Agency of the Month
In a historic setting, Williamsburg, Virginia
Most people who visit Williamsburg, Virginia, come to have a conversation with George Washington or Thomas Jefferson, or simply to drift back more than two and a half centuries to a simpler time, when the ideas that created the American democracy were being discussed in each of the 13 colonies. But none was more important than Virginia, the largest and richest of the colonies. It was in Williamsburg, the capital of the colony, that George Mason drafted the Virginia Declaration of Rights, which was adopted unanimously by the Fifth Virginia Convention in Williamsburg on June 12, 1776. It was one of the earliest documents to emphasize the protection of individual rights and was used as a model for the United States Declaration of Independence, drafted later that month in Philadelphia.
While parents and history wonks may revel in the reconstructed Colonial Williamsburg, where no one is in danger of being hit by a motorized vehicle (but do watch out for the horse-drawn carriages, as well as the evidence left behind by the passing horses), there also are state-of-the-art roller coasters minutes away at Busch Gardens. And Williamsburg is only one point on the Historic Triangle, with the first British colony, Jamestown, only minutes away in one direction and the site of the final major battle of the Revolutionary War, Yorktown, minutes away in the other direction.
These attractions bring many visitors to the area, but what they often fail to see is a thriving and growing community where students at the College of William & Mary brush elbows with residents who have lived here for most of their lives, along with a growing number of retirees who have chosen to live here because of its milder winters (for those coming from northern climates) or less-hot summers (for those who have suffered through August in Florida).
And, of course, there are all the businesses that are needed to support the community, like a plethora of restaurants running the gamut from fine dining to fast food, brew pubs, landscaping services, healthcare facilities, and so on. And to make certain that the individuals and businesses are properly insured against loss, there are insurance agencies, with one of the best being Middle Peninsula Insurance Agency, under the leadership of Joe Harrow, president, and his partners, Steve Rice, chief operating officer, and Matt Slye, CIC, vice president of sales.
The agency started out in 1963 as a mom-and-pop operation (Joe’s mom and pop to be exact) in Deltaville, a small town on the eastern coast of Virginia that measures its population in the hundreds. When Joe left his job as a private bank lending officer to join the agency in 1994, his primary motive was to remain in an area he loved, but he quickly learned that insurance was an interesting and engaging business. When he joined, the agency had one office and four employees. That has grown to 21 employees in three offices (in addition to Williamsburg and Deltaville, it also has an office in Dillwyn, Virginia). The agency now serves the entire state of Virginia.
Joe remembers that “the opening of the Williamsburg office in 1997 was a big move by Mid Pen. It involved taking on the expenditures required to maintain new offices and changing the agency from a small family business to one that would face greater competition as it moved into larger markets.” It proved propitious as it propelled the agency to strong growth and prominence. At the same time, Joe solidified his leadership and in later years purchased the business from his family.
Joe then brought in his own team to help run the agency and give him more time to meet with customers and prospects and search for new acquisitions. Matt Slye joined in 2008 after spending three years with Nationwide Insurance. In his role as vice president of sales, he has all producers reporting to him. He also is responsible for a growing book of business.
Hope Harrell, director of account management, joined the agency in 2010. “Hope’s job is to manage the department that services all our personal and commercial accounts,” Joe says. “Prior to joining us, she was the office manager and client liaison for a custom home builder. We have always prided ourselves on our excellent service, and Hope has added many tools to measure our interactions with clients so we can move that service to an even higher level.”
A culture of community
“Our main focus has always been serving our community; it sets us apart from the bigger companies we compete against,” Matt says. “In addition, I’ve been working on developing a strong sales culture within the agency where we are constantly prospecting. In the last four or five years, this has paid off with new business growth and high retention rates. We emphasize the importance of retention by encouraging our producers to work closely with our account management team and clients during the renewal process. In addition to sales meetings, we have team renewal meetings and we closely track retention rates.”
“Giving back is part of our fabric,” Joe points out. “Williamsburg is a wonderful place to live and work, and part of that is because of its philanthropic nature. We’re heavily involved in all the communities in which we do business, and we encourage and support our employees in their involvement.”
Steve Rice joined the agency in 2011,bringing with him more than 25 years of insurance experience, most of it with a national carrier and broker. “I needed somebody with excellent credentials who would be a great fit with our customer-first culture; I was lucky to find someone with Steve’s experience in the industry,” Joe says.
A great place to work
“There are three key parts to my job,” Steve says. “The first is to make sure we provide world-class, old-school service. It’s basic, and it includes making certain we don’t put people on hold, returning phone calls quickly and responding to emails immediately, all while emphasizing the personal touch on a daily basis.
“The second part is to manage our offices as efficiently as possible. This means continuous improvement through technology, better workflows and constant review of all available data. It allows us to be accessible 24/7, stay open during storms and disasters, and make changes that make us better.
“The third part is to make sure this is a great place to work. It’s important to us that our people are happy in their jobs, plus it’s the most effective way to attract highly talented people who believe in our mission.
“We value our customers and try to treat them the same way that we would want to be treated,” Steve says.
Joe adds that part of what makes this a “nice place to work is the fact that we recognize jobs that are well done, and we provide employees a positive working environment. Every account manager has his or her own office in a beautiful building.
“In the final analysis,” Joe continues, “what really counts is how we perform when there is a claim or a complaint, and we handle both of those areas immediately. If it’s a complaint, we find out what happened and what we need to do to make certain it never happens again. We are growing partly because our current customers recommend us to their families and friends. Our reputation is very important. By the same token, one bad mention can damage a reputation that we have spent our time and talent developing. That’s why we do our best to resolve all complaints right away and make certain that the complainant is satisfied with the solution.
“As far as claims are concerned,” he says, “they are the reason our clients purchased insurance from us. They don’t want to have a loss. But if there is a loss, we move quickly to help our client and work with our companies to have it taken care of quickly and appropriately. Our good relationship with each of the carriers we represent makes this a lot easier to accomplish.”
Matt points out that the agency represents “about a dozen standard carriers. We keep that representation to a reasonable number so we can provide the best service and be sure our carriers share our customer-first mentality. These companies are committed to the region and to the kinds of accounts we write in Williamsburg and the surrounding area. That commitment is a big deal to us.”
Joe adds that “we often are asked about niche marketing. We have developed niches in fields like contracting, restaurants and habitational risks, including HOAs, condo associations and apartment complexes. But what I always tell people is that everywhere we do business is our niche. We have relationships with companies that want to write business in those areas, and our people live, work and play there. They love their communities and want to provide every client the best possible experience.”
Rough Notes is pleased to honor Middle Peninsula Insurance Agency as our Agency of the Month. Joe’s closing comments makes it clear why the agency is so deserving: “More than anything, I am very grateful to our clients. They have honored us with their business, and we have to continue to earn their business every day. To accomplish that we are constantly evolving and tweaking the dial so that we are always striving to get better.”
Dennis H. Pillsbury is a Virginia-based freelance insurance writer.