the La Crescent community?

Dawn: My favorite part of my job is definitely working with customers and hearing the many stories they have to tell. It’s wonderful to find a strong bond with someone, and I’ve been fortunate to have that with a lot of my customers. I’ve also learned that everyone has their own way they manage their finances that works for them. I’ve enjoyed being able to provide additional insight for them over the years and provide education on tools we have available that may help, but they’ve taught me a lot too.

What will you miss most?

Dawn: I will miss the routine of the work day and the daily contact with people in our wonderful La Crescent community. I will not, however, miss waking up to an alarm clock!

What are some of your favorite memories?

Dawn: I have the fondest memories of the gatherings we organized. The Bank used to put on a senior breakfast with a different theme each year, and now we have great success with the Food Explosion campaign during Applefest. I remember we started that in 2010. I also adore my memories of the social events some of the bank employees would plan for ourselves, including canoe trips, bowling, golfing, hay rides and Christmas parties. We fondly refer to ourselves as “The Old Bank Ladies.” We still get together every Christmas season for a cookie exchange. Of course there are also a few customers that I will never forget.

How will you stay busy?

Dawn: I am looking forward to starting my retirement in the summer. We have 260 acres out in the country, and my husband has big plans for me to clean up our flower and vegetable gardens. We also have two children and five grandchildren. One of the grandsons wants me to play golf with him, so he’ll have to teach me to play golf. In the winter my three grandsons have hockey. My sisters and brother are retired as well and I’m sure I’ll be doing fun things with them. My husband and I will also be taking off to go on trips and doing whatever we want. I guess I’ll be staying busy!

Anything you’d like to add?

Dawn: I will miss my co-workers in La Crescent as well as the wonderful people I have connected with across the other 20 Merchants Bank locations. I’ll have to visit on occasion to say hi and keep up with what is going on in the area. I’d also like to thank the La Crescent community and our customers for their friendship over the years. You’ve all been part of a wonderful career!

Kaleb Storm Joins Merchants Bank as a Commercial and Ag Banker

Kaleb Storm

Kaleb Storm has joined Merchants Bank as a Commercial and Ag Banker, according to Randy Domeyer, Senior Vice President and Commercial Banking Manager for Merchants in Winona.

“Kaleb’s experience in commercial and ag lending will be a benefit to his customers and add strength to our team here at Merchants,” Domeyer said.

Storm brings industry experience in banking as a Commercial and Ag Banker, as well as a credit analyst, from Unity Bank, working both in Wisconsin and Minnesota. He has experience in both SBA (Small Business Administration) and FSA (Farm Service Agency) loans.

Storm also brings practical experience in agriculture, which will help him understand the needs of his customers first-hand. He worked on the family farm near Westby growing up and looks forward to continue helping family in the St. Charles and Dover area. He has also worked as a Vineyard Manager, again near Westby.

“I understand what’s important in making a good loan, and I understand and appreciate the value of hard work,” Storm said. “The values that I have are consistent with Merchants’ values, and that was important in my decision to join this organization.”

Storm has a degree in Business Administration/Business Finance from the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire.

“I look forward to getting to know the area and the people who make this a special place,” Storm said.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including its locations in Winona, Goodview and other Minnesota locations in St. Charles, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Loans are subject to approval. Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance is also a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Area Business Leader John Killen Elected to the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors

John Killen, Board of Directors

John Killen, President & CEO of WinCraft, Inc., was elected to the Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors at its April 17 meeting, according to Scott Biesanz, Chairman of the Charter Board of Directors.

Since graduating from the University of Kansas in 1985, Killen has spent all but four years of his career with WinCraft, an industry leading manufacturer of licensed and promotional products for retailers, professional sports teams, concessionaires, colleges, businesses, distributors and schools. Killen spent four years working for the NBA during its great resurgence in the late 1980s and early 1990s, developing the corporate premium and promotions business as well as promoting the USA Basketball Dream Team.

“WinCraft is a leader in its field in the country,” Biesanz said. “With that leadership position comes insight to how businesses throughout the region and throughout the country view opportunities for growth. John will be able to share that and more, strengthening our board as we continue to grow.”

In addition to leading nearly 700 employees at Winona-based WinCraft, Killen has contributed his talents to a number of organizations over the years. John serves as a board member for The Vernon Company, Newton, IA, and on various advisory boards at Winona State University and Saint Mary’s University. Recently he’s spent time as a member of the National Marketing and Communications Committee for Ducks Unlimited.

“Merchants is a regional banking leader, and I look forward to lending my experience and knowledge to the Board,” Killen said. “It is a privilege to be able to serve with a group with such a broad base of expertise.”

Killen and his wife Wendy live in Winona. They have two sons. John Jr., 23, is a Marketing Manager at WinCraft and Henry, 21, is a Junior at the University of Kansas.

