Hindsight is 2020
Back in December of 2019, there was no way to fathom what awaited us in 2020. Instead, social media was filled with gleeful and celebratory sayings, people rejoiced at the number of holidays that would be on the weekend and thus would make three-day weekends mandatory. Little did we know, extra holiday time would be the last thing on our minds. Instead, many people would be at home for weeks on end to obey a state-wide shutdown. Still, 2020 supplied us with countless opportunities for growth, specifically here at the credit union. We’d like to take a moment to look back at the accomplishments of our branches and in our community. We also look forward to what’s to come in the future.
Passing the Baton
Our previous CEO shocked members and staff alike when she announced her retirement date of September 15, 2020. Mrs. Connie Roy had been part of the credit union family for 32 years, the last 20 serving as Meritus CU’s CEO. Despite COVID-19 restrictions, staff was thrilled we could still give Connie a well-deserved send-off. This event included special guests, a car parade and a special congratulations video from her mentor, Dave Ramsey. Brian Leger, previous CAO, was promoted to Chief Executive Officer and has been leading the credit union since. Nothing like an international pandemic to give a new CEO a crash course in leadership! Despite the challenges, he has expertly led staff and members through this difficult time, ensuring credit union services are still available to all.
Inspired by Our Community in Action
We’ve loved seeing our community’s creativity and entrepreneurship come together to serve each other. Without a doubt unique situations arose, such as alternatives to buying groceries in what seemed to be unsafe conditions, or having your beloved gym and fitness studio close down. Two businesses in particular shined through with how they acted on quick feet to still serve their customers.
Continuing the Cycle of Health
While Louisiana may have been in the state of shock on March 16th when Louisiana started issuing shut down orders, Lindsay Sanders, franchise owner of CycleBar Lafayette, was not. In fact, this savvy businesswoman already had plans to travel the interstate in a determined fitness search, and took off in a moving van immediately on March 17th. What was she seeking? Cyclebar bikes. “I knew that COVID19 could be potentially lethal to our business,” explained Sanders. “I wanted to find opportunities in the circumstance and there was a sense of urgency to act immediately. I searched the internet high and low for as many bikes as I could find. My plan was to put together a new virtual business model as we drove to pick up bikes. Less than 5 hours into our trip, we faced a breakdown on the highway at 2 am. Emotions were high to say the least, but we are able to laugh about it now!”
Forty-eight hours later, Sanders had completed her mission and was on her way back to Lafayette. During her trip, her team was already on social media promoting the newly acquired bikes and had them completely rented out before they had even returned. Next, they spent time delivering bikes to over one hundred members and figured out a way to launch virtual classes. Before she knew it, CycleBar Lafayette had a Vimeo account activated and was ready to start filming classes. Each member paid rental for the bike, biking shoes and had access to CycleBar Lafayette’s private Vimeo channel. In a matter of two days, this brick-and-mortar business transferred their business to completely at-home and virtual friendly.
Sanders attributes her passion to providing quality opportunities of fitness to the thriving Acadiana community. She explains, “The community and sense of involvement is the best part of Acadiana. I love what I do--even on the challenging days! I have the opportunity to go to work each day in a positive environment and interact with people who want to better themselves. Our customers show up because they want to be a part of something. I can say it until I am blue in the face--Cyclebar is more than just a workout. It's a blessing that I am able to be a part of.” Part of her mission at CycleBar and a reason why she ended up investing in the franchise, is a special fundraising arm of the business called CycleGives. Using CycleGives, CycleBar sets a certain price to book a ride, then donates the ride pro bono to non-profits. They provide the atmosphere, teacher, and entertainment. At the end of the ride, a check is cut to that specific non-profit. It has been a fulfilling aspect of Sander’s business plan, and one she does in loving memory to her late father, Craig. CycleBar is, without a doubt, an integral part of the fitness community and we are so happy to see it thrive during this challenging year.
Good Eating, Even During a Shut-down
Good Eats Kitchen (GEK), a chef inspired small business, prides itself on delivering fresh, healthful prepared meals to folks in Lafayette and Baton Rouge. Prior to the shut-down, they were happily feeding 500-700 customers in their store. What made GEK a successful start-up lies in their mission statement, “To enrich the lives of the people and the communities in which we operate.” Their product never claims to be a fad diet or restrictive program, instead it intentionally guides customers to choose healthy alternatives that don’t sacrifice on taste. But of course, no matter how delicious GEK’s meals were, that couldn’t stop them from closing during Louisiana’s stay at home orders.
Despite that challenge, CEO Boyer Derise quickly saw a need and acted swiftly. More people than ever before were turning to grocery delivery services, and while GEK may not be an actual grocery storefront, they already had processes in place to procure the best produce and groceries for their usual meal assemblies. Armed with an online food reservation system already in place before the pandemic, they quickly pivoted and offered grocery baskets to new and existing customers. These boxes included in-season produce, high quality poultry, and staples such as milk eggs and bread. And while this may not have been the “silver bullet” that solved all problems during the stay-at-home order, it definitely helped GEK survive and thrive during this never-before-experienced predicament.
At the end of the day, Derise credits the success of his business (both pre and during the pandemic) to the wonderful community of Acadiana. “Lafayette is a great community. The people can be really supportive and as a small business owner support is what we need...especially now. I enjoy being active in the community and the business community in Acadiana. There are so many bright, young leaders in the business community right now and I am excited about the future of our Community.” But don’t let his humility fool you. Acadiana is just as lucky to have Derise and GEK in our community as well. They play their part by donating unpurchased food trays to organizations who provide food to the needy, such as Second Harvest Food Bank. It is especially amazing, as many times the underprivileged in our area don’t have easy access to true healthy meals, and GEK meals more than fit the bill.
Giving to Local Establishments
Motivated by these two organizations and countless others, Meritus Credit Union wanted to put a spotlight back on our local businesses and give funds to ensure their survivability into the year, as well as their ability to make an income. This year for Teacher’s Appreciation Week, which takes place during the first week of May, we decided to increase our giving by awarding a gift card from 5 teachers a day to 10 teachers a day. Instead of a generic $50 gift card, winners received a $50 gift card from one of the following local establishments: Central Pizza, Tsunami Sushi, Bon Temps Grill, Caroline & Company or Social Southern Table & Bar. In total, the credit union bought $2,500 in gift cards from the small businesses! We were thrilled at the response of our teachers and truly hope this helped stave off financial shortfalls for these shops.
With Lessons Learned, an Even Better 2021 is Anticipated
Looking into 2021, it is apparent that we can’t completely close the COVID-19 chapter yet. But despite all of its first-experienced challenges, so many insights were discovered too; how important family is, how important it is to stop the hamster wheel of work, errands, to-do lists and to stay in the moment for a second. We will not take for granted the absolute pleasure of seeing a friend or long-distance family member, without having to wear a mask, refusing hugs or handshakes. We won’t take for granted the excitement of traveling in airports, without having to dose our hands and children with hand sanitizer. The good news is we are closer to the end than the beginning, which means 2021 still has the opportunity to be outstanding!