Meet Scott & Laura Henderson, Fabricare producers in the Henderson Insurance Dry Cleaner Practice, a division of Heffernan Insurance Brokers
Being an insurance agent doesn’t mean trying to sell all lines to all people — sometimes it’s best to focus on a specific niche and become the expert in that arena. Fabricare producers Scott and Laura Henderson are two such experts who believe in a simple philosophy: “Give the right coverage and do it conveniently.”
They’ve watched the dry cleaning industry grow and evolve: Some of the common mom & pop neighborhood cleaners of yesterday are now being acquired and merged into much larger dry cleaning enterprises. The Hendersons knew these larger entities would have different and more sophisticated coverage needs. For that reason, they recently became a division of the nationwide Heffernan Insurance Brokers so that they could continue to well serve both client segments.
As Fabricare producers, they’ve created a number of specialty dry cleaning programs over the years. We talked with Scott and Laura recently to hear their experiences in finding a niche and growing their business.
First, tell us a bit about the two of you, how long you owned Henderson Insurance, and the story behind starting your agency.
“Most people go into insurance because they had a friend or relative already in the industry, who talked them into trying it out. My story is no different. While in college in1980, I started selling insurance part-time for my dad’s agency. After graduating, I left insurance and became a CPA at an international accounting firm. But it didn’t take long for me to decide that I’d rather be my own boss.
“So I went to work for my dad with the hope of someday taking over the agency. A year later, I bought out my dad. When I married Laura, she eventually joined the agency, too.”
“I started working part-time in back-office functions, while raising our daughter; then moved into full-time sales in 2017,” Laura added.
Can you summarize your decision to be merged with Heffernan, and how (if at all) your roles have changed? What’s different, day-to-day, since your agency was acquired?
“When you run an agency, you do it all,” says Scott. “Now it’s nice to be part of a large organization where many aspects of the operation are much more robust and efficient than our small agency’s systems were. And now we have a massive toolbox of insurance products and can wonderfully serve any insurance need our clients have. And it’s nice to be on a large team with so many members who provide complementary experiences and perspectives to allow for better outcomes.”
Laura adds, “We weren’t necessarily looking to merge, but when we sat down with Heffernan, we clicked. A larger agency benefits our clients – they have access to more insurance markets. And despite their size, Heffernan is very entrepreneurial.”
What misconceptions do clients often have about your job?
“Our insureds don’t understand how much info we need to obtain about them to generate a quote,” Scott says. “Because we’ve served only cleaners and laundries for so long, we have a competitive advantage: We know so much about the cleaning industry and about each individual cleaning location, that we’re regularly able to gather everything we need to prepare a quote without even talking with the owner. Generic questions to the person who operates the counter will usually give us the info we need. Because we start our conversation with a business owner armed with so much knowledge, we don’t ask many questions or take up much of their time. We become the most convenient and easy insurance alternative.”
What personal tips and shortcuts have made your job easier?
Both agreed: While many agents spread themselves thin, trying to offer as many products as possible, there’s a lot of success to be had by focusing on niches. Laura is quick to point out that it’s vital to “find a niche or a place where you can learn, and put the time in to educate yourself.”
Scott adds, “Become an expert in a specific area, then go after all those prospects. That repetition has allowed us to create models, workflows and efficiencies that make it easier for us to deliver superb service, and better for our clients when we do.
“When you become an expert in your niche, you can also likely find ways serve more than just your insured. You can serve their customers too. I’ve had dry cleaners call me and say “I had a fire. My equipment was covered, but my customers’ clothing wasn’t.” Because we understand the nuances of our niche – and the customer clothing coverage is the odd element in our niche – our insureds’ clients are always covered properly. So serving your niche right serves not just your clients, but their clients too.”
Delivering the right coverage can require still more skills. “Even when customers’ clothing is covered properly, most insurance company adjusters don’t handle those claims very often, so that inexperience unintentionally causes problems for the insured or for the customer. We’ve developed claims expertise because there was a hole there. We guide insurance company adjusters to process claims more quickly, making customers happy. And we also offer a value-added service where, if the claim is lower than their deductible amount, we will negotiate with the customer on behalf of our insured. That saves our clients money.”
What’s the worst part of being an agency owner and how do you deal with it?
Scott muses, “One element I’d say is both a blessing and a curse is that the buck stops here. All problems end up on our desk. That said, it does help that we are now part of a larger team of experts who deal with many of these issues more often.”
What’s the most enjoyable part of the job?
“Because we know this industry and have a rich claims understanding, we’re able to share our expertise and help our clients,” says Scott. “For instance, I’ll visit a fire loss the same day and guide them through the claims process. ‘Here are your next steps over the next 4-12 months and what to do’, that kind of thing.
“It’s very satisfying to have a client come back to you and say, ‘what you did was invaluable; I’m back in business thanks to you.’”
What advice would you give to those aspiring to join your profession or advice to newbies in the field?
Scott says he prefers the small commercial niches within insurance. “There are a zillion personal, life, and health agents. And if someone goes into commercial, they usually go after large accounts – but that’s where all the competition is. But in small commercial, your competitor is generally a personal lines agent with a one-time client who needs small commercial. Our personal lines competition isn’t that competent in commercial. That’s the layer to join, because no one else does.”
What are typical objections you hear while you’re in selling mode, and how do you overcome them?
Laura muses, “With COVID – things are different now. Price is king right now. People aren’t wearing business suits that need cleaning; and there are no proms or events. Business is down for dry cleaners, so the main issue is price.
“However, the appropriate coverage still needs to be there. Due to our industry niche, we have real-life stories to share with our clients about the downside when certain coverage lines are minimized or eliminated. When a client wants to buy a policy that we know doesn’t adequately protect them, we will walk away from the opportunity.”
Scott adds, “One of our biggest challenges as Fabricare producers comes from the fact that we often know better than our competitors. We compete with agents who don’t have the proper knowledge of replacement costs or the values of customer goods. I often compete with agents who present a much cheaper policy – because they haven’t provided the necessary coverages at the limits that are needed. That means I need to educate prospects on the true coverage they’ll need.”
What made you decide to work with Arrowhead?
At this, Scott is quick to point out, “Arrowhead’s underwriters are responsive, thoughtful, interested in learning nuances of the classes we service. This is a fresh change from others we’ve worked with over the years who weren’t open to learning the nuances of fabricare.”
Adds Laura, “Arrowhead listens.”