The Merchants Bank Charter Board of Directors is responsible for the fiduciary duty to carry on the business of banking and for providing oversight and strategic direction for Merchants while insuring the safety and soundness of the organization. Without a separate local Community Advisory Board for Winona, Goodview, St. Charles, Eau Claire, and Merchants Bank Equipment Financing, the Bank’s the Charter Board of Directors serves in this capacity as well for those locations.

Merchants Bank has 21 locations, including Minnesota locations in Winona, St. Charles, Goodview, Rochester, Rushford, Lanesboro, Caledonia, La Crescent, Spring Grove, Cannon Falls, Red Wing, Hampton, and the southern Twin Cities metropolitan suburbs of Apple Valley, Cottage Grove, Hastings, Lakeville and Rosemount. Merchants has Wisconsin locations in Eau Claire and Onalaska. Additionally, Twin Cities-based Merchants Bank Equipment Finance, a division of Merchants Bank, N.A.

Top Business Fraud Updates – April 2018

FraudPrevention-Blog

Please review our most recent fraud alerts and security reminders to help protect your business.

Email Spoofing On the Rise

Our business customers have reported an increase in email spoofing scams. Fraudsters are posing as a customer or employee of the business and sending an email to the business asking for a wire transfer or ACH payment. Only after completing the wire transfer have businesses found out that they were dealing with fraudsters and not their actual customers or employees.

Before you complete transactions to your customers, make sure to verify who you are speaking with over the phone or through an email through a secondary source. Call your customer directly through a phone number you have verified. When working with customers via email, remember to look at both names and email addresses for consistency. If you notice anything suspicious, take the extra time to make sure both your business and your customer’s information is safe. When in doubt – check it out and verify.

Directory Listings Scam

Have you been contacted by someone wanting to verify or confirm your business information for a directory listing? Be cautious. Scammers have been calling business claiming to be able to help them with their online directory listings for a fee. In the end, the business is out the money and their information was verified for a directory listing that doesn’t exist. To avoid falling for this scam, make sure to verify who you are speaking to and confirm the phone number through a third party, like the phone book or Yellow pages. Read more details about this scam here.*

Steps to Take Now to Prevent Fraud

Here are three simple things you can do now to prevent fraud on your business accounts. We recommend:

  • Checking your business bank accounts daily for fraudulent transactions. If you are suspicious of a transaction, contact the Bank immediately.
  • Using a fraud transaction detection service, such as Positive Pay, to help you prevent fraudulent checks and transactions from hitting your account.
  • Using our free debit and credit card security apps to track and review all of your transactions immediately. Learn more about My Mobile Money for your business debit card and SecurLock Equip for your business credit card.

Protect Your Business from Cyber Attacks

This tip is part of the FCC’s top ten cyber security tips for small businesses. Protecting and cleaning any computer that handles business information or touches your network is a must. One of the best defenses against online threats is making sure you have the latest security software, web browser and operating system in place too. You can set each of these to automatically install when a new software update is available. In addition, your antivirus software can run a scan after each update to ensure your machines are adequately protected. Take half an hour to check your settings and update your software now. Get more tips here.*

Consider Security First

Use this guide from the FTC to create a security first approach to your business. This in-depth article gives you-step-by-step best practices for protecting sensitive information your business may handle. Read the FTC’s Start with Security Guide now.*

Next Steps If You Have a Security Concern

If you think your business bank account information has been compromised or have a security concern, contact your local Merchants Bank and ask to speak to your Cash Management Specialist or a Customer Service Representative.

 

*You will be linking to another website not owned or operated by Merchants Bank, NA. Merchants Bank, NA is not responsible for the availability or content of this website and does not represent either the linked website or you, should you enter into a transaction. We encourage you to review their privacy and security policies which may differ from Merchants Bank, NA.

Industry Snapshot: Learn More About Building Material Suppliers and Construction Managers/Contractors

KendellLumberGordiansKnot-Blog

(l-r) Randy Knutson, Brad Ballard, Jim Vrchota, Travis Buege and Greg Backes

In our second story focusing on industries in 2018, we highlight two related industries, Building Material Dealers and Construction Managers/Contractors. Our goal is to bring you useful information and research for those industries.

Read our first story on food manufacturers and wholesalers here.

Randy Knutson and Greg Backes, of Kendell Lumber of Winona and Rollingstone, and Brad Ballard and Travis Buege, construction managers with Gordian’s Knot, will tell you the outlook for building is good.

Merchants Bank Commercial Banker Jim Vrchota will tell you that he and many other commercial bankers across Merchants Bank’s footprint especially enjoy working with these industries.

“Our bankers especially enjoy helping businesses in these sectors because their success is based on the same elements as ours – exceptional service, competitive products and strong relationships,” Vrchota said.

