Out to Bid: Why to Shop Around for Shop Insurance - BodyShop Business

Out to Bid: Why to Shop Around for Shop Insurance

I saved $40,000 in annual premiums – yes, $40,000! – by going with a different insurer for my shop's insurance. Not to mention the thousands more I saved in my personal lines.

I’ve been in the collision business for more than 35 years, and I always wanted to find just one person to handle all of my insurance needs – to get to know this agent well, to have him know me well and to have a trusting relationship.

Hopefully, this company would handle its risk exposure successfully, as I would manage my loss ratios to help the insurer remain competitive with the premiums.

I’ve never been the type of consumer who’d solicit bids every year from different insurers to find the best deal. I’m a very loyal customer, and I hoped to receive equal loyalty from my agent and insurer.

But there are certainly other operators with a different strategy. The owners of a local Jeep dealer that I used to do a lot of business with made the comment to me one day that they bid their insurance out to three insurers every year. At the time, I thought this was foolish of them – but now I’m not so sure.

Two years ago, I opened up my policy and premium renewal notice from my insurer of at least 10 years with the same agent and about fell off of my chair. The premium notice on the renewal had gone from $28,000 to more than $70,000 for the same coverage!

Not only did I get the notification at 53 days, instead of the required 60 days, but my agent said he didn’t have a clue that the policy was headed in this direction. The policy had gone from an open-lot-type of policy to a scheduled car policy, and the reason for the increase was because my loaner cars needed to be scheduled individually.

I still haven’t figured out how my being loyal for 10 years got me anything here, and I’ll never, ever believe he didn’t know this policy was about to change.

I was always being sold on the fact that my agent had this special connection with our underwriter. Hmm … I wonder. My loss ratios right now are around 23 percent, a year ago they were about 28 percent and maybe they were 38 percent or so at that time in 2002 – so I don’t think losses were the driving force here.

I knew I needed another insurance company, and I found the referral within the collision division of our local Alliance of Automotive Service Providers (AASP) association. Not too many insurers at that time would insure body shops that have loaners, but because I was the collision division director of AASP at the time, I was in the right place at the right time: One of our other volunteer members on this committee mentioned to me that he’d no trouble insuring his shop and 16 loaners with another company.

So I acted on his advice and made a deal with that insurer, which saved me $40,000 in annual premiums. I’m also a long-standing member of the Automotive Service Association (ASA) National, so I think I redeemed both membership dues quite nicely.

But it doesn’t end there.

We’ve always used the Association Benefit Provider of choice on our workers’ compensation insurance. They’ve been the most competitive, and 31 out of the 32 years we were insured with them, they paid a handsome dividend at the end of the year.

I was auditing our comp policy prior to renewal and noticed that our estimators were classified the same as the body guys. They were costing the same amount of money per $100 as the technicians – and I didn’t feel that was fair. There’s no just comparison between these two job classifications.

My agent said there was nothing he could do, since these interpretations of differing job classifications migrated down from federal guidelines to the state level. But at least I’d learned that the classification decisions were made at the state level.

I decided to call another shop that was insured with the same carrier – only to find out that their estimators weren’t classified that way. Yet we were with the same company!

I’m not going to bad-mouth this company because I don’t think they did this on purpose. Needless to say, they didn’t have much choice but to reclassify the rate on my estimators to match the other shop’s rate. The savings was $2.85 per $100 of payroll, which is a significant amount.

And that brings up another story …

This also happened within the last year. I called a large independent agent to see if I could insure with Auto Owners. He submitted all of the pertinent information to them, but they weren’t interested because of the loaners.

About six months later, my other shop (which I co-own) informed me that we’d just insured with Auto Owners and that they’d had no problem with our 12 courtesy cars. Subsequently, I also applied through this different agent and had no problem at all re-writing my garage policy at a pretty fair premium rate.

I guess it’s safe to assume that some agents have a better relationship than others with the same carrier.

Some of these companies rely almost exclusively on the agents’ presentation of our profile for acceptance or rejection, so it sure does pay to ask around, now doesn’t it?

It’s also fair to mention that the great answers I received to the questions I asked were possible because I was asking other association members – who were smart operators.

It pays to be an association member, but it pays more to be an active member.

But there’s still more.

I didn’t really start this article to tell my personal story, but there are so many different twists here that I think I’ll continue. Now this really gets interesting.

I have my homeowners policy, five autos, a travel trailer and a motor home with one agent, one company. And two adult drivers in their 50s with clean records.

Now you’d think that’d be desirable, wouldn’t you?

Wrong! We have this 19-year-old living with us (our son) who lost his license for 30 days and who doesn’t drive our vehicles. He has his own personal auto policy in his own name (at my request) with our agent. I didn’t want our homeowners policy vulnerable to anything a 19-year-old might do.

My agent thought that was a great idea when I suggested that my son get his own policy. And lo and behold, what appears in the mailbox last month were cancellation notices on my vehicles – because our son lives with us.

Talk about not feeling loved! I looked at the bottom of the notices and saw the CC to my agent’s registered number so I know he was notified. And I wasn’t about to call him.

There are other companies that just take the autos without the home, so I went in search of – and found – AAA to be very competitive on the autos. And because we’re on their repair program, I know and appreciate their claims mentality.

How many days do you think I waited for a phone call from my agent after he received the cancellation notices?

Nine days … nine days after I received the cancellation notices, which by the way, is about one-third of the 30 days you get to purchase new insurance. That doesn’t leave much time to make a good decision, and I wasn’t about to wait!

I truly hope my stories help to shape your strategy for shopping for insurance. Still, I wonder if this a la carte approach is the best way or not.

As insurers gather their risk information for different products, I can see having five or six different policies for what used to be included on one. I personally didn’t want it this way, but they made me a shopper – and so far, I’ve saved about $3,000 in annual premiums with very comparable coverages in my personal lines – and that’s in addition to the $40,000 in annual premiums I save switching my shop’s insurance!

Writer Bob Pearson started his business in an outside parking lot with an extension cord coming out of an apartment building, a crank-start, diesel, two-wheel air compressor and a single-car garage with no heat or light. Today, he operates two body shops totaling $3.5 million in total sales. Pearson is the past Collision Division Director of AASP Minnesota and the current Board Secretary and serves as a Trustee of AMI. He also has his AAM degree. Pearson and wife Marsha have nine children between them. In his spare time, Pearson enjoys billiards, 500, volleyball, softball, ping pong, horseshoes and drag racing.

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