The Difference: Peninsula Member Rebuilds His Business After Recession

Bryan Shorten lost his custom tile business and his impeccable credit to the recession. His credit union helped him rebuild both.

Bryan Shorten thought he would be okay. At 25 years old, with his first son on the way, he ran his own custom tiling business — Stonehenge Custom — on the Kitsap Peninsula. It was 2008 and he was seeing some construction and development companies struggle and fold. But he figured the companies that hired him, the ones doing high-end, custom work, were solid.

“The people I worked for had money,” said Shorten. “Even while everyone else was dying, I was doing fine.”

Bryan had work lined up into the new year, including a lucrative project with one of the peninsula’s biggest builders, the one that contracted him for the most impressive custom work. But then, just before the end of the year, the builder called with bad news. The bank had pulled funding for the project. The job was off.

Quicksand of the Recession

“After that there were a couple months of work,” Bryan said. His voice dropped a bit. “Then nothing.” His bills piled up as he searched for work. After two months without a whiff of opportunity, he realized he had no choice but to file bankruptcy.

“I felt like scum,” he said. He had never even been late on a payment. He drove his truck back to the credit union where he had the loan, handed them the keys and, over the protests of the staff, walked away. “I couldn’t pay for it anymore,” he said, “so I couldn’t keep it.”

Worse still, he felt his long-term dream of owning a home slipping away into uncertainty.

Bryan took a job pressing shirts for a dry cleaner. “I’d press 200-300 shirts a day,” he said. “It was just go, go, go all day.”

That’s when his son Kaleb was born. His then-girlfriend was finishing school and the couple couldn’t afford daycare. Bryan quit the dry cleaner and started working nights at a restaurant for $10 per hour. The atmosphere, he said, was “laughable,” with 18-year-old servers pulling rank on him. “But the great part was I got to wake up with my son and spend the whole day with him,” said Bryan.

Long Road Back to the Beginning

He switched to a daytime restaurant job after his girlfriend finished school. But he was always looking for a way to get back into the tile business.

Bryan came across a tile showroom that wanted to start an installation team and needed someone to sell their customers on the new service. Bryan was a good candidate — smart, personable, and incredibly knowledgeable. He got the job.

He told the restaurant he would have to scale back to one day per week. But as days at the showroom rolled by few people came in and fewer bought anything. After only a couple weeks the showroom managers decided their experiment had failed and Bryan’s new job evaporated. He talked to the restaurant and got some of his old hours back.

Finally he found a job installing tile. He started working for a contractor in Port Orchard. When he worked for himself before the recession he earned $40 per hour. This job paid $14. But it allowed him to do something he knew he was good at, something that he had succeeded at before. He even restarted Stonehenge Custom and tried to drum up work.

Still, Bryan worried that his post-bankruptcy credit would keep him from finding the same sort of success he had before. And after seeing his business fail once, he didn’t know whether he could make it work again.

The Way of Hope

Jenny Soule, Poulsbo branch manager at Peninsula Credit Union, helped Bryan make a plan to rebuild his credit.

As Bryan dipped his toe back into the small business waters, he saw an ad at Olympia College for a money management class offered by Peninsula Credit Union and Kitsap Community Resources. It focused on how to understand and build credit.

Kristine Cowan, manager of Peninsula’s Port Orchard branch, taught that 2012 class, together with Member Relationship Consultant Matt Miles, in the lobby of Peninsula’s Poulsbo branch, which she also managed at the time. “Bryan really helped the class,” she said, remembering that he asked particularly good questions.

Bryan told them about his business, his bankruptcy, and his fear that his damaged credit would keep him from succeeding in business or owning his own home. Cowan, though, had seen many people come back from credit problems. “Every life has a story,” she said. “The goal of the class is to give them hope, to show them that it’s possible to reach their goals.”

For Bryan, it worked. Shortly after the class he came back into the Poulsbo branch to open an account. “That was when the banks started charging $10 a month for accounts,” he said, “and accounts at Peninsula were free.”

He was greeted by Jenny Soule, who has since become the manager of the Poulsbo branch. She helped him open both a personal and a business account. Soule said that Peninsula pulls credit reports whenever new members join the credit union.

“His credit was not as bad as he thought,” she said. She noticed that Bryan had recently taken out a loan for another truck at an APR of 11% and asked if she could pass his info to a Peninsula loan officer to see if the credit union could offer a better rate. The loan officer said that Peninsula could lower Bryan’s APR to 4.35%. Bryan promptly accepted. Soule also helped Bryan get a share secured loan, a low-interest loan secured by his own savings, in order to help him build his credit.

Taken together, these steps amounted to a practical plan to help Bryan revive his credit. For Bryan, it was more than just practical, it was emotional. “It helped me believe that maybe there is a reason to work on my credit,” he said. “I thought, maybe I can be successful again.”

Second Act, Better than the First

These days, Bryan is busier than ever. “Last year was absolutely insane,” said Bryan. “I grossed three times more than ever before.”

Stonehenge Custom is booked months out, has another fulltime employee, and creates work for subcontractors. Bryan said that he has a more-or-less continuous ad on Craigslist looking for good people to hire.

But on a recent Friday Bryan took a little time off work to spend time with his son. Kaleb is six now, and school was out for the day. It was unusually warm and sunny for a February, and Bryan and Kaleb spent a couple hours running around a local park.

After moving his accounts to Peninsula, he was surprised at the sort of relationships he was able to build with the staff at the Poulsbo branch. “They treated me like one of their biggest customers,” he said, “way bigger than I was.”

One of Peninsula’s biggest gifts to Bryan was something they couldn’t actually give — a mortgage. When he first moved to Peninsula they helped him create a two-year plan to improve his credit and save enough for a down payment. When the time came, Peninsula wasn’t able to offer the mortgage directly, but they referred him to a company that could.

Today, Bryan Shorten’s custom tile business is doing better than ever, employing as many as four other people. Bryan looks back on his class with Peninsula Credit Union as the turning point.

“Peninsula was super helpful,” he said. “Jenny [Soule] even emailed directly with the mortgage company to help expedite the process. There was no benefit for Peninsula, but they did it anyway.”

Peninsula President and CEO Jim Morrell said that Bryan’s story “is a testament to Jenny Soule and her folks who picked up on the need Bryan had to get his financial matters back in good order. That’s what it looks like to live out our vision and mission.”

Morrell pointed out that the difference between Bryan making $14 per hour laying tile for someone else vs. Bryan generating his own business and employing other people is enormous. “There is a huge positive ripple effect,” he said, “starting with Bryan, out to the people he employs and the people he buys his materials from. This all ties back to the vision and mission of the credit union — not paying stock holders, but really improving people’s financial lives.”

Morrell said that financial education is central to that mission. “When we open checking accounts or when people call us on the phone, we make a point to give them tools to improve their financial lives,” he said.

Bryan agrees. “I remembered what it was like before I moved my money to a credit union,” he said. “So many people would benefit from knowing there’s a financial institution that cares.”

Questions about this story? Contact James Pearson: 206.340.4790, jpearson@nwcua.org.

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