But what do the numbers say? Let’s take a closer look:

Building Material Dealers

Data from Hoovers and First Research says this about the future for Building Material Dealers:

  • “The value of US residential construction spending, which impacts contractor demand for building materials, rose 4.3% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”
  • “US retail sales for building material and garden equipment and supplies dealers, a potential measure of building material supply demand, increased 6.0% in the first two months of 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”
  • “Total US wholesale sales of durable goods, a potential measure of demand for building materials, rose 9.7% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”

And this about predicted growth through 2022:

“The value of US private and public building construction, which is a driver for building material supply sales, is forecast to grow at an annual compounded rate of 6% between 2018 and 2022.”

Building Material Dealers-2

Residential Construction Contractors/Construction Managers

Data from Hoovers and First Research say this about the future for Residential Construction Contractors:

  • “US personal income, which drives consumer spending on home construction, rose 3.8% in January 2018 compared to the same month in 2017.”
  • “The value of US residential construction spending, an indicator of the health of the residential construction market, rose 4.3% in January 2018 compared to the same period in 2017.”

And this about predicted growth through 2022:

“The value of US new residential home construction and renovation is forecast to grow at an annual compounded rate of 7% between 2018 and 2022.”

Residential Construction Contractors-2

Demand is Cyclical

The numbers show the industry is enthusiastic, but it is a cautious enthusiasm tempered by experience for those who have worked through downturns.

As Hoovers and First Research points out — “Demand for new residential buildings can change rapidly, depending on the economy and interest rates: from 1986 to 1991, annual US home construction dropped 40%; from 1995 to 2005, it increased 75%; and from 2006 to 2011, it fell 65%.”

Both Knutson and Backes and Ballard and Buege understand that first-hand. They point out that one of the reasons they are doing well now is because they are survivors. They said the number of dealers in their market has shrunk since 2008, as did the number of contractors. A result is businesses like Kendell absorbed the customers of other dealers, and the need for Gordian’s Knot’s service has increased because there is less competition and demand is picking up.

Compared to 2008, for example, Kendell is above where they were in terms of business, according to Knutson and Backes. The same is true for the residential construction contractor/construction manager business, according to Ballard and Buege of Gordian’s Knot.

Industry Pressures

“The same house we built last year cost 15% more this year to build and it will continue to grow,” Ballard said.

Another threat is the cost of materials. A lumber tariff on Canadian lumber has driven prices, and steel prices have also risen because of recent tariffs, according to Knutson.

Hoovers and First Research notes that the average margins for “lumber companies selling commodity products primarily to contractors can range from 5 to 20%. Home Depot and Lowe’s, which sell mainly to consumers, have gross margins of about 35%.”

That increases the need for efficiency, and one of the best ways to be efficient for dealers is to provide quality materials where contractors don’t have to come back for better materials or deal with complaints from end use customers down the road, Knutson and Backes pointed out. Ballard and Buege noted Kendell’s top materials save them time because they don’t have to sift for quality.

Another threat is material allocations from producers, according to Knutson. He said it is simply that there may not be enough to go around at times because some of the larger big box stores have ordered the biggest part of the material supplies because of natural disasters.

It’s also difficult to find people to work. The 34-year-old Buege is a bit of an anomaly in the industry where he said the average worker is 55. He said people across the industry are faced with the challenge of finding dedicated and accomplished workers.

“The cost of trade labor has gone up,” Buege said. “But the cost of building is still manageable. The economy is good and people have equity in their current homes.”

While there are things to pay attention to, Gordian’s Knot and Kendell agree they are generally optimistic about the future.

“Everybody is pretty confident in the economy,” Backes said.

It Comes Down to the Relationships

Kendell and Gordian’s Knot both are long-time customers of Merchants. Kendell has been in business since 1957 and Ballard started Gordian’s Knot in 2004.

“Ours is a relationship business,” Backes said.

Ballard agreed.

“We answer our phones and we call people back. If we can’t help them, we get them to someone who can,” Ballard said. “We grow through the service we provide.”

That service and willingness to understand and support their businesses is why both Kendell and Gordian’s Knot partner with Merchants Bank.

“It’s the quality and service experience. There’s a value there that’s hard to put a price on,” Backes said.

Vrchota said it’s that “Start to Finish” attitude that is pervasive with Merchants and is one of the reasons Merchants stands apart from others. Another is how Merchants can help them with their financial needs, especially in a business that is seasonal.

Typically, with suppliers, a bank can partner with them in a number of ways, Vrchota explained. Often, it is with a line of credit so money is available when the business needs it, or with equipment or real estate financing.

With contractors/construction managers, a line of credit is often in place, and there is an emphasis on helping them with financing for construction projects.

“Those are the basics,” Vrchota said, adding that the end use customers may also look to Merchants for construction financing and then hire professionals like Gordian’s Knot. “But every business is different in some way, so it is worthwhile to work with a banker that is knowledgeable, adaptable and will take an interest in your business, like our bankers here.”