Adventure in Lender Land

Small business owner debriefs on borrowing experience

Matt Brislawn, owner of Briz Loan and Guitar, a musical pawn shop in downtown Vancouver, decided one day to open a rental rehearsal space for local musicians. He went to three banks seeking his first-ever commercial loan. In the end, he got his loan from a major nationwide bank.

"They were a whole point lower than the other banks," he said.

Brislawn would rather not disclose the interest rate he received on his 20-year loan, because he said the bank told him it was an "inside deal," and he would like to respect that. He said it took longer to get the loan done—about a month—because the bank spent a lot of time looking into his financial history and his business in its attempt to secure a good rate.

Brislawn felt that the bank he chose was the only one that fought for his business. "The other banks were shocked when I told them the rate I got," he said. "And I got the sense that they knew they couldn’t compete."

Brislawn said the other banks, which he also would rather not mention, really didn’t take the time to work with him. He speculates this is because he’s a bit of an unconventional loan seeker.

"They just sort of gave me a rate and said, ‘This is what we can do for you,’" said Brislawn. In contrast, he said, the bank he went with was a lot more hands-on. Still, he was most surprised by the costs of getting the loan. When the dust settled, he had shelled out nearly $3,000 in loan fees, a commercial appraisal of the building he bought and an environmental study of the property.

"That commercial appraisal is something people should know about," he said.

Brislawn plans to begin construction on Reverb Rehearsal Studios in September, and says he’s happy that his bank was willing to work with him.

"I’m kind of glad that (the bank) was open to an unconventional business such as mine," he said. "I think they had open ears and gave me the time, considering I’m doing something different. But when they came down to look at my store, and saw that it’s really a music store and not a typical pawn shop, and then I showed them the building where I plan to put the studio, I guess they felt more comfortable with everything."

Key Bank Senior Vice President and Business Banking Sales Leader Dan Mogck competes for small business accounts such as Brislawn’s by employing bankers who specialize in relationships. Charlie Heinen, for example, is a business relationship manager with Key Bank on N.E. 117th Avenue in Vancouver. He said with small businesses—most of which are applying for a first-time loan—the focus is on the process rather than the bottom line.

"We mainly compete on relationship," Heinen said. "We act as a
trusted adviser and take them through the steps of the process."

Heinen said it’s important to understand what the client needs when processing a loan, and that most
every deal is different.

"If we have to compete on rate," he said, however, "we will."