Agency Profile: Small But Mighty

McMeel Insurance

Great Falls, Montana
Founded: 1979
Employees: 3

“This is an insurance office?”

That’s the first question visitors ask Mike and Di Rydell. From building their own agency management platform to launching Montana’s first CoderDojo, the couple happily flouts agency tradition in favor of their own business model. But as third-generation owners, they also respect the lessons of their family predecessors.

At 36, Mike Rydell says staying “small and true to ourselves is our best course.” 2015 was the firm’s best year. McMeel’s retention rate is about 95% and most clients are long term. Federal crop insurance composes half of McMeel’s business, and Mike visits every farm. Most are within an 80-mile radius in Montana’s golden triangle for wheat and barley, but others are scattered throughout western U.S. states. “We’re hands on,” he says.

RACHEL BIRKENBUEL, PERSONAL LINES GURU

Our chief marketing tool is the personal quality of our service. When I came on board three years ago, our agency management system enabled me to get to know our clients quickly. That’s because I could access every client’s complete history—including insightful and entertaining stories from Mike’s father and my predecessor. My business conversations take place within the context of a personal relationship, and I ask those friends to tell their friends about us. This has been working very well.

Quality over quantity is a great motto for customer service. Our retention rate is proof of that. Our biggest challenge in finding new business is overcoming stereotypes. Letting new people know how awesome you are is difficult to do when they think all insurance is the same. But we work to have open, honest discussions of our customers’ needs and to create a personal relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

MIKE RYDELL, CEO & CO-OWNER

Our business model is like that of a tech startup. My best decision was to build our agency management solution on the platform salesforce.com. Our customized technology allows our staff of three to maximize efficiency and revenue per employee. Our system focuses on customer experiences, not policies. Our goal is to be a world-class customer experience company that happens to sell insurance. It’s a 24/7 gig for us, whether that means handling an accident claim during Christmas Eve dinner or—two years ago—working 21 days straight from 4:30 a.m. to 8 p.m. to go out on every loss after a hail storm.

Listening to older generations is an invaluable resource, and so is going outside the insurance industry. I had the good fortune to work with my dad, Reed Rydell, for roughly 10 years. I fondly remember my dad telling me stories about how he and my grandfather handled different scenarios. Only after I acquired the agency and had to deal with some serious business decisions did I truly understand the importance of those teachings. Dad and I still talk regularly, and when I explain various situations I see as catastrophic, he will relate a story from 20 years ago and say, “You will get through it. Just keep working hard.” Sound advice!

DI RYDELL, CFO & CO-OWNER

Our 1-1-1 plan is our future. We commit to donating 1% of our time, 1% of our revenue and 1% of our resources to a nonprofit or charitable cause. After a year’s preparation, in November 2015, we launched a CoderDojo in our office—kosmojodojo.org. We teach kids from ages 7-17 to write computer code, for free. Our commitment to helping expose our local kids to this limitless world of technology will continue to be our biggest investment in the foreseeable future. Who knows—maybe one of them someday will change the world, or decide to sell insurance for McMeel Insurance.

It's our relationships that create a sense of pride and ownership, whether it's with family, friends or clients. Our goal is to work with people you'd want to sit down and have a drink with—people whose businesses we support because we love them and would go there even if they weren't clients.  Clients can tell when you have an honest connection with them, and that helps form a lasting relationship that isn't all about the money.