I Scream, You Scream…
Altana FCU Shares Smiles One Sweet Treat at a Time
By Donna Adinolfe
Irene Ramirez, Community Outreach and Social Media Coordinator at Altana Federal Credit Union has been known to turn some heads in her day—that is, when she’s cruising the streets of the Billings, MT, area in the Altana Treat Mobile.
The Treat Mobile is a converted 1979 Volkswagen Bus with jaw-dropping art and multicolored headlights that has become a staple sighting at area events. The colorful artwork and customized playlists booming from the Bus speakers draw attention, as does the promise of free ice cream wherever it’s parked.
“Who doesn’t love ice cream?” asked Megan Kongaika, chief experience officer at Altana FCU, who started the ball rolling on the Treat Mobile.
What they did:
While searching on social media for marketing ideas, Kongaika came across a similar ice cream van used by Vibrant Credit Union in Moline, IL. She contacted Vibrant for pointers on how to make it work for Altana and to get their blessing for using their idea.
“Vibrant was amazing and generous,” she said.
Kongaika and VP of Business Lending Jason Hagadone crunched the numbers, presented it to CEO Rhonda Diefenderfer and the board, who approved the idea.
They found a 1979 VW Bus for sale on the internet, and had it outfitted with a pop-up top. They added vibrant comic-style art and colored headlights on the exterior, and a sliding-top freezer filled with Willcoxen’s locally made ice cream on the inside — not to mention the sweet speakers playing Altana’s customized playlists, which are available on their Spotify channel.
With Ramirez behind the wheel since 2019, the Treat Mobile has become a local icon.
“People are wide-eyed; heads turn,” said Ramirez, adding that she has been stopped in traffic so people can take photos with the ice cream bus. “It’s got a fun and youthful vibe.”
Altana has shared free ice cream at parades, college fairs, job fairs and membership meetings. During the height of the pandemic, Altana cruised the Billings area while handing out ice cream to essential workers at local hospitals. They even packed the Bus with school supplies for a local elementary school.
While their goal is never to sell the credit union when the Treat Mobile is at an event, Altana has gained a great deal of interest from potential members who have visited the ice cream bus, Ramirez and Kongaika agreed.
“It’s a great conversation piece,” Kongaika said. “It’s a mobile marketing tool and ice cream is an affordable thing to give away.”
Altana has even incorporated the Treat Mobile’s colors on its website and marketing materials.
Social media engagement increases whenever a post includes photos of the Treat Mobile.
“When we post to social media to showcase the bus, we can also tag locations and organizations,” Kongaika said. “It’s a great way to connect the credit union and its membership with our local community!”
When asked for sponsorship dollars, Altana offers the Treat Mobile as their contribution.
Manning the Treat Mobile is also a favorite of staff members, who are required to do volunteer hours as part of their employment.
- Vibrant said, “This is going to explode, and you have to create parameters of what events you want to attend.” Kongaika added that distance and weather conditions are the only reasons Altana will refuse attendance.
- A full-time person is needed to manage the bus even in the colder months. The staffer needs to be on top of vehicle maintenance and inventory.
- Choose a vehicle that doesn’t require specialized and expensive maintenance. “A 1979 air-cooled VW Bus is not easy to maintain,” Kongaika said, adding, “But you can’t help but smile when you look at it.”
- Any vehicle can be converted with a fun look.
- Check with state and local regulations regarding permits and health and safety inspections.