Lending Confidence Proves as Vital as Lending Money
Josh Palmer and Amy Catalano had a gut feeling they were missing out. The owners and operators of Vital Signs, a marketing sign shop in Webster, NY, that does everything from branded stickers to vinyl vehicle wraps, thought their modest space was preventing them from bigger, more lucrative business.
“I’d say about three years ago, we just ran out of room,” Palmer said. “We weren’t working very efficiently, we didn’t have the fabrication equipment that we needed and our printers were in the same room as our offices. It just wasn’t cutting it.”
It didn’t take much to decide that a larger space—one they owned instead of rented—would give them the flexibility to take on those big-ticket jobs. Palmer and Catalano knew this would be the single largest investment in the business since it opened in 2005—a true make-or-break moment.
Sure, they needed to talk to a lender. But what they really needed was someone they trusted to tell them that this was a risk worth taking. They found both in Chris Humphrey, a commercial lending officer at Community Bank, N.A. Turns out, he didn’t think it was all that risky.
“I always tell my customers, ‘I want to work with you so that we’re both comfortable,’” Humphrey said. “I’ve never seen a projection that doesn’t work, so the question is, how do we validate that projection? We needed to get into the details of where this revenue is going to come from.’”
Humphrey, who has an analytics background, dove into their business and quickly found out why they were so willing to take the chance. Vital Signs had shown impressive growth over the previous three years, to the tune of 18%-20% year over year. Additionally, Palmer and Catalano could point to more than 10 opportunities they’d missed over that same time because of their limited resources. For Humphrey, it all added up to a smart business decision.
“We were scared; it was a huge move,” Catalano said. “We looked to Chris for guidance, and he came to us and said, ‘This looks great, we’re excited for you and we believe in you.’ He acted more like a financial partner than a banker.”
Not only was Community Bank willing to finance a new building designed specifically to fit the operation, but it even rolled financing for new equipment into the deal. Humphrey also worked with the New York Business Development Corporation to secure additional funding. With its new solar-powered shop, Vital Signs has the space to keep pace with business.
“Chris has stopped in a good handful of times to ask how things are going, if there’s anything he can do or any guidance he can give,” Palmer said. “He didn’t sell us a bill of goods and walk away; he’s been by our side and that’s how he’s earned our trust."