It's often discussed but rarely done with complete dedication and execution.

Could that focus be repeated over and over again to any and all producers who wanted to participate?

It's possible the entire staff could be reshaped and structured to support this new deep-dive approach to sell insurance.

Chris Beardslee, executive vice president at Allied Insurance Managers, talks about how serious his agency is about finding specialties.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Chris Beardslee, how are you doing today, sir?

Chris Beardslee: Doing great, doing great. Thanks for the invite.

Joey Giangola: Chris, I got to know this before we really get into anything too serious, do you have a meaningless mission to convince somebody of the best version of something?

Chris Beardslee: I think it's kind of obscure sports. I like to do kickball and bowling. And I'm passionate about golf, so I think golf is one of those sports where people don't really get it until you explain it a little bit more.

Joey Giangola: Chris, I hope that you're in a kickball league of some kind. I feel like that needs to be a thing in somebody's life. That would be amazing. I don't know if it exists or not.

Chris Beardslee: I did for a number of years. Not doing it anymore because of getting a little bit older, but it was a great time. A lot of people were like, "It doesn't seem like a great sport," but you can have a lot of fun out there.

Joey Giangola: I play it occasionally with my kids still, and I tell you what, it's a good time. For me, Chris, this might sound strange, but for me it's pizza with no cheese, just sauce and bread and a little bit of Parmesan. I feel like that is my mission in life. People look at it and like, "Why would you do this?" And I say, "It's the best version of pizza, and you need to try it."

Chris Beardslee: Down that spectrum, my family's favorite is bread with peanut butter and then scrambled eggs on top.

Joey Giangola: Well, that is something. Never heard that before, Chris.

Chris Beardslee: And I'm telling you, it's amazing. And I've gotten a number of people to try it. Not everyone has adopted it, but at least they try it and tell me it's not as bad as they imagined it would be.

Joey Giangola: I'll be honest, the first time you said those three things together, I got a little bit of anxiety, so I don't know. It made me nervous to physically think about putting those things together. Maybe I'll try it this afternoon for lunch. But I want to move this over to the world of insurance, Chris. And I guess similarly, is there something that you, on the insurance side of things, like a type of coverage or just a conversation that you have when you're talking to clients, is there a best version of something that you constantly have to talk to clients about saying, "Hey, listen, you really need to look over here. This is something you might not be paying enough attention to."? Because insurance is always a, well, I have to do it. But really getting into it, is there something that you constantly are talking to clients about that they maybe not be as familiar with?

Chris Beardslee: There is a spectrum of programs here in the state of Michigan that not many people know about because there's not many agents out there that are even discussing it because they don't have appointments and they know it's kind of a good competitive advantage for whoever has access to it. But they're self-insured work comp programs. So a long time ago, Lumber Jackson and the state of Michigan decided they wanted to pool all their insurance premiums together and pay their own work comp, and the state allowed them to. So now it's been grandfathered where you can pool similar types of businesses together and create your own self-insured work comp program. I work with about seven of these programs that cross a whole spectrum of different types of businesses. And on the whole, it's a huge money saver for the customers. But with so few agents that are able to sell it and work with the programs, it's kind of an advantage that we have here.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, it's definitely interesting. And I guess maybe talk to me about that decision to maybe even look down that rabbit hole. How did that even become an option or something that you guys were looking for? I'm assuming maybe you had some businesses looking for coverage and it sort of just stumbled upon your way, but how did you get into that sort of and finding it yourself?

Chris Beardslee: The way our agency is set up is people come in, new salespeople, and they go, "Okay, we have a good enough size that we can bring in carriers that will go and work with your specialty and be kind of best-in-class carriers for whatever you want to specialize in." And being, I think I was 27 at the time, I was like, "Well, I would like to specialize in breweries, distilleries, wineries, golf courses, and janitorial contractors." So I kind of created a program around those. And when we were doing our investigation and found these programs that fit that niche, we immediately tried to get appointed. And I've been working with them for 15 years now and it's been just amazing.

Joey Giangola: I got a lot of questions there because I've definitely run across many of the agents that, "Hey, I like breweries. I want to get into it." And it's something that they always keep on the side. I don't know that they ever really get to where they want to go with it. Because you see a lot of people trying to specialize in industries, but they don't go the full program route. What is the difference there and why is that important and maybe a step that agents often maybe overlook?

Chris Beardslee: A lot of times, an agent is limited to the carriers they have access to. So you have your seven carriers that write this type of industry, this type of industry, this type of industry, and that's what they like and that they fit. So if you have six carriers, that might be 18 industries, although most of the time they overlap a lot, and so that might be 12 industries that the carriers are good at. Luckily, when I was looking for a position, I've stumbled upon our agency. And we tend to have 25, 30 carriers that can handle the different types of businesses. And when we focus on something, we add a carrier so that we have that specialty niche. And we have a couple carriers that can write for whatever niches that producer is working on. And because of that focus and having 12 salespeople, we have different programs for all 12 salespeople. So we really have a ton of niche programs that each of us can access that kind of gives us a good opportunity on any account.

