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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 9, 2018 1 month ago

Insurance guru turns bad experience into thriving business

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Steve Herrig followed an unmet need for five years, when he bought a niche insurance business. Now he has new challenges to meet.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Serial entrepreneur Steve Herrig has made millions mostly by being in businesses in and around insurance for some 35 years. He started his career — after a short stint painting houses — selling insurance in his early 20s.

But back in the mid-2000s, when he ran a human resources outsourcing entity in Sarasota and Manatee counties, one side of the industry specifically irked him: insurance. His peeve was over firms that underwrote and provided workers' compensation insurance for Herrig’s sector, professional employer organizations.   

'We almost never lose a client when it comes to service.’ Steve Herrig, Sunz Insurance

Getting contracts and coverage from insurance companies, Herrig recalls, was tedious and onerous, from both big national insurers and small mom-and-pop outfits. “They always acted like they were doing you a favor by doing business with you, while I wrote them a big check,” he quips.  

It was that distaste, when Herrig helmed Progressive Employer Services, a $50 million PEO he sold 2010, that led him to a solve-it-himself approach. “I never had a good experience with an insurance firm” in PEOs, Herrig says. “So it has always been a dream of mine to do this.”

That dream, five years on, is Bradenton-based Sunz Insurance. The firm’s focus is on claims management, safety and loss prevention and fraud investigations regarding workers' compensation insurance. Clients are mostly PEOs, staffing agencies and other companies with large payrolls.

With $240 million in 2017 revenue, up 75.18% percent from $137 million 2016, Sunz is one of the largest niche insurance firms statewide. And with some 90 employees locally and 250 nationally — it brings on two to three people a week — it’s also one of downtown Bradenton’s largest locally based corporate employers. “One of our biggest challenges is dealing with all the growth,” Herrig says.

File. Insurance industry veteran Steve Herrig bought Sunz Insurance in 2013.

A two-time Business Observer Entrepreneur of the Year winner, Herrig incorporates a lifetime of on-the-job leadership lessons to Sunz. The list includes surrounding yourself with top executives and managers; sticking to what you are good at; being first to market; and sacrificing volume if it means service can be improved. “We almost never lose a client when it comes to service,” Herrig says.

Herrig joined Sunz in 2011, initially as a consultant to help the owners, a private equity firm, with a turnaround. He bought the firm in 2013.

Another factor in the success, says Herrig, is Sunz has founded or acquired at least four affiliate companies in the past five years. These companies work both with Sunz and outside clients, and provide Herrig a greater sense of control over service and the ability to capture more market share. Affiliate businesses under Sunz include managed care provider Ascential Care, Risk Management America and Next Level Administrators, a national claims administration firm.

Dipping back into what Herrig sought in an insurance firm at Progressive, for example, Next Level Administrators caps the amount of files an adjuster can have at the same time to 100. Competitors usually allow adjusters to carry 150-strong caseloads. The difference, says Herrig, is NLA’s “true value proposition” in the marketplace because it values service over volume. Adds Herrig: “When you get over 100 files, the relationship with the claimant gets lost.”

Sunz moved into its Bradenton digs, a six-story office tower Herrig bought for $2.3 million, in late 2016. Other Sunz offices are in California, Texas and Pennsylvania, and the company has more expansion plans. One is to market its service and product offerings to the transportation sector, where fast-growing logistics companies, Sunz officials believe, are ripe customer targets.

Another notable expansion, says Herrig, is a forthcoming software product. While he says he can’t talk much about the software, he does say, if successful, “We think this could be bigger in terms of revenue than anything we’ve done with the company.”

With an opportunity like that on the horizon, it makes sense that Herrig, 57, hasn’t really considered the R-word: retirement. “I enjoy it. I like the action,” he says. “I have a boat and I have a set of golf clubs. They just don’t get a lot of use.”

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