“We live in paradise,” they say. As the western-most point on the Eastern Seaboard, it’s protected from most hurricanes. However, the agency still weathers the buffeting those storms cause in the state’s insurance market.
Amelia Island, Florida
“We live in paradise,” they say. In 2018, Condé Nast Traveler readers voted their barrier island one of the top-10 islands in the world. It’s tucked into the inward curve of the coastline where Florida meets Georgia. As the western-most point on the Eastern Seaboard, it’s protected from most hurricanes. However, the agency still weathers the buffeting those storms cause in the state’s insurance market. The LaPorte family bought the firm in 2010 and is the third local owner, building a reputation on neighbor-to-neighbor service. Popular Fernandina Beach is a two-block walk from the office.
Five producers generate $550,000 in gross revenue per year. Turnover is nearly nonexistent among the 1,350 personal lines customers who account for 75% of the business mix and the 250 commercial customers who represent 25%.
Pierre Laporte, President
In a world headed toward automated call centers, we’re going the opposite way. We’re a small-town agency and we focus on Amelia Island, Fernandina Beach and Nassau County. There’s a lot of touching with our clients, and we’re only going to get more personal. Clients speak to their agent every time they’re contacted or contact us. We take the time to sit down and listen to their issues and needs—even their marital issues—to understand them as individuals. Sometimes we’re way off-topic, but that investment comes back to us as goodwill. Word-of-mouth is our most successful marketing.
We will continue to grow organically and are not looking to expand beyond Nassau County. We have lots of untapped opportunities for growth in our county—cross-selling our current clients, partnerships with other local business and new product offerings. Our website is not key to our marketing efforts. Although customers can make policy changes and get certificates of insurance online, we still handle the premium transactions personally. And if we get an online quote request, we’re not going to just send out the quote. We’re going to call and ask questions. From the very start, we personalize the whole process. Most clients want us to add their auto or boat or home or business insurance, because of that personal service.
Marie Sullivan, Agency Manager
We work to keep pace with Florida’s fluid insurance marketplace, where underwriting guidelines, carriers and ratings are constantly changing. In the last two weeks of January, for example, we had two or three underwriting updates from almost every carrier. Our differentiator is that we’re on top of those updates and reacting before clients even get wind of premium increases. We probably spend 50% of our time calling our clients, remarketing them if we need to, seeing if we need to move them. Most of our commercial accounts are the artisan contractors—carpenters, electricians, landscapers, painters—who keep our island beautiful.
Our clients know we understand this unique market. Because we’re on a barrier island, we have certain needs and require access to special markets. And pricing is always an issue, so balancing that is a constant battle. To help us monitor the marketplace and new provider offerings, we rely on resources like the Florida Association of Insurance Agents and the Big “I.”
We have two customer service representatives and plan to invest in a third because our goal is to reach out to the client at every reasonable opportunity. While every client interacts primarily with their assigned agent, the CSRs are the trusted team members who provide support and follow-up.
Kerry Barlow, Personal Lines Manager
My favorite part of being an agent is conversing with our customers face-to-face. Clients from across the world maintain secondary residences here, and around two-thirds of our homeowners do not rent their residences, whether primary or secondary. But we are in a huge rental market. About 70% or the condos we write end up in the rental pool, which means we must review every renewal to be sure risks have not changed. Because annual policy reviews always include flood quotes, we occasionally get a question about global warming. But our area has been stable since the 1960s.
We did have a road that disappeared with Hurricane Dora in 1964, but inland properties see a lot more impact than we do, especially after hurricanes. We have, however, seen changes in building requirements, for example, where houses must be built up higher than the base flood elevation. In 2016, 2017 and 2018, hurricanes caused significant losses elsewhere throughout Florida, so in 2020 we are seeing the results of that in pricing and product changes and carrier turnover in our market.
PHOTO BY BARRY RABINOWITZ