By Donna Kreutz
Foundation Finance Company was established in 2012 by four seasoned professionals to fill a need in the residential lending market. All were working in the finance industry when the Great Recession hit in 2008 and consumer credit options dried up. Water treatment and home improvement dealers had no place to get financing. “We started from scratch and the four of us had to wear many different hats,” Andrea McCullion, Senior Vice President for marketing and sales said. “I did everything from sales and marketing to credit underwriting and legal documents. The entire team has a strong belief in cross training.”
All of the principals have worked in the consumer financing industry for 15 to 20 years. McCullion, a Wisconsin native, studied communications then completed an MBA in marketing at the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh. “I’ve been in consumer finance since graduating from college.” A friend worked in finance and urged her to give it a try. “It’s a good business. I made a lot of friends here and travel around to see people at shows. They are good people who work hard and that I like.” In addition to McCullion, the founders are Bob Hamilton, President and Chief Executive Officer; Alex Mladek, Chief Financial Officer and Ryan Woller, Senior Vice President for account servicing. Their nickname is The Fab Four. Foundation Finance is owned by a private investment group in New York that recruited this leadership team to create a company to address a gap in the consumer finance industry.
Today, the thriving Rothschild, Wisconsin-based business serves 3,000 dealers in all 50 states, providing loans to more than 30,000 customers. “Our mission is to offer fair, consistent, flexible finance programs for water treatment and home improvement dealers that help them close sales for buyers of all credit profiles,” said McCullion. “We developed our own custom scoring models that allow us to identify those customers who have had credit trouble and are on the way up, not the way down. We approve loans they could not get elsewhere.
“Consistent, fair financing programs are critical for the success of water treatment dealers. We saw how the lack of viable programs affected the entire industry when those options were not available. Our focus is on creating sustainable, profitable programs so that water treatment and home improvement dealers know they can rely on us as a partner for the future. We’re here for the long term. We’re offering programs that can weather challenges in the economy and the housing markets.”
Before launching Foundation Finance, “we developed a nice conservative business plan—and we blew through that in the first 18 months,” McCullion said. “We believe our common-sense approach makes dealers want to call us. Our goal was to treat people well and build relationships that would last. And the response has been phenomenal.
“We hit at the right time with the right products and services. We have been able to continue to grow ever since with no lull,” said McCullion. The company has 55 employees and expects to double that number after the first of the year. “We are building a new office, doubling the space we have, and we will increase the number of employees up to roughly 100. Our original goal led to a huge number of word-of-mouth referrals. We got tons of leads from WOM and that tells us we were doing something right.”
Tackling a brave new world
“We make financing as simple as possible. We’re introducing some new programs and products in early 2016 to help dealers close more sales—and that’s really what we’re here for,” she said. The new ‘cool tools’ include a smart-phone app that makes in-home processing of credit applications faster and easier. “We also were the leader in rolling out electronic signing that makes the closing process a snap.”
Foundation Finance’s new mobile app is addressing another emerging need. “We are at a tipping point in the use of technology,” she said. “In the last year alone, we’ve had more requests than ever before. Younger people are getting into the business (or taking over the family business) and they use smart phones and tablets. We offer everything from hard-copy forms to fill-out-by-hand to online website applications and now the smart-phone app. Paperwork can be generated online and sent to the customer via email for an e-signature.”
Foundation Finance offers revolving and installment financing plans, including promotions like ‘same-as-cash’ for prime, near-prime and sub-prime buyers. “This means dealers can use one source for their first, second and third looks, which makes them more efficient and profitable. They can close more sales in less time with less hassle,” she said.
With the solid growth of Foundation Finance Company over the past three years, “we’re in a great position to start adding new options and products that will help dealers be more efficient and effective when using financing. We give value to our dealers. We have training videos, resources for sales people and on-boarding programs.
“We are strongly focused on expanding our presence in other home improvement products. We’ve signed a number of agreements with large manufacturers in home improvement to be an endorsed lender for their dealers and we’re looking at other strategic partnerships that will let us offer more programs at better pricing to our dealers in all markets.”