Marketing Agency of the Month

Revenue doubles in the Texas Panhandle

Agency emphasizes selling as it grows to market dominance

By Dennis H. Pillsbury

DFB’s seven stockholders (from far left): Mike Fraser, Gail Woodington, Ray Duncan, Lee Fraser (kneeling), Bill Bridges, Brian Duncan and Lyndon Field at one of the many drilling sites that dot the Texas Panhandle.

Duncan, Fraser & Bridges (DFB) Insurance Agency, Inc., Pampa, Texas, is celebrating the completion of its first decade with revenue growth that has more than doubled since its creation in 1995. The agency was formed through the merger of three agencies with roots dating back to the mid-1920s. The combined revenue for the merged agencies totaled $1 million at that time. Today, revenues total more than $2.3 million, which, in a city of 20,000 people, makes DFB one of the largest independent agencies in the Texas Panhandle and the largest in its primary marketing area. And this growth was achieved as the agency continued to maintain a net profit of more than 30%.

DFB’s Mark Bridges, Mike Fraser and Bill Bridges meet with Fred Winborne (second from right) of Titan Specialty, Ltd., a local company which produces perforation and logging instruments along with energetics for the oil drilling industry.

Although the growth primarily came from referrals, DFB also acquired Fatheree Insurance Agency in 2000, which increased the personal lines book by nearly 100%. The officers of the agency knew “real growth” would have to come by changing the business philosophy from a service-oriented agency to an aggressive sales organization. They began to explore ways to start the change. The restructuring is reflected in the composition of the agency personnel. In 1995, the agency had seven producers who were also the stockholders, 15 CSRs and support staff. Today, agency has nine producers (seven of whom are the stockholders), 12 CSRs and support staff. It also has two branch offices and an affiliated agency in Dallas/Fort Worth.

The restructuring coincided with DFB joining the Combined Agents of America, LLC, in 2001. The membership allowed DFB to meet with more than 20 of the top mid-sized agencies in Texas. (There now are 31 members in CAA.) “We had the opportunity to share ideas, sales tools, marketing ideas and strategic goals,” says DFB Executive Vice President Bill Bridges. “Membership has had a great influence on the agency, providing the impetus to change our culture. In the past, we were just the local insurance agency that did a good job and was able to provide good service to our clients. Obviously, we didn’t want to change our reputation for good service, but we recognized that we needed to become a more aggressive sales organization if we were to grow.”

Lyndon Field and Bill Bridges on site with Spradling Inc.’s Garrett Spradling (center).

Bill continues, explaining, “Oil and gas is where we started. We had all the markets, including a company that would write workers compensation when no one else would. We grew through referrals by customers and friends. Our competition primarily came from larger agencies, but they mostly were interested in the bigger accounts. Our local presence helped us with the hometown oilfield contractors and operators. Most of the people in the oil business live and work here and recognize the value of having someone with the same background. We also understood the unique needs of that market and our expertise gave us a significant competitive advantage.”

However, the agency had plateaued with that model. “We knew that we needed to change our culture,” Bill says. “The question was how to do so. Our officers attended Dynamics of Sales Management seminars and read The Wedge by Randy Schwantz. At the seminars, we met agency owners whose agencies were writing new business by broker of record letters. Some of those agencies weren’t doing any quoting! I came back from those meetings convinced we could do the same.”

The result was a subtle, but significant, shift from a reactive agency to one that is more proactive. “We’d always reacted to the service needs of our clients,” Bill notes. “We turned things around quickly and were there whenever a client had a claim. But we weren’t really part of our customer’s business. We needed to be proactive and provide them with advice on different business opportunities and show them what we know.”

Once the decision was made, DFB began to look for products and services that would help it implement the change.

A unique service to clients and prospects

“When you set a goal, things start happening,” Bill remarks, noting that right after DFB began its search for the right products and services, marketing material from Compliance Check™ began arriving at Bill’s office—a happenstance that informed Bill about a very good product. “I kept the material around but wasn’t really sure it was for us,” Bill remembers. “A month later, another direct mail piece from Compliance Check arrived. After several months of this, I made a call to find out what Compliance Check was all about. After the call, I signed up for the program and took the first training session. I was so excited about the program, I asked Compliance Check to contact the CAA membership to see if they would be interested in their program. A number of their members have already signed up for the program.”

Compliance Check is an auditing program that helps identify the plethora of exposures that a business may face, as well as providing information on how well the company complies with the multitude of employment-related laws, including COBRA, Fair Labor Standards Act, the Family and Medical Leave Act and OSHA compliance through reviews of employee manuals, human resources procedures and safety materials.

“The great thing about Compliance Check is that it takes us completely away from quoting,” Bill points out. “We present ourselves as advisors providing information on financing, mitigating and controlling risks. We are seen as true business partners rather than simply sellers of insurance.”

