Starting your own business is scary stuff. When it comes to the crucial issues of business banking and long-term financing, finding a true partner in your bank can make all the difference. Whether you’re a painter, chef or doctor, you want to focus on your craft and your clients, not the tedious chores of running a business.
Dr. Jacqueline Calkin and her partner, Dr. Alison Boudreaux, founded their dermatology and cosmetic practice, Calkin & Boudreaux Dermatology Associates, in the early 2000s in Sacramento. The duo was excited to help clients with facial and skin issues by practicing medicine as they had trained to do for so many years. But before they could open their doors, the doctors had to jump through the hoops all entrepreneurs find themselves facing.
“I didn’t know we had to have a full business plan — I thought we could get a loan based on credit alone,” Calkin recalls. “I remember our first meeting with Jim Pons, the executive vice president at Merchants National Bank in Sacramento. We had met with a few other larger banks, but we found Jim and the Merchants team helpful and encouraging. They laid out all the pieces a small business needs to put together to get approved for a loan.”
The doctors fielded several other larger, major-name banks but felt their business wasn’t appreciated as anything more than a sales opportunity. At Merchants National Bank, “They made me feel like they were impressed with what we were going to do, and that was significant to us,” says Calkin. “It can be an intimidating process, and I remember leaving Merchants National Bank feeling energized, really confident and also grateful for their faith in us. We weren’t treated like this was a sale for the bank, but rather a partnership.”
“I remember our first meeting with Jim Pons, the executive vice president at Merchants National Bank in Sacramento. We had met with a few other larger banks, but we found Jim and the Merchants team helpful and encouraging. They laid out all the pieces a small business needs to put together to get approved for a loan.” Dr. Jacqueline Calkin, Calkin & Boudreaux Dermatology Associates
Dr. Boudreaux has been through the finance rigmarole before, working her way up to partner at a previous practice in New Mexico. “It’s a daunting process, because there are a lot of pieces,” Boudreaux says. “The American Academy of Dermatology makes these little hundred-page booklets on the steps to building a practice, but you’re essentially on your own. It took us nine months to get up and running.” Merchants National Bank helped the practice expand at each step. “We started out with just one laser and three or four employees, and now we’re heading towards 20 employees with 10 lasers, all in roughly 11 years.”
Medical-grade lasers are very expensive and are specific to procedures such as hair removal and skin rejuvenation. This made strategic expansion a pricey proposition during a time when every cent counted for the doctors. Big banks can tempt business owners with promises of incredibly low rates: One large bank was eventually able to lure Calkin & Boudreaux Dermatology Associates away from Merchants National Bank by offering a lower interest rate loan.
“The way Merchants National Bank handled the transition was incredibly professional and caring,” says Boudreaux. “Later, I realized I never really felt a partnership with the new bank. If I want to call and speak with a specific person at Merchants National, I can; I know that they know our business, our families and me. I didn’t have anything close to that with the other bank.”
Instead of that personal, direct touch, the doctors found themselves being assured they were “an important business account”, with little action to prove it. Suddenly that low loan rate couldn’t cover the downsides of having left Merchants National Bank. “At the big bank, we almost never dealt with the same person twice, and they were always trying to sell us something else,” recalls Boudreaux. “A credit card, a new type of account; they would send emails that made us think we had to do something and it would turn out to be a sales call.”
Now, the practice has migrated nearly all their finances back to Merchants National Bank. No easy task, as any business owner can tell you, but the community bank made the process as easy as possible.
Thinking of starting or expanding your own business? “If you’re only looking at the big banks, you don’t know what you’re missing,” says Boudreaux. “You’d never know that this level of service still exists. That’s 30 years ago for the big banks.”
Calkin agrees, saying, “A lot of the anxiety can be avoided when you have a bank like Merchants National Bank as a real partner, rather than someone to whom you feel beholden.”