Serve and Protect
FieldEddy Aims to Continue Its Impressive Growth — from Within
FieldEddy spent much of the past decade growing a local insurance company into one of the industry’s top regional names.
EO Samuel Hanmer says he has no plans to stop growing, but the current strategy is much different than the game plan that saw FieldEddy acquire numerous small firms over the past 10 years, essentially tripling its sales volume.
“We’ve created a new five-year plan, which is to grow organically, as opposed to acquisitions. And that’s ongoing,” Hanmer said. “We’ve hired nine people — not all in sales, but primarily sales, because that’s how you grow an organization, with feet on the street.”
The firm looks much different today than it did when Hanmer came on board during the early 1990s, when the company was still known as Field, Eddy and Bulkley. His father was the majority owner, and Hanmer took a sales job with the firm. Over time, he also played a role on the financial side of the business, and when his father retired in 1995, he stepped into a leadership role.
Over the next several years, Hanmer formulated a growth strategy based on an industry trend — small insurance operations struggling to adjust to changes and technology and looking for exit strategies — and decided to grow the firm largely by acquisition. Starting in the early 2000s, FieldEddy acquired a number of such agencies, including the Curtis and Hodskins agencies in Monson, Aliengena in Palmer, LDS in Three Rivers, Meadows in East Longmeadow, BPI in Springfield, Remillard in South Hadley, Buckley Bridge in Windsor Locks, and Lawson, Marino & Bertera in Springfield.
“Back then, we had a five-year plan to double in size, and most of that was going to be through acquisition, along with some organic growth,” Hanmer told BusinessWest. “And we did better than double in those five years; we hit our goal and then some.”
Today, the agency that started as the Springfield Fire and Marine Insurance Co. in 1849 has grown to 70 employees, with offices in East Longmeadow, Monson, Ludlow, and South Hadley and a growing number of products for personal and commercial insurance lines and other financial services. And Hanmer expects more growth — although some of it might not be as visible as yet another acquisition target.
Specifically, President Timm Marini said, “we’ve become internally focused a little bit more on process excellence,” which has included bringing in a human-resources director and a chief operations officer within the last year, as well as hiring people with specific expertise in areas like Affordable Care Act compliance, one of the major insurance issues on the horizon.
“We’ve also invested in our technology,” Marini said. “We’re revamping the website, and we’re building the physical hardware for new agency-management system software. It’s a whole one-year process to get everyone moved over. Like Sam said, we’ve grown significantly over the past 10 years, and now we’re piecing some of the parts back together.”
Hanmer said the agency is staffing up with a particular focus on three growth areas, or what he called “verticals.”
“One is health and human services; we’re going to get more aggressive around that,” he told BusinessWest. “Another is energy, which is another very strong and very fast-growing area — basically recycled energy, green energy, biomass. And the interesting part is, it’s taking us everywhere but Western Mass. — out to California, Chicago, Pennsylvania, New York, Tennessee. That’s very, very cool and a very interesting strategy for us.”
The third vertical, he noted, focuses on transportation-related businesses. All three have been targeted for their major growth potential, and FieldEddy is working on a revamped website to reflect these focus areas.
“We’re targeting niches,” Hanmer said. “We were very much generalists for years, so this is a big change, to be singularly focused on a few niches and be experts in those niches.”
Marini said some of the firm’s recent sales-staff additions are experts in those specific industries, who will then be able to provide mentorship within the company in those niches.
That’s not to say the personal (home, auto, life, and the like), commercial, and employee-benefit lines that have been the agency’s bread and butter won’t continue to grow as well. In addition, FieldEddy has expanded its financial-services offerings.
“A year ago, we hired a guy to do some financial services for us — 401(k)s, 403(b)s, life, high-end life insurance, variable annuities, buy-sell agreements, estate planning,” Hanmer said. “It’s kind of a natural transition for us. We had been resistant because of licensure aspects and oversight, but we got our arms around that.”
Added Marini, “it was very much something we always referred to others, but we came to a realization that, if we find the right people fit within our team, it could be a natural resource internally.”
Like all insurance agencies, FieldEddy is well aware of the Affordable Care Act, or Obamacare, many provisions of which will come online and begin to affect employers over the next year.
“The challenge in the marketplace is responding to the Affordable Care Act,” Marini said, noting that many insurance companies have been scaling down their employee-benefit services because of uncertainty over how the law will be implemented and funded. “We’ve done the opposite and hired more support.”
Massachusetts may be less affected than other states, he added, because it went through its own health-insurance reform nearly a decade ago. In addition, FieldEddy belongs to United Benefit Advisors, a leading employee-benefits advisory organization and a key educational resource on the changing health-insurance climate. It’s the only agency in Western Mass. and one of just four in the Bay States to belong to UBA.
“It’s something we have to qualify for and re-qualify for every three years for recertification,” Marini said. “For us, it’s a huge leg up from an education standpoint and communication to our customers.”
Another intriguing development in the insurance industry centers on capacity, or the supply of insurance available to meet demand, and the way it has stayed surprisingly high in recent years, largely keeping rate increases at bay.
“We’re seeing a significant amount of capacity,” Marini said. “In the past, tough economic times saw a lot of consolidation of carriers and shrinking of capacity — folks not wanting to take risks, not wanting to insure. But even in this tough economy, we’re seeing a lot of carriers, a lot of capacity, which means they’re being aggressive.”
Added Hanmer, “there was a lot of talk industry-wide of rate increases, but because of capacity, we’re not necessarily seeing rate increases forthcoming.”
Customers regionally did see increases over the past couple of years stemming from the freak weather year of 2011, which began with damaging ice storms, followed by the June 1 tornadoes, a tropical storm in August, and a late-October snowstorm.
“We saw increases because [insurers] had significant losses,” Marini said. “Now we’re a couple of years away from the tornado; it affected all our business, both commercial and personal, but we’re seeing all of that kind of level off.”
Part of FieldEddy’s growing reach, Hanmer said, has been increasing involvement in the communities where it does business. That means supporting a host of agencies, including Cancer House of Hope, Holyoke-Chicopee Head Start, Human Resources Unlimited, the Ludlow Boys & Girls Club, and the YMCA of Greater Springfield, just to name a few.
The threads running through such organizations, Marini said, are health, education, and human services, reflecting the firm’s growing work in those sectors. “It makes sense. Those are our core values. You can’t serve those industries and not live them.”
He and Hanmer have been active on a number of boards, and they have also cultivated a culture where employees are encouraged to volunteer as well, even on work time.
“From museums to hospitals and clinics to Boys & Girls Clubs and YMCAs, we’re involved with a lot of these segments, and a lot of it started from our own volunteerism — kind of giving back and not forgetting our roots,” Marini said. “We’re local guys with a local business serving local people, and even as we branch out and do different things, we can’t forget the core of who we are.”
That culture of helping others is, in fact, a core value of the business itself, he said, crediting the team at FieldEddy with effectively communicating with clients about how they’re affected by the ever-shifting insurance landscape.
“We don’t get to execute these plans that Sam comes up with — sometimes in the middle of the night — without some talented folks on the team,” Marini told BusinessWest. “We don’t do anything alone.”
That kind of teamwork, Hanmer said, has helped guide FieldEddy to remarkable growth in the past decade, with more to come.
“There will be some acquisition along the way, but not as aggressive as we’ve been,” he said. “We doubled in five years, and our plan is to double again in five years, just in a different way, through organic growth.”
Joseph Bednar can be reached at email@example.com