When it comes to running and financing a truly seasonal operation, it helps to know your bankers.
Matt Collopy, who runs Shoreline Sightseeing, knows his bankers well -- the owners and founders of Chicago-area based Signature Bank.
“Mick and Kevin, they are high-energy, good guys,” Collopy recently told Illinois Business Daily, referring to Signature CEO and President Mick O’Rourke and founding partner Kevin Bastuga.
Shoreline, which runs the architectural tours and water taxis that ply the Chicago River from spring through fall, has become one of the city’s most recognizable companies, one of the first stops for many tourists and popular with locals as well.
But business would be a lot tougher without the company’s partnership with Signature Bank, Collopy said.
“Our business is kind of unusual, with its cyclical cash and it’s difficult collateral,” Collopy said. “A lot of banks do not make boat loans, no matter how strong your balance. That is their policy. A good chunk of lenders say they will not do them.”
Not so Signature, a bank set up in 2006 specifically to cater to medium-sized businesses, to build relationships and watch them grow.
“My partners and I started Signature Bank when we noticed a void in the market for what we consider relationship banking, where you sit down with the owner of the business at a table, and talk about potential transactions, and support their growth and dreams," O’Rourke said in a recent interview. “We bring a passion to our customers and our relationships. As their banker, it’s a real point of pride for me to hear about their successes.”
Shoreline, which is gearing up for its busy season, was a Signature customer from the inception of the bank.
“Signature is that type of bank that just takes the time to get to know you,” Collopy said. “It’s not that people do not move on, but you do forge longer relationships than in larger banks.”
Other bigger institutions are much more interchangeable; believe they can replace customers; and as a result, do not really care, Collopy said.
Shoreline Sightseeing has been in operation and in the same family for 77 years. Matt Collopy and his brother took over the business 20 years ago.
It began with one vessel offering tours of the Lake Michigan shoreline. The company now has a fleet of 10 touring vessels and nine water taxis.
In 1996, Shoreline brought the first water taxis to Chicago. Three years later, it launched its hugely successful architectural tours.
Between 1999 and 2003, Shoreline commissioned three new vessels for its touring fleet: Star of Chicago, Evening Star and Bright Star.
Four more custom-outfitted vessels have been added in recent years.
It's no surprise that its further expansion has coincided with its partnership with Signature Bank.