Insurance gets easier when you can speak the language better than the next guy.

But did you ever think that fluency was more important than insurance knowledge and experience?

Well, that's where things get interesting, and you might be surprised at how important talking the talk is with truckers.

Jeffrey Gordon, President at The Bayou Agency, talks about how he's taking his transportation clients to the next level.

Joey Giangola: Mr. Jeffrey Gordon. How are you doing today, sir?

Jeffrey Gordon: Doing well. How are you?

Joey Giangola: Jeffrey, I'm doing all right. I'm doing all right. I want to know this first before we really get anything too serious. Have you ever encountered somebody who has a characteristic or trait we'll say that isn't maybe ideal for their job?

Jeffrey Gordon: Sure, yeah, I would say so. Definitely when dealing in customer service, I can think of a few recent circumstances where that would be the case.

Joey Giangola: Fair enough for me, Jeffrey, I ran into a lady at the DMV who was overly loud, mentioning all my nice personal information for everybody sitting, waiting to hear. I was like, no, it's not an ideal situation, but it's like "If you could just talk a little quieter so everybody doesn't know where I live, that would be fantastic."

Jeffrey Gordon: Right. Yeah. She just didn't have an inside voice.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, no, not at all. I thought that was interesting, just an interesting clash of abilities, that's all. Well, I wanted move then over to the world of insurance and talk to you about people and their abilities, and what you focus on, and where you sometimes maybe see people in the industry not have skills lined up to their strengths and again, knowledge and all that fun stuff. You focus on a relatively specialized area of insurance and I just didn't know how you come across when you're looking to bring in new folks and their abilities to handle that area.

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, yeah, so like you said, we're in the trucking niche is what our agency does. It's the primary focus, which isn't something that you just pick up. I've been transportation agent for probably better 15 years now. It is just what I do and what I taught, but you can obviously tell those that are fearful of it or intimidated by it, it is a learning curve, but it's not that complicated once you understand the basics of it. Finding people to recruit into the industry, usually I look for somebody that's in the transportation world that can talk trucking, whether it be from a dispatch company, a truck sales, just somebody that knows the industry. I always say the insurance is the easy part. It's knowing these type of people, knowing the things they deal with from the rates that they're seeing or regulation or equipment issues they have so much. It's knowing their industry. The insurance is the easy part to teach. It's just being able to relate to what they do is the difficult.

Joey Giangola: Now, I would take a guess and say most agents not involving themselves in transportation on a day-to-day might find that surprising that the insurance part of it is easy and they're thinking, "Well, what have I been doing this whole time that I can't figure it out?" Then I'm going to ask you Jeffrey, what is the secret then, and why is it so easy?

Jeffrey Gordon: Sure. Well, so go high level, what's the coverage? Liability for if they do damage to others their own equipment, our comprehensive collision coverages, our cargo we're carrying for others. Then if we have a yard, a terminal, general liability for trip and fall work comp, that's your basic coverage there. It's really the same whether they're a pharmaceutical distribution company or any other type of retail shop that has employees out on the road. The insurance is the insurance. I think what scares people or where it gets complicated is the filings, but again, that's not overly complicated. Are they federally regulated or just state regulated? Then that lets you know where you need to go filing-wise. It's not wildly complicated and maybe that's just my ignorance because it's second nature to me.

Joey Giangola: Yeah. Well, I also found it interesting that going to somebody like having the language in the actual industry is something that you prioritize over almost anything else. From dealing with trucking businesses, that must mean something to them more so than again, a deeper insurance knowledge per se. Is that something that people maybe underestimate in just how deep that industry language is?

Jeffrey Gordon: Probably so, and obviously there's rabbit holes you go down and I think that's another thing that gets complicated on the trucking is the exclusions. That's something that, again, UT, as long as you understand the risk and understand what the coverage there, it's not overly complicated. You just need to be competent in understanding the risk. Again, the insurance side is really simple, in my opinion.

Joey Giangola: Well, and I guess you're making it sound almost too easy, Jeffrey, I've always heard it is not something you want to dabble in. Is there, I guess, reason for pause for somebody that would just be dabbling? Is there things that.

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, because if you don't understand it all, there's a lot of harm you can do and trouble you can bring if you don't have a risk properly insured. But that's anything from your basic home and auto to trucking. It is just bottom line you got to know the exposures that your job is to protect. As long as you understand the exposure there, in my opinion, it's not much more difficult than any other industry or line of business.

Joey Giangola: What's your bread and butter in terms of account, size, type? What are you looking for? How are you going out and looking for new business handling these accounts maybe that you have?

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, we're riding, it's this part of the wave right now, what I call the Covid years were good for us because there was so much inbound. During the Covid years, freight rates were up here at four plus dollars a mile, and so a lot of owner operators that maybe worked for motor carriers or bigger fleets saw that $4 plus a mile. At the same time simultaneously fuel diesel was averaging two and a quarter. Okay, so I'm talking about tons of volume. I've seen the numbers, I can't remember them now, but how many new DOT and MC numbers were assigned during those Covid years, but we grew 50% in 2020, 50% in 2021 just because freight rates were here, fuel was here, insurance was in the middle. Well now, 2023 was a punch in the face because fuel, diesel, spiked and almost simultaneously freight rates dropped.