Joey Giangola: Real quick, I have to know, is there a secret for the young aspiring brewery aficionado that's coming up in the insurance business? What's the trick to get in with that crowd and if they did want to make that their passion project? What did you find actually got you traction in that industry?

Chris Beardslee: There are a number of carriers that can do it, but there are a few carriers that want to do it and specialize in it. So really finding the ones that have the forms for it, like tank leakage and tank collapse. And you have loss control people that understand the industry and actually give good guidance when they inspect a brewery. It helps to have those understandings of what the operations look like so that when you have that conversation you're talking their language.

Joey Giangola: And how did you get your foot in the door? I mean, obviously, just go have a drink, sit down at the bar. I mean, what's that process like to get their attention, have them trust you, and realize that you're the guy for them?

Chris Beardslee: Essentially, the industry is very interconnected. You have your give and take of learning with each new prospect that you work with to develop that rapport with them. But then once you are into the industry, they tend to be very much, "Oh, this is my guy. I'm going to take care of you." We got a good launch because we developed some educational pages on our website and did a lot of organic media for people to come and read about what they need to know about their brewery on our website. And that led to web leads and our opportunities and then relationship building.

Joey Giangola: I'm always a sucker for good conversation around some content marketing. I might need to come back to that. I want to hit on something, though. You mentioned, again, having a sales team and having people to focus on different areas. It sounds like it's encouraged for people to branch out, find their own thing. I could be misleaded on that, but is that just sort of at the culture of the agency? Is that something that you guys feel makes you successful of encouraging people to find their sort of path in their little area of the business?

Chris Beardslee: From the start, that was always one of the key focuses for the ownership and the leadership of the agency is to be able to have more in-depth conversations for the niche programs that we develop. And it helps everybody, because each of us can go and utilize each other's niche programs. For instance, we have a niche program for fire suppression contractors. Not many people think, "Oh, that's something that I want to specialize in," but it's got three of our salespeople that get enough leads that they're almost inundated with that industry. And they know it inside and out. They talk to people all over the country and tend to be considered the expert when they're speaking to them.

Joey Giangola: How formal is that process in terms of the agency? Is that something that when you start they sit you down like, "Hey, we got to start thinking about this. What are you interested in? Where do we go?" Is there encouragement to get them through different levels of success? I guess, how serious do you guys treat it?

Chris Beardslee: Yeah. It's pretty much a constant that they're going to have niches that they're going to be approaching right off the bat. And like myself, I went into a niche. I found the customers were possibly not the type of customer that I wanted to go after or I didn't get a good feel for understanding their niche, so I might've pulled back a little bit on that program and then worked a little bit more on a different program. So you personally get a little bit of a feel for what your specialty should be as you go through the line of different types of counts. But for the most part, we have everybody fallen into some niches that they really love writing.

Joey Giangola: I want to go back. I guess, as they're establishing those, like you said, those niches, and you mentioned creating some content online, is that something that you guys still do? Are you guys still finding success in that area, creating content, driving traffic through the website? What's the makeup? What's the mix? How are you guys getting people in the door?

Chris Beardslee: Yeah. Myself and one of my partners in the agency, both of us were young. We both started at about the same time. And at the time, this was 15 years ago, we had a static website, no links. Just kind of like, "Hey, this is our agency." And that's been pretty much a driving force for him and I since we started is to continue to develop that. Now we're refreshing our website every couple of years. We have onboarded a marketing person that's just there to create content. And some of our pages have really gone up the search ranks because of the content that we're putting into them and the blog posts and other things that we're trying to instill in not only ourselves and the content person, but each of those niche specialties so that we're getting the right information to the customers.

Joey Giangola: I was perusing the website a little bit before we talked and I saw you had a whole little marketing department section. And I was like, "Oh, wow, they got multiple people for marketing." But I was like, "Wait, that's not the kind of marketing that I'm thinking about." I got excited. But I'm glad to hear that you actually have a dedicated person. How long did it take you guys to get to that place? And I mean even, I guess, maybe talked about just the overall structure of how you guys view staffing and, because again, even a marketing department of that size is relatively rare for, I guess, somebody in your guys' area. But I don't know, tell me if you've run into agencies where you feel like you're doing something differently in terms of the organizational structure and your positioning.

Chris Beardslee: It took a while to get to the point where we had an in-house marketing person. We've been outsourcing assistance with creating content that looks nice and formatting and had a specialist in insurance that helped us for years. She's still involved and does a lot for us, but having somebody in-house allows us to hit those day-to-day opportunities. But that marketing department, which is something that is good to highlight, I go out, I meet a customer, I get the information on your account. I work with somebody that is our in-house rater, essentially. So that person knows what the questions are for an insurance company to be able to get rates. So a lot of times, people are just sending a file over to an underwriter. And they might have some communication, but whatever the underwriter comes back with is what they get. We actually have three people in a department that are just there to interact with underwriters and make sure that the information they need is correct. It's being sent back and forth and we're going to get the best option. So they can look at a ton of different carriers for us.

