Ohio agency finds its purpose and goes from good to remarkable
“The purpose of life is not to be happy—but to matter, to be productive, to be useful, to have it make some difference that you lived at all.”
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
Epiphanies sometimes come in small packages. In 2012, Preferred Insurance Center, Coldwater, Ohio, became a centenarian, and Partner Dan Muhlenkamp wanted to do something to celebrate the event. Dan and his team decided to make it the Year of Giving Back—a way to say thank you to the community that had supported the agency and helped it grow. So, they instituted a program where, every time they provided a quote, the agency would donate $10 to a local charity. And then they decided that they needed a fund-raising event to bring in more money for charities.
An intern at the agency was tasked with coming up with a fundraiser, and “Flamingo Flocking” emerged from that project. Here’s how a flocking fundraiser works: Flamingos appear in the yard of a client along with a sign that says, “You’ve been flocked.” For a $20 “moving-fee donation,” Preferred Insurance or charity team members would remove the flamingos and move them to a new location. Many times people would gladly let Preferred Insurance quote their insurance, so another $10 was added to the donation. It caught on.
People in the community loved the idea and, by the end of the year, the agency had raised more than $20,000 for charities. And the employees started wearing pink shirts, both in the office and when they were out in the community.
“But what was even more important was the way this changed Preferred Insurance Center,” Dan says. “It gave us a purpose beyond making money. When the year was over, we looked back and realized how great the change was.”
He continues, “The level of optimism that grew out of this expanded sense of purpose allowed us to take chances. We started hiring new people to help fuel growth. When we entered that year, our revenue was a little over half a million dollars. Last year, we broke $1 million in revenue. And our staff has grown from six people to 12 today.”
Partner Roger Rindler says, “I have been in insurance for 33 years. It’s a very good industry and I was always proud to represent it. But, to be candid, it was always a job, until we made the change. Now it’s an event. I enjoy working with our team and I see clients who tell me how nice it is to come to the agency.”
Dan adds, “We have one especially poignant story about that. One of our clients was having a bad day. So, she came into the agency to cheer up and get a hug.
She actually told me, ‘When I drove past your office. I thought to myself: ‘They’ll help me feel better.’ How many agencies have that kind of relationship? She left the agency with a smile on her face, commenting, ‘This truly was the best part of my day.’ When that happened, I knew we were doing something important. I want every one of our clients to know that it is okay to come in just for a hug.”
Roger picks up, “This really puts more spring in your step. Now I view my job as an adventure rather than work—and that’s fun.”
Andrea AbouJaoude is the agency’s newest Opportunity Generator. (That’s a CSR in the old world, before the change.) “I’ve been on staff about a year and a half, but I knew the agency was different when I came here for my interview. Actually, a little before I came in,” she says. “The ad they used had different words in it to describe the opportunity, words like ‘awesome.’ Never before had I walked into an agency that was exciting, but this one was. It’s the first time I felt at home at work. I don’t have any trouble getting out of bed in the morning to come to work. I look forward to it.”
One thing the change has accomplished is that “we are more recognizable in the community,” Roger says. “When people see the pink shirts, they know where we work. It makes us more approachable, and people see us as more than insurance salespeople. We’ve successfully branded ourselves as being something more than an insurance agency, as something beyond selling insurance. We’re viewed differently than our competitors.”
Dan notes, “This fits my personality perfectly. I’m a very purpose-driven person and I’ve always viewed as one of my purposes mentoring people so they would be ready to help others. Our focus on charitable donations growing out of our business efforts reinforces that approach. I genuinely feel like we’re doing something worthwhile. At the same time, the excitement this generates allows us to have fun at work. And clients see that and hear it.
“Oftentimes,” he adds, “the first contact they have with the agency is when they call in and are greeted cheerfully by one of our servicing agents. Compare that to places where your call is answered by a computer-generated voice that starts rambling through a series of options.”
The culture thing
“It’s all about the culture thing,” Roger quips. “We’ve developed a culture that is focused on helping people. And that message shows in the way we treat our team members, our clients, our insurance companies, and our community. It has proved efficacious in helping us grow.
“That’s not why we do it,” he adds, “but it is one of the side effects. Clients want to recommend us to their friends. We have one client who was so happy with us, he sent us 41 referrals in one year. We still get texts from him when he goes on vacation—texts that include flamingo pictures.”
Dan adds, “We also recognized that we needed to provide as many solutions as possible, if we wanted to help our clients reach their risk management needs. But we can’t do that on our own. One of our key partners in this effort has been the Keystone Insurers Group. We joined in 2010, and are really starting to use their expertise more fully as we seek to provide a more robust solution.”
At the moment, personal lines generates about 75% of the agency’s revenue, with commercial lines rounding out the balance, along with very little life and health. “We’re working to change that,” Dan says, “and Keystone offers expertise in so many areas, that we feel comfortable telling clients and prospects that we can provide a full complement of risk management and employee benefits services.
“Our goal has always been to offer more than just insurance,” Dan continues. “Keystone gives us access to group products and expertise in difficult commercial lines areas. At the same time, we continue to expand in personal lines, by listening to our clients and responding to their needs. For example, a number of our farming clients have older buildings and were looking for replacement cost coverage. We found a carrier that would write that business. We also offer seminars for our clients on a number of insurance issues, as well as on Social Security. I became a certified Social Security advisor so I could help clients make the right decisions about how to maximize their benefits.”
Andrea says, “We like being the one and only place people need to call when they have a risk management concern. Helping people is why we’re here, and helping families with all of the services they need is very gratifying.”
Dan adds, “Another great advantage of being part of Keystone is the other members and their willingness to share and help out. If we ever are faced with a risk that we can’t handle for whatever reason, we know we can call on the Keystone membership and find someone with a solution. And we know that, if one of our clients winds up getting coverage from one of these members, they will be treated well and fairly.”
One other aspect of the agency that Dan and Roger feel is somewhat unique is that they understand that people need to fail in order to learn. “Being wrong isn’t a problem,” Dan says. “If you go a week and haven’t failed a few times, then you’re not trying,” he adds with a smile. “At the same time, we celebrate success. Every time a sale is made, you’ll hear MC Hammer blasted through the agency and you’ll see all the team members smile and congratulate the team members who completed the sale.”
Roger concludes, “Our mission statement makes it clear that what differentiates us is the desire to succeed so we can help others. The statement says: ‘We will grow and thrive as a team and as individuals, so we are able to enrich our communities, businesses, and farms, by sharing ourselves, values, solutions, resources, and expertise.’”
Rough Notes is proud to recognize Preferred Insurance Center as our Agency of the Month. Its concern for the welfare of its clients and its community makes the agency well deserving of the accolade.
By Dennis H. Pillsbury