Jeffrey Gordon: You had all these guys get into the business that their business plan or probably lack of was on $4 or freight rates, which is how they get paid by the mile and then $2 fuel. So when those flipped their second, their biggest expenses are their equipment, their insurance and their fuel, one of their biggest expenses doubled and then how they get paid was cut in half. We're seeing 2023 was a fallout of that. All that to say we're having to... We had all we could handle on inbound during Covid years. Now, we're back to outbound. For us and my agency, we're 10 years old, so we're transitioning to more small fleet, not that we won't still take care of the mom and pop, but those are the ones that are barely making it right now. Just longevity of my agency, unfortunately I don't see a lot of those making it just because of the nature of the industry right now.

Jeffrey Gordon: A sweet spot for us is really anything three or four power units up to 50 units. We've got a pretty broad range there. Most of our insurance carriers are gravitating towards the more vanilla motor carriers, so just somebody hauling dry van commodities, which is basically grocery and then just basic flatbed loads, equipment building material. Tank risk seem to be difficult. Anything hazmats always been difficult just because of the limits those guys are required to carry. But all that to say we're going back to more of an outbound approach, which is hitting all the things email, direct mail, cold calling, and all our email and the postcards and all that and content that we try to put out is just more or less our billboard. That way when they get the phone call, it may trigger some name recognition and we can have a conversation from there.

Joey Giangola: Yeah, it's interesting. Talk to me a little bit about that transition or realization of stepping up and specifically focusing on that small fleet saying, "Maybe we can't handle," like you said, "The businesses that are maybe a little too volatile if they're going to be sticking around." I guess, on the other side of that too is when you're looking at those fleets, is there a risk reward in terms of like you said, the tanker stuff that might be a little more risky? Is there something that you'd like to focus on that maybe has a nice premium attached to it but at the same time is just risky enough that you can have an easier time handling it?

Jeffrey Gordon: Unfortunately, all these guys, they're paying way more than they should or used to. I can remember in 2010 we were writing primary liability on average at like 4,200 bucks a tractor. Now, probably my best rate is around $8,500 on that liability. That's a best rate, average is probably 11 to 12. Then new in business is 17 plus. There's a lot of meat on the bone premium wise, but that's why current freight rates and fuel, the math just doesn't math for a small operation that's already got a small margin.

Jeffrey Gordon: That's part of what's, when I step back and look at business model for my agency for the next 10 years. What's going to sustain us until we get into another vertical is partnering with quality operations that are more of a business operation, not just unfortunately mom and pop, the great truck driver but may not have a great business plan or great money manager and can't ride out these dips that we're in. Which unfortunately this dip seems to be lasting a while and probably will. That's part of when I step back and look at what 2023 was for us is, "All right, for the longevity for our next 10 years, we need to try to partner with more business-minded operations."

Joey Giangola: Continuing that thread of stepping up to the small to mid-size fleets and talking about speaking the language, did you notice a different level of lingo? Did you have to adjust how you're talking to these guys a little bit? I'd love for you to run down sort of your key phrase, what gets you in the door, what establishes your credibility right away to let them know what you're doing?

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, no, I wouldn't say I really have to change up how I speak to them because honestly the operation that's 30 or 40 trucks now, he started out just a one truck. Odds are the majority of these guys started out a small operation. They end up getting a contract doing good work and just organically growing. That's our market. We're not going after large hundreds of power units of fleets that are more enterprise. That's not us. We could handle those, but that's not what we go after. To answer that question, the talking to them the same, but you could have more of a business conversation. That guy that's out driving his truck, he's dispatching himself, he's paying his bills, as far as insurance goes, he's just worried about the cost of it. He just wants the cheapest and which I get, I understand a dollar is a dollar running a business I'm guilty of the same.

Jeffrey Gordon: You're more small to mid-fleet, they're going to look more at the insurance carrier. How hands-on are they or aren't they? How quick are they to just lay down and pay out a claim or do they fight it? You can have look at more of those things. It's not just price driven with what we're pursuing. As far as how we approach it, a lot of companies as far as the [inaudible 00:11:32] carriers are with a good insurance company and with a good agent. That's usually we will preface it like, "Look, you've been in business, that's why you're getting all these phone calls. We know you have an agent that you're probably happy with." Our approach is just to see if there might be any markets that we have that your agent isn't working with or if there's anywhere we can help possibly on price while not sacrificing coverage and that business needs.

Jeffrey Gordon: I just had a call with my outbound rep yesterday. I was like, "Look, we're sorting," and that's the mentality I've had to take. Majority of these operations that we want to do business with are in good shape, but we want to plant that seed for when that situation changes and just sort through the ones that are already not in a great situation. They have no clue who their agent's shopping them with or what that renewals looking like and they're tired of getting stuck with the last minute surprise renewal. We try to come in with a transparent, basic renewal process is my foot in the door is, "Hey, whether you work with us or not, here's our process to give you control you as the business owner and the owner of that policy to give you control of this process and know if you even need to shop. If your agent's already working with the top 10 carriers, no need me getting involved as long as you're happy with your agent and I'm going to gladly step back."

