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Business Observer Friday, Nov. 9, 2012 9 years ago

One Part Fun

The insurance industry isn't usually the first thought for fun. Revenues, more recently, are also nothing to smile about. But a few jovial Gulf Coast insurance executives hope to change all that.
by: Mark Gordon Managing Editor

Members of an Alltrust Insurance sales team, fresh off a recent presentation to a major potential client, didn't panic when they glanced down the hallway and spotted the suits.

With a focus on health care benefits consulting, Palm Harbor-based Alltrust had just pitched its services to Mulberry-based Badcock Furniture. Winning the Badcock account, which covers 1,100 employees across the Southeast, would be a killer victory.

Alltrust founding partner Joe Part, though, saw some competitors coming his way when he turned to leave. They were representatives from larger insurance entities, firms sometimes known for considerably more formal attire. The firms that sometimes beat out Alltrust for work.

Part, in his tie-less getup, was nonetheless confident he and his firm had an edge: Alltrust, despite being in an all-time staid industry, insurance benefits consulting, is all about having fun.

So much fun, in fact, the company eschews standard nameplates for personal caricature drawings to identify employees' offices and desks. So much fun that a picture that accompanies a letter from Part on the company's website homepage is a dog with a plaid slipper in its mouth.

It's not standard fare for an insurance firm. “We don't take ourselves seriously,” Part says. “We take our responsibilities seriously, but not ourselves. We have a lot of fun when we walk into this office.”

Being fun, moreover, pays off.

For one, the firm landed the Badcock account. Alltrust's services and offerings played a big role in getting the business, says Part, but a looser and relaxed approach, it turns out, works well, too. Lori Walsh, Badcock's vice president of human resources, says Part and his team clicked with the furniture retailer's executives precisely because of that approach.

“We've had much larger benefits brokers, but we have been pleasantly surprised with Alltrust,” says Walsh. “They have delivered what they said they could deliver.”

The fun times have also sparked a growth spurt at Alltrust, which has offices in Sarasota and Lakeland, in addition to Palm Harbor. Revenues at the firm, which has 460 clients, are up 17% since 2009, from $5.8 million to $6.8 million in 2011. Part projects Alltrust will surpass $10 million in annual sales within a few years.

Growth is also significant within annual premiums, which are at $175 million and growing 20% a year, says Part. The 35-employee company, which now serves clients from Orlando through Naples, also plans to open additional offices in the near future, possibly including Fort Myers.

“I'm conflicted about saying this,” says Part, given the lingering recession, but the past few years “have been fabulous for us because of a cost crisis with the people we serve.”

That cost crisis stems from the federal health care overhaul. The complications and uncertainty many business owners face over the law has essentially turned into Alltrust's biggest opportunity. So much so that business has flowed in lately — all of it organic growth.

“We don't cold call for business,” says Alltrust President Steve Hall, who launched the Sarasota office in 2010. “We only take on clients through referral.”

Bottom line
One of the most striking facts about Alltrust, past the fun mantra, is the ratio of revenue-producing employees to non-revenue employees. It leans heavily to non-revenue, with a mere six producers out of the 35 employees.

It's an unusually high payroll commitment to service, in comparison to many other competitors. “We make the company focus on the top line,” says Part, “not the bottom line.”

The Alltrust non-revenue employees, in turn, make up an army of health care consultants. Their mission: To help employees who work for Alltrust clients navigate any health benefits situation. That includes calling insurance providers and doctors, says Hall — not simply passing out an 800-number help line.

Part calls the approach giving people a conversation, not a spreadsheet. “Our model,” he says, “is driven around education and client advocacy.”

Walsh, with Badcock, says that's different than other benefit brokers. In most cases, says Walsh, the consultant does the brokering, then backs away. Walsh also says Part, an outgoing networker with a fondness for connecting business people, has leveraged several relationships to Badcock's benefit.

For instance, Part set up a meeting with Florida Blue CEO Pat Geraghty and Badcock Furniture CEO Mike Price. The executives and their teams, says Walsh, had a long discussion about the health care industry and other issues. Badcock has used Florida Blue, formerly Blue Cross Blue Shield, for years, but this was the first executive sit-down between the two companies.

“That was really impressive,” Walsh says. “In 13 years here I've never seen that kind of undertaking.”

'Fanatical commitment'
Alltrust's recent success, buoyed by clients like Badcock Furniture, MarineMax and the city of Palmetto in north Manatee County, has attracted what can only be considered a good problem for Part: Others want to buy the firm.

Indeed, Part says he gets a call every two months, at least, from a larger company, one that normally wants to get into health insurance benefits consulting. He balks at the offers, and says he will continue to do so — a contrarian move in an industry where many exit strategies are to sell after a string of successful years.

“I don't think having two homes and sitting around and watching CNBC would be any fun,” says Part. “I would rather watch my colleagues and clients succeed.”

An English major in college, Part says he got into insurance mostly by accident in 1976. Part founded Alltrust in 1994, in the back of a Raymond James office in Pinellas County, where his wife, Karen Brayboy, was a financial consultant. Part started Alltrust with a folding table, a thermal fax machine, and no clients. A onetime Tarpon Springs city commissioner, Brayboy is now CEO of Alltrust.

Part says before Alltrust he became infinitely familiar with the term rounding out, insurance jargon for calling on clients to see if there are more services to add to an account. While not every “rounding out” is negative, Part says he wanted Alltrust to focus on one task, employee benefits consulting, and do it well.

The client list has since grown considerably, but Part says he still seeks to maintain the individual boutique-like relationships. That, and have fun. “My mindset is a fanatical commitment to our clients,” Part says. “I want our clients to have the best advocacy.”

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