Through thick and thin – potato chips, that is – Fulton Bank has been a trusted partner in the steady growth of Dieffenbach’s, the family-owned snack food business going national from its Berks County base.
“Fulton Bank is definitely a partner in helping us to achieve our growth plans,” says CEO Nevin Dieffenbach. “When we needed capital to grow and credit to get through a rough economy, Fulton made the effort to understand our business and came through with what we needed.”
The story of the partnership shared with Fulton Bank by Dieffenbach’s and Countryside, another growing business in the Dieffenbach family, dates to 1964. That’s when Mark Dieffenbach built his own kettle cookers to sell the homemade potato chips that family and friends loved. As the business and capacity expanded over the years, Mark’s son, Elam, would join the family firm, followed by his grandson, Nevin.
In 2006, Nevin Dieffenbach took the helm and turned the focus to spreading the Dieffenbach’s brand nationwide. The company branched into private-label manufacturing for other brands while also launching the mission-focused Uglies line of chips, produced to minimize food waste, support farmers, and fight hunger by upcycling cosmetically imperfect potatoes.
That growth required dramatic, planned expansion. Fulton Bank was there when Dieffenbach’s was a small, family-run operation. As Dieffenbach’s moved into growth mode, Fulton Bank’s commercial solutions stepped up to facilitate capital investments in expanded production, storage, and state-of-the-art equipment. In 2018, Dieffenbach’s cut the ribbon on a new, 106,000-square-foot facility for warehousing, manufacturing, and national distribution.
It’s all built on relationships. Fulton Bank listens closely, empowering Dieffenbach’s to grow from employing 12 associates to 180 in 17 years. The time that Fulton Bank’s relationship manager invests in plant visits and getting to know the business, is returned in streamlined approvals for loans and credit. While Fulton scrupulously performs its due diligence, there are no unnecessary delays.
“It is evident they know the business intimately, and that knowledge of the business allows growth to move forward much more quickly than I have ever seen with other banks,” says Dieffenbach’s President Mike Marlowe, who joined the company in 2014. “The process is the same, but the pace was faster and easier. I really believe they trust our performance, and they trust the history they have with Dieffenbach’s.”
In fact, says Marlowe, when deals were completed, he would look at Nevin Dieffenbach and say, “That’s it?” And Dieffenbach would say, “That’s it.”
“That’s how it always is with Fulton,” Marlowe adds. “The process isn’t just transactional. It’s built on trust, which helps to accelerate things.”
Fulton Bank also brings a deep-seated knowledge of industry-wide climate, opportunities, and pressures to the process. Fulton provided access to industry experts available to answer questions as Dieffenbach’s considered expanding into national markets.
Fulton has also buoyed Dieffenbach’s through the extraordinary challenges of a rocky economy. During COVID, other snack food businesses, reeling from the loss of key customer segments such as the food service industry, were forced to close, but Fulton provided Dieffenbach’s access to the capital and credit that helped them through the unparalleled times that followed.
And as prices of essential commodities skyrocketed – such as cooking oil, shooting from $25,000 a tanker load to more than $100,000 – Dieffenbach’s approached Fulton Bank with a plan to leverage a line of credit. Fulton scrutinized the plan, asked tough questions, and came through.
“It was a tough two years, but they were right there beside us,” Marlowe says. “Without someone like Fulton through a period like this, a business was truly at risk.”
Then came a “mini disaster,” in Marlowe’s words. Dieffenbach’s had the wherewithal to recover from a quickly contained fire in September 2022, but one of the first people to reach out was the Fulton Bank relationship manager, asking how he could help and prepare to fix any gaps, if needed.
“You only get that if you have a relationship,” says Marlowe. “Fulton is both proactive and reactive. You need a bank that will be both of those things because you can’t anticipate everything. You couldn’t anticipate COVID. You couldn’t anticipate what commodities would do. You never anticipate a disaster or a fire. Fulton Bank has been there through all of that.”
The same relationship manager committed to Dieffenbach’s also handles the account for Countryside, the Myerstown-based business Nevin Dieffenbach acquired in 2006. Like Dieffenbach’s, Countryside has grown organically, expanding its fuel delivery services to include home heating, cooling, plumbing, and propane.
In the middle of the pandemic, few businesses were operating from a growth mindset, but Countryside saw an opportunity to help their customers that found themselves suddenly spending more time at home.
“Rather than run scared, Fulton asked all the questions they needed to ask in order to understand what we were doing, and they continued to support our growth into the home service market,” says Countryside General Manager Bill Myers.
Today, with help from Fulton Bank, Countryside is adding services to complete the home comfort concept, focusing on indoor air quality, water quality, and generator installation and maintenance.
As a thriving business, Dieffenbach’s can also sustain its commitment to community causes. Through the William J. Dieffenbach Foundation, the company gives back by donating products to churches, schools, and food banks. Its support for the faith-based VivaKids helps bring resources to organizations serving children in the developing world.
As always, Fulton Bank gets it, supporting company initiatives for children’s causes.
“Fulton, not being this behemoth of a bank, has a similar philosophy of being embedded in the communities where they do business,” says Marlowe. “There’s likeness in those things you wouldn’t get in a relationship with a big bank.”
While Countryside is transforming into a comprehensive home-comfort service, Dieffenbach’s also keeps growing. Now that Dieffenbach’s and its Uglies line are national, the company needs manufacturing capabilities in the west and will continue to work with Fulton on ways to fund the various strategies, including potential acquisitions.
Fulton, with its array of small, midsized, and large clients, has the experience to help Dieffenbach’s grow strategically.
“They’re part of those conversations and helping us make sure we take the right steps,” says Marlowe. “They are there, assisting us in scale.”
Nevin Dieffenbach knows that his growing companies could do their banking with larger institutions, but he stays with Fulton because no other financial institution can duplicate the relationship built around a shared commitment to growth and the community.
“The partnership with Fulton is strong,” he says. “But, it’s the people who keep us there.”
Fulton Bank, N.A. Member FDIC. Fulton Bank is not affiliated with Dieffenbach’s Snacks.