Jeffrey Gordon: I'm not going to try to force that when you're in good shape, but I want to plant that seed. You never know that agent may retire, could be a change in service rep that doesn't go well. It could be a change in, gosh. You look at how many insurers are getting out of the transportation space, you just never know. That's all we do is plant seeds and try to find people that could use our help.

Joey Giangola: That's definitely an interesting approach. I guess I have to know then is what's the average amount of time it takes for that seed to bear fruit, if you will?

Jeffrey Gordon: Could be years. I've got some accounts that I've been pursuing since I started this agency 10 years ago. There's one account in particular, it was probably three or four years. I was just, every year about 90, 120 days out from renewal, I was checking their temperature, "Hey, touching base, no, you've been in good shape." Well, on year three or four, they were very frustrated with their agent. Their agent had actually retired, so they just had been handed down to somebody within the agency to take care of them and they weren't being taken care of. On that one, they were where they needed to be. I was very transparent on our first calls. I was like, "Look, carrier wise, insurer wise, I think you're in the right spot, but let's talk out these frustrations you're having with your agent." We talked those out.

Jeffrey Gordon: I said, "Okay, well here's how I think we could help you there." They ultimately hired me after they'd been with that agency probably 15 years. That was just staying in the area. We put them in our email drips, I don't bombard an inbox. Usually when I put out something, it's a tip, trick, hack to help with safety or something new on regulation or new ELDs or something specific to their industry, not just insurance talk. It's just information that's helpful for them. That's just one of the ways we stay in touch.

Joey Giangola: This is definitely right place, right time, got to wait for your moment, your opening. I want to know, I don't know if, do you guys focus, do you really dabble in anything else or is it like you've had to stay disciplined to just really primarily focus on the transportation, not get distracted? How do you balance that?

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, foolishly, we're primarily trucking. We do have a good here in our small community, your Shelters and State Farms, your captive main street agents, if they have something that they can't handle, they'll send it our way because we're primarily an ENS agency. If it's something a little hairy, we're the go-to in this area for a lot of those referral partners from the Main Street guys. We've got a mixed bag of stuff. I've got some manufacturing, some commercial property, but we're probably 70 plus percent trucking. The other 30 is just because of local community relationships and people that want us to handle things there, but it's all still commercial.

Joey Giangola: If you had to give your one stamp of, I don't want to say approval, but just guidance or caution for those agents that might have been in a position where, "Hey, Jeffrey's making this sound like it might be something I want to consider," what are you telling them and what's the one thing above all else that you would want them to know?

Jeffrey Gordon: Yeah, you're right. As simple as I make it sound, you do want to understand the industry and there's so many trucking newsletters that you can subscribe to just to be in the know on what these guys are dealing with. I'll probably get 10 different newsletters a week or month from different trucking publications and I'll just read the high points, hit the headlines, just see if there's anything I need to know about or if there's anything that I can communicate to our network. It's slipping my mind right now, but it's not the TRS designation, but there's a group out of Florida that kind of has a trucking insurance program.

Joey Giangola: Yep. Yeah, I've talked to the guy, we've had him on the podcast before.

Jeffrey Gordon: Tommy.

Joey Giangola: Talked to... Yeah, we've had Tommy on the podcast.

Jeffrey Gordon: He seems to run a really, if I were new coming in, I had no trucking background, but that's what I wanted to get into, a hundred percent, I would get into his program just because I think he really goes through all the coverages, the filings, everything in depth. It's something I've looked at, but after being in 15 years, I just hadn't slowed down to take the time to go there. It would probably be beneficial for me, somebody that's been in this long, it's just one of those things I hadn't made a priority, but if I were new, a hundred percent I would look into it.

Joey Giangola: All right, Jeffrey. Well, I've got three more questions for you sir. The first one is, what's one thing that you hope you never forget?

Jeffrey Gordon: Oh, man. What's one thing I hope I never forget? That's a tough one, there's so many things that I think of. I initially think to my kids, what's one thing I'd want to pass down to them? I'll tell you what keeps recurring in my mind is be kind. I believe in that karma lady, and I think that's kind of part of our outbound is just be kind and treat people right. It always has a way of working out if you do that.

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

Jeffrey Gordon: That's a good one. I might need to bring my staff in and ask them that. What am I stubborn about? What have I not learned? What have I not learned is that I'm not the best at everything. As an agency owner, I hold on to a lot of things that my team can probably do better than me, but in my mind I do it the best. Yeah, I've not learned that I'm not the best at everything, as egotistical as that sounds.

Joey Giangola: All right. Jeffrey, 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?

Jeffrey Gordon: I would like to, especially in my world, be directly connected to the carriers. I have to get my submission together. I send it to RPS as the broker who then sends it to ABC companies, to those underwriters, and it's got to come back to the broker, got to come to me. In my world, in the trucking world, there's a few options that have created that technology, but there's no direct, there's a breakdown in time, there's always a breakdown in communication. If I could have a magic wand, it would be a direct connection to more carriers.

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

Jeffrey Gordon: All right, fair enough. I appreciate you having me on.