DFB’s staff surrounds one of the sculptures at Pampa’s Lovett Memorial Library. The sculpture is one of four donated to the library by R. L. Franklin to honor four women—Annie Thut Buckler, Louise Franklin, Virginia Green, and Betty Henderson—who individually and collectively shaped the library’s mission and future.

Managing the process

In addition to creating a more proactive approach, DFB also recognized the need to manage the sales process so that good service and regular follow-through continued to be a hallmark of the agency’s performance. Most of the sales had come through referrals. Making sales calls was rare and there were very few tools in-house to facilitate a change to a proactive, aggressive sales approach—no prospect lists, sales brochures or sales management procedures.

“We were at a Wedge seminar and were introduced to the MAPS (Marketing AutoPilot Sales) system of MarTech,” Bill says. “It looked like it would provide what we needed to implement and track our sales effort.”

MAPS is a combination of software and prospecting services that develops a prospecting list, including expiration dates, business names, addresses, phone numbers and key contacts. The software will produce marketing letters that go out to prospects according to a sales and marketing strategy chosen by the agency. The software includes hundreds of letters from which to choose. The program also produces call reports weekly. At DFB, the agency receptionist serves as the MAPS coordinator and handles the entire process. Mike Fraser, vice president, said, “We’ve made more sales calls in the last three months than we have in the last three years by using these tools.”

Relationships remain key

Some of the people who make certain that the service to customers continues to be one of the hallmarks of DFB (from left): Brenda Tucker, Jo Linda Childress, Katy Wilde and Anna Young.

“One of the principal reasons for our success in the oil and gas market was our long-term relationships with our insurance company partners,” Bill says. “We recognize the importance of these relationships and work hard to maintain them by sending business to our companies that will help them be profitable.” Bill points out that the agency’s loss ratios are excellent; noting that at one point the agency was looking to add another market, specifically National American. “We’d talked with the people at the Chandler, Oklahoma, office for several years. Finally, I wrote to Brent LaGere, the president, and included our loss ratios for Mid Continent and Bituminous. I got a call three days later saying that a contract was on the way.”

The trust of the companies has been very important as the agency expanded beyond its oil and gas niche. “We were able to put together a program with Mid Continent where we insured the individual cell phones for a particular vendor. We started that 15 years ago and it’s been very successful and occasionally entertaining,” Brian Duncan, vice president, notes, recalling one claim that involved the dropping of a phone into a martini glass.

“Our involvement in the community and industry organizations is equally important. We have a responsibility to be a good corporate citizen and give something back to the communities and the industry that has provided us with such a good living,” Bill continues.

“Nearly everyone is involved in church and our people are active in Rotary and the Lion’s Club as well. We’re also involved in the Panhandle Association of the Big ‘I’—a group from the upper half of the Panhandle. It provides continuing education and a chance to have fun and meet with our peers and with company people.”

The latest endeavor

Mark Bridges (left) joined DFB to start an office in Amarillo. Mike Fraser, who works out of the Pampa office, joins Mark a few hours a week in Amarillo.

DFB has been the “big fish in the small pond” for a long time. However, its newest office in Amarillo is an entirely different “kettle of fish,” to continue the allusion. Bill’s son, Mark Bridges, notes that he “grew up” in the insurance business. “Granddad was a regional manager for Crum and Forster Insurance Company and I worked at Dad’s agency when I was growing up and majored in insurance at Baylor. When I graduated in 1994, I got a job at Millers Insurance and then left there to help start a technology company to sell software to insurance companies. We were quite successful and went public. I rode that up the hill and off the cliff when the bubble burst.

“Since I was out of a job,” Mark continues, “it seemed like a good time to go for my Master’s in Business Administration. I applied and was accepted at Texas Christian University in Fort Worth. I also began to realize that the agency business was the place for me. It offered a chance to build a book and develop a long-term business and that was something I needed for my family and myself. I went to work for The Brants Company, a large agency in Fort Worth, for about a year-and-a-half and enjoyed that. However, my wife and I wanted to return to the Panhandle. I talked to Dad about possibly starting my own agency and he suggested that I set up an Amarillo office for Duncan, Fraser & Bridges. His partners approved the idea and so we moved into an area with about 220,000 people, quite a change from Pampa.” The office opened in September 2004.

Mark concludes: “This is the best of both worlds. I get my own office. I’m the one making it happen, but I have the backing of an established agency with strong company relationships. I see this as my future. If I meet my production goals, I’ll have a chance to buy ownership, just like anyone else in the agency.”

Duncan, Fraser & Bridges already has made some significant strides in its metamorphosis to a sales-oriented organization and has continued to grow and be successful while doing so. But Bill Bridges is convinced that the best is yet to come. “Our goal is to continue to double our revenue every three years and we are on track to do so.”

Based on its success thus far, we have to agree; and that is why we recognize Duncan, Fraser & Bridges as this month’s Marketing Agency of the Month. *