Jones & Mitchell Insurance & Risk Management Inc., a 94-year-old Spokane insurance brokerage, says it has built its business by making steady progress each year and diversifying to protect itself during tough times.
Jones & Mitchell has about 4,500 customers, mostly in the Northwest, who account for about $20 million in annual insurance premiums. Its total business has grown about 15 percent a year over the last 10 years, says company President Jim Brown. The company has only added a few new employees during that time.
Were the oldest independent insurance agency in Spokane, says Brown. We get a lot of referral business from our customers. I think the key is that we dont specialize in any one single area. We handle a lot of construction and manufacturing business. In times when one specific industry is hurting, it doesnt affect us as much.
After hiring two employees this year, the brokerage has run out of space at 123 E. Second, where it occupies about 5,000 square feet of floor space, and it now is considering several expansion options, including constructing a new building, says Rich Merritt, who is one of the principals.
We used to own the building were in now, where the company has been located since 1979, he says. We are thinking about buying it back. But were not sure what direction we want to go. We need more space.
Jones & Mitchell is owned and operated by Brown, Merritt, Kelly Greenwood, and Rob McWilliams, all of Spokane.
Merritt declines to disclose the companys revenues.
Were strong, viable, and growing, but were not real flashy, he says. The key to this business is weathering the cycles and being patient enough to survive.
About 70 percent of the companys business is providing commercial insurance to businesses and about 20 percent of its revenues come from providing individual insurance policies such as life, home, boat, and automobile insurance. It also provides employee health benefits, which represent about 10 percent of the companys overall business, Merritt says.
Its commercial insurance is designed to protect businesses from property damage, business interruption, theft, liability, and worker injury.
Jones & Mitchell also provides risk-management analysis as part of the commercial insurance packages it sells. The company determines potential risks and losses, such as legal liability, and recommends the appropriate coverage.
The company was formed in 1910 by Frank Jones and Sam Mitchell.
Jones & Mitchell has relied on grooming new owners within the company since it was founded, Merritt says.
The key is hiring good people who will replace older owners, and were constantly bringing in new producers to become owners, he adds.
Merritt attributes the companys longevity to its reputation.
We have a good reputation, he says. It sounds corny, but we protect our reputation at all costs.
He adds low employee turnover is another factor in the companys success.
Weve had several people who have worked their entire careers here, he says.
Merritt says one of the biggest challenges in commercial insurance is providing coverage for the construction industry. He says many insurance companies wont carry policies on contractors because of litigation fears.
The courts have expanded the definition of property damage to include construction defects, he says. Its a huge issue because many insurance companies wont issue policies to contractors.
Merritt cites a fictional example of a contractor with a $500,000 drywall contract. The thickness of the drywall the contractor installs meets city and county standards, but isnt what the developer ordered.
The drywall is safe, but it can be argued that a thicker drywall would have greater fire retardation, he says. So instead of redoing the entire project which would cost millions, there is a settlement for $125,000.
Mold and mildew claims also have contributed to insurance companies refusing to insure contractors.
Despite the evolving insurance industry, the company has endured.
Were the oldest insurance brokerage in Spokane, Merritt says. Weve rejected several mergers. We can make our own decisions instead of living by other peoples decisions.
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