Joey Giangola: Well, I'd imagine that position also has to be a little challenging given your diversification, if you will, and like you said, the niches, right? Because the more specialized you get, the harder questions, I would imagine, the more familiarity you need with that stuff. So how long did it take to get those folks to make that a well-oiled machine? And I'm assuming that's part of the success of how you guys are able to dive into those different areas and then ship it back and have people that are actually knowledgeable in what needs to be gathered and acquired.

Chris Beardslee: Yeah. So obviously, us, the first line of communication, need to really know the information we need to get for them. I'm in there a couple times a day at least just talking about the account that I might've sent over to them to have evaluated and explaining the information that they'll need. And they get used to kind of that inundation of information to be able to communicate it properly. And having worked across this whole spectrum, they really have a good feel for each type of business because of that. And it's a great training ground for them to understand if they go into a different role in the agency, say sales or customer service, how to manage that.

Joey Giangola: It's interesting. I guess the one thing I was curious about is is breaking it out and specifically, again, because you run across some agencies that do call it a marketing person. And that's a little confusing in terms of what you might think of advertising, marketing, all that fun stuff. But I guess the question is, why not just an account manager or CSR? Why did you think it's important to just give these people, again, specific like, "Hey, this is what we want you to do."? Because I think a lot of people would default to, "I'm just going to have this be my CSR or account manager handle this thing." And how have you found that to be a better sort of process as opposed to giving maybe more specialized tasks?

Chris Beardslee: Kind of wanting to have that breadth of carriers that can specialize in the individual niches. For any one CSR to do their day-to-day operations and servicing our accounts properly, they wouldn't have half the information or knowledge they'd need to be able to go into and rate in each of these different systems, because every system's a little different. So we feel that by having that department, we have people that know how to rate and do it properly in that system. And it allows our CSRs to do what we're hoping they can do fantastic for every customer is service. Get them their certificates, get them all the information they need, and get it in a timely manner so that there's quick response and we're constantly ahead of the curve when it comes to problems and things that a customer might need.

Joey Giangola: Sorry, I got to ask this question. You might not have an answer for it. I'm going to give it a shot anyways. But it seems like you guys are pretty thoughtful in how you structure the agency and sort of the overall process of getting through that from the acquiring of the client to quoting and servicing. What's next? What are you guys looking at right now thinking, "Man, we're not quite there yet. We could probably do this a little bit better."? What's the thing you guys are tinkering with to sort of make a little bit better? Is there a move on the horizon that you guys are sort of itching to getting towards?

Chris Beardslee: The constant is, and this has always been something our agency has prided itself on, is service and looking at different ways we can service the customer to be able to get responses more quickly or have them have access to us without having to go through any type of first step, second step. So we're evaluating constantly different technologies and systems internally that will allow the customer to be able to get us the information they need to get us by whatever means they need, text, email, phone calls. They go directly to our employees, things along those lines. We as an agency have home and auto insurance that we offer and specialists and employees in that department, health and life and disability and all those other insurances that we offer, and a specialist in that department and customer services in that department making sure that we can give that broad spectrum without it being interrupted. And they see one sole company when they interact with those people.

Joey Giangola: All right, Chris. I got three more questions for you, sir.

Chris Beardslee: Okay.

Joey Giangola: And the first one is, what's one thing you hope you never forget?

Chris Beardslee: I guess the one thing that I've always been ingrained, and my grandfather told me this when I was a young boy and starting my first job was, "Your name is your reputation." He always said, "You do one thing that tarnishes your reputation, you can never get that back." And that's the most important thing to me. So I think that that's how I always try and portray myself and I try to always to never forget that.

Joey Giangola: All right. Now, on the other side of that, Chris, what's one thing you still have yet to learn?

Chris Beardslee: The industry as a whole is evolving daily. You know there are things out there that you might be able to find that could be a better solution for customers. So I'm always trying to learn just how the best coverage can handle or be put in place for the customers that need it.

Joey Giangola: All right, Chris, last question to you, sir. If I were to hand you a magic wand of sorts to reshape, change, alter, speed up, really any part of insurance, what's that thing? Where is it going? And what's it doing?

Chris Beardslee: I think the biggest thing is the companies have all been built and around for so long that adaptation is slow in the industry. So we see claims, influence, rates, and the reaction is very strong. But then when they see the claims aren't happening, it's a slow reaction to counteract the strong reaction they had here. And not only that, but there's a lot of layers of management and other things that cause a lot of the carriers we work with to need to evolve. And we're seeing it and it's getting more efficient. And we as an industry are doing a great job of managing our customers, but there's always opportunities to get better. And that's where I could see a lot of things changing.

Joey Giangola: Chris, this has been fantastic, sir. I'm going to leave it right there.

Chris Beardslee: Okay.