By Paul Gores
Looking to introduce potential customers to its service and digital technology in a way that would complement traditional advertising, PNC Bank came up with a twist — the “pop-up” branch.
The idea was to build a mobile facility that temporarily could be placed in areas where people tend to congregate. Inside would be, along with a state-of-the-art automated teller machine, iPad-equipped specialists who could show visitors PNC’s mobile banking products, help them use the ATM, make referrals and even open an account.
“I would call it an extension of our brand — an opportunity to invite people to experience PNC in sort of a different way in a market where we don’t have a strong presence like we do in some of the other places we do business,” Todd Barnhart, executive vice president of branch banking for Pittsburgh-based PNC, said of the pop-up branch plan.
But who knew how to build such a branch — a small, secure structure that could be hauled on a semitrailer truck from site to site or city to city?
PNC found the answer 450 miles away at CGS Premier in New Berlin.
Creating a pop-up bank branch is exactly the kind of project mobile-exhibit manufacturer and digital printer CGS loves — taking a marketing idea and making it happen.
“We handle a lot of things other people can’t,” said Tom Berte, vice president and chief financial officer of CGS Premier. “So they come to us with their unusual set-ups, and from the sales department down to the guys on the floor, we get them figured out.”
Although there is only one PNC pop-up branch so far and it’s in Georgia, anyone who attends a major sporting event or festival in the United States — the Super Bowl, the Indianapolis 500, professional golf tournaments, Summerfest and many more — stands a good chance of seeing a CGS project.
CGS, which started 20 years ago as a digital printing company, has evolved into a maker of displays and mobile exhibits — even vehicles such as specialized food trucks — for many well-known national and local customers.
In size, CGS mobile projects range from custom bikes to a 53-foot-long vehicle that will haul a 2014 GMC Sierra to Monday Night Football games this season in a trailer that not only has windows to display the Sierra, but a theater and video wall.
Many of the company’s projects include hands-on displays or electronics that are intended to help potential customers make a personal connection with the products that are being promoted.
“You are really getting people to taste it, feel it, sample it, experience it, interact with it,” said Greg Peterson, president of CGS. “You’ve got to find new ways to try to get people to sample a product.”
As a family-owned business, CGS doesn’t release annual sales figures. But the company had its best year in 2012 and continues growing, adding new employees as orders have increased, Peterson said.
The company currently has 44 employees with a mix of skills and what Peterson says is a sense of pride in being able to take a marketer’s initial sketch and convert it to reality.
“What’s great about being here and what’s great about being in Milwaukee is we have a group of talented people. Our core people who are doing the fabrication and the engineering are all artists,” Peterson said. “They take pride in what they do.”
The company employs former machine shop operators, pattern makers, tool-and-die workers, cabinet makers, audio-visual experts and others, each with something to contribute to projects, Peterson said.
“It’s a fun business to be in because every project is unique,” said Bill Kurinsky, director of new business development for CGS Premier.
In the case of the PNC pop-up branch, the beginning point was acquiring a blue 20-by-8-foot steel shipping container.
“You start by cutting holes into it where the door and the windows will go,” Kurinsky said.
Flooring, lights, wall treatments, wiring, security cameras and other elements then were installed to complete the project.
The branch was loaded by a crane onto a truck, and then placed July 30 in an area of Atlanta where there’s an outdoor mall and lots of people, condos, apartments and office buildings. A test project for PNC, the pop-up branch will be there through November to see how it performs as a marketing device.
“It started off as a blue shipping container,” Kurinsky said. “It turned into a beautiful blue-and-orange branch with windows and a pillar off the top that lights up at night time.”
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