Business-to-business relationships have evolved over the years and, by and large, have lost much of their personal touch. But that doesn’t mean an old fashioned experience is completely unheard of—at least according to Peter Niehoff, owner and operator of Elysian Farms, a catfish farming operation situated just outside Demopolis, Alabama. A customized approach is especially necessary when it comes to funding a catfish operation with uncontrollable factors constantly threatening its budget. The 22 year veteran farmer explained that catfish farming is like any farming operation except for one major difference—you can’t see your crop while you’re raising it.
Agriculture and farming comes with unique needs that can be costly. There are good times, and then there are bad times that lead to good times, so to speak. Virtually any bank will lend to a business that is experiencing its good times; however, it takes a bank with lenders who understand the farm and agricultural business needs to realize profitability for both the farmers and the bank. For farmers, variables such as weather, feed costs, and livestock health—just to name a few—are factors that impact profitability. Because these factors are largely out of their control, farmers sometimes need help getting through the bad times to get to the good times. Not all banks understand this concept.
Fortunately for Peter, a longtime friend and feed dealer introduced him to someone who understands these unique needs: Clint Butler, Vice President and loan officer at BankFirst’s agriculture department.
The 69 year-old catfish farmer explained, “I’ve had a very good relationship with BankFirst during both good and bad times. They understood my difficulties, they trusted my plan, and I’ve been very, very happy with them.”
But Peter went further: “It’s not just service—I don’t want to call it that—it’s friendliness.” Business loans are notoriously complex and require interaction between different entities or departments. Peter noted, “Every person I deal with, whether it’s my loan officer, Clint Butler, his secretary, his staff, everyone—I just could not be more pleased. I’m a relationship person and my business is a relationship business. So, I value professional friendliness and BankFirst really comes through with its friendly service.”
Self described as “an older folk,” Peter told us, “I’m a ‘handshake and look them in the eye’ type of person, and that’s what I get with BankFirst.”
Peter continued, “You generally walk into a bank and might know the teller’s name and you might know your loan officer, but the staff doesn’t usually come up and say ‘hi’ and they don’t take you out to lunch. But they do at BankFirst. That’s a personal relationship. I get to look them in the eyes, know they’re telling me the
truth and that they’re going to do what they say they’re going to do. And I don’t have those relationships with many businesses. BankFirst—although very, very professional—they come down on a personal level and it’s unique.”
“I’ve had lunch with them. They’re family friendly, family oriented, and provide personal service that I think is lost today. I’ve been through a lot. I’ve seen a lot. I’ve had a lot of business relationships, and it is very rare to come across a bank that treats business so personally. And that’s the type of relationship I feel I have with BankFirst.”
BankFirst’s lenders do this every day for farmers and agricultural businesses across Alabama and Mississippi. While other banks and lenders may not want to risk partnering with an industry many consider volatile, BankFirst takes the underused approach—they trust and work with farmers to help them through the inevitable difficulties so they can produce a crop from which everyone benefits.
If you are searching for a bank or lender and a relationship like this is what you need, reach out to Lauren Strawn (Alabama) at (205) 462-8971, Clint Butler (Mississippi/Alabama) at (662) 726-6017, or Marcia King (Mississippi) at (662) 726-6019.
BankFirst’s Ag lenders are experienced agricultural and commercial loan professionals specializing in federal guaranteed loan programs administered by the Farm Service Agency, Rural Development, and the Small Business Administration. A Preferred Lender with the SBA, BankFirst is a Member FDIC and Equal Housing Lender financial institution that offers a full range of financial solutions including commercial loans, business and consumer banking, mortgage loans, and business services management. Chartered in 1888, the financial institution is locally owned, controlled and operated with branch locations across Alabama and Mississippi. Learn more at www.bankfirstfs.com.