Insurers Shake It Up: Rebrands, expansions and moves redefine image for local agencies

The insurance world has gotten exciting in Traverse City.

New offices, rebranding and expansion into niche markets are just a few ways local agencies are trying to stay relevant and serve their clients more effectively.

What’s new exactly? We asked five area agencies; here’s what they said:

Bonek Agency

The Agency: Located in Suttons Bay, Bonek Agency has a legacy that dates to 1934. Today, the agency provides a range of personal and commercial coverage options under the leadership of owner Chris Branson.

The Latest: Branson, who started working at Bonek Agency in 1979 and became a partner in 1985, officially bought out his co-owner’s stake in June 2016. Since then, Branson has overseen a facelift for the firm, starting with a relocation to a new 3,500 square-foot office building just off M-22.

The move ushered in a brand new era for Bonek. In the past year, Branson said his company has ramped up its advertising, expanded its staff and revamped its branding and messaging, particularly online. Customers have responded to the brand refresh, too: Branson said Bonek’s clientele has expanded significantly since he became the company’s sole owner.

The Future: After a busy two years of changes and growth at Bonek Agency, Branson is ready for a slightly calmer 2018 … not that he and his team plan on growing complacent.

“Business as usual,” said Branson, when asked about his business’s future. “Keep doing things right, every day.”

Ford Insurance Agency

The Agency: Ford Insurance is a locally owned and operated insurance agency with nearly 30 years of history in the area. The agency’s insurance offerings are broad, but specialties include cornerstones like home, auto, business and health coverage.

The Latest: Recently, Ford Insurance has been working to expand beyond standard insurance types into niche markets and sectors, such as agriculture, cyber liability, high-tech manufacturing, and brewing, fermenting, and vintning. David Ford, the agency’s principal, said that breaking into these markets means understanding target markets and being able to communicate that knowledge at a high level.

“We recently had someone at the United States Association of Cider Makers out in Baltimore,” Ford said. “These brewers would say, ‘You actually know what you’re talking about. My local insurance agent, he’s great, but he doesn’t know the answers to all these questions that you know cold.’ So, we’re finding a lot of great reception by attacking these little specialty markets, which turn out to be not very little.”

The Future: Another major focus Ford Insurance is embracing is having more self-service tools. For instance, one function Ford Insurance has adopted is a mobile app that lets users pull up their insurance certificates. If someone gets pulled over and doesn’t have proof of insurance in their car, they can quickly access it on the app.

Ford said that many insurance companies throughout the state are reluctant to change the way they do things. In a play to stay ahead of the curve and improve overall customer service, Ford insurance is diving in.

“We’ve embraced the technology and we’re not afraid of it,” he said. “It might take us a little while to figure it out, but we’re committing to it.”

Front Street Insurance Agency

The Agency: Front Street Insurance Agency started in 2004 as a from-scratch venture for founders and partners William Van Vreede and Harold Kranick. Both financial advisors, Van Vreede and Kranick were seeking to provide a value-added service for their existing clients. Over the years, the business has expanded beyond its home in downtown Traverse City, acquiring agencies in Beulah and Honor.

The Latest: With 14 employees, Front Street Insurance is ready to grow. Kranick said the agency plans to open a second office in Acme.

“At each office, we have sought to be the ‘local/your town’ agency,” Kranick said. “Our advertising is local and we always want to be a part of the small town downtown. Acme is coming into its own and we plan to be the local Acme agency.”

The Future: Right now, Front Street Insurance is focused on its Acme office, set to open late spring. The agency has picked out a new office location, is in the process of preparing the building, and is looking for a new agent to help out with new Acme clients.

Hagerty

The Agency: As one of Traverse City’s most well-known businesses, Hagerty has evolved over the past 34 years to become the world’s premiere insurance provider for collector cars and boats.

The Latest: Hagerty has recently expanded its insurance offerings to include newer models and luxury vehicles that don’t technically qualify as classic cars, but demand the same specialized insurance approach Hagerty is known for.

According to Amy Johnson, Hagerty’s vice president of corporate communications, the company’s mission going forward is all about nourishing car enthusiasts and keeping the love of driving alive.

“In the past, we were really dedicated to cars that were about 25 years or older,” Johnson said. “We’ve expanded that now, so that we are opening our book of business and making sure we can protect the vehicles of people who love cars.”

The Future: Though it started as an insurance company,  Hagerty has evolved to provide a much wider array of services to car enthusiasts. The company hopes to continue its expansion in the coming years by focusing on items such as:

  • Valuation data for classic and luxury vehicles
  • Hagerty Magazine, a bimonthly publication with one of the largest circulations of any automotive magazine
  • “Barn Find Hunter,” a YouTube web series with 305,000-plus subscribers
  • DriveShare, a new peer-to-peer rental program that allows users to rent classic cars, muscle cars, luxury cars, and exotic vehicles directly from the owner
  • Hagerty Insider, an iOS app designed to help car collectors make smarter decisions at automotive auctions
  • Hagerty CARes, the company’s philanthropic program

The McNish Group

The Agency: The McNish Group has been in business for more than 50 years. The agency was established in 1968 in the Royal Oak area and has maintained an office in Traverse City for more than three decades. The company provides services to clients in all 50 states, including risk management, insurance, bonding and financial management.

The Latest: According to Rochelle Miller, vice president of business development and operations, McNish Group launched a rebrand in 2017, largely with the Traverse City area in mind. She said that the company had a platform in northern Michigan, thanks to its long-running office here, but felt they needed to deepen their ties to the area.

“I recognized that we had been in the community for over 30 years, but just not really engaging enough with the community,” Miller said.

The rebrand didn’t involve a name change, but McNish Group did make some key changes. The agency traded an office that Miller describes as “tucked into an industrial area” on Garfield for a much more central location on Front Street. McNish Group also hired Jenny Craig, a local native, to lead the Traverse City office as director of marketing and business development.

The Future: Following the McNish Group’s “reintroduction” to the Traverse City community, Miller says that Craig is working to increase brand awareness and grow the business locally. Within the next five to seven years, the agency hopes to expand to other northern Michigan cities and communities.

“We are committed to the northern Michigan environment,” Miller said. “We want to build on our 30-year platform. We’ve got the right people in place to do that now, and I think the opportunity for us to grow our business up there is very well-positioned.”

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