In Depth: Insurance – Echols Steps Up Marketing of Crye-Leike Insurance

by Memphis Business Journal reporter David Royer

 

Memphis, Tenn. – Crye-Leike Insurance turns 21 this year, and general manager Turner Echols says the agency is finally coming of age. More aggressive marketing strategies are helping to put it on track for its biggest growth spurt ever.

“In the past 14 days we’ve picked up the largest accounts we’ve ever had,” says Echols, who came on board in May 2002. “Business is up 300-plus percent, and on the commercial side it’s up so much more than that, it’s phenomenal.”

It’s a phenomenal achievement, Echols says, because until recently, few people knew the real estate giant even sold insurance. That may be changing as the agency embarks on its first marketing campaign ever and attempts to position itself as a major player in the local insurance market.

Crye-Leike’s insurance division has always been something of a stepchild to its parent company since it was founded in 1982. It’s never been marketed beyond referrals within the company.

“The general market does not understand that we have an insurance agency here,” Echols says. “We’re a 21-year-old agency and it’s not been marketed at all.”

Six agents in Memphis and one in Nashville represent 22 insurance companies from AAA to Zurich-Kemper. Property and casualty makes up about 90% of their business; predictably, homeowner’s insurance is the most popular offering, with commercial property insurance next. Life and health plans make up the remaining 10 percent of the mix.

The agency serves the insurance needs of over 5,000 families and 300 businesses. Still, with little brand identity, it was lost in the shadows of the more visible real estate division, making it a relatively minor player in the local insurance market.

Crye-Leike’s Realtors frequently refer home buyers to local insurance agencies, especially if the clients are new to the area. But they aren’t bound to recommending Crye-Leike Insurance over any other agency, and they don’t receive a referral fee or other incentives for doing so.

Since referrals from realty agents remain the prime marketing tool for the product, the insurance division remained as little more than an ancillary service.

“I’m sure there are agents out there that don’t know Crye-Leike offers insurance,” says Bill Malone, an agent and manager of Crye-Leike’s Midtown branch. Members of the insurance division frequently show up at sales meetings to make their presence known among agents, but not all real estate agents attend the meetings.

Having the name Crye-Leike attached to the office may have also been more of a hindrance than a help, Malone says.

“I think because we’re so brand-identified with real estate, the name Crye-Leike conjures up real estate and not much else,” he says.

However, in other areas of the country, insurance and real estate sales commonly go hand-in-hand in the same company.

That arrangement was common practice here decades ago, says Larry Brown, a partner with Berclair Insurance Center. Today, though, Crye-Leike’s combination of services is a rarity in the region.

“I think because of the very size of their company, they do things a little differently,” Brown says.

When Echols came to Crye-Leike last year, he found an agency that had been mostly dormant for four or five years. So he’s spent the last few months formulating a plan to inject more momentum for the agency within its market.

Crye-Leike Insurance recently had its first print advertising campaign and agents have been spending more time out of their offices and in the offices of real estate agents, “passing out cards and buying doughnuts,” as Echols puts it.

A better relationship with real estate agents is already leading to increased referrals to the insurance division. Echols says he’s heavily targeting commercial developers for growth.

“Crye-Leike, because we’re in real estate, has a great name in the contractor-builder-developer market, and I’m looking for the right appointment in the commercial side to just literally mop up that market,” Echols says.

More than just better marketing and networking, Echols says he has further plans that will change the scope of the agency. One of his tentative plans is to create a private-label Crye-Leike brand insurance in addition to the 22 lines the agency currently offers. That will allow the agency to tailor-make the product it sells, instead of relying on what its represented insurors offer.

Echols says he’s laying out plans to position Crye-Leike Insurance as a major brand over the next 10 years. The combination of real estate and insurance in the same company offers added convenience for consumers, he says.

“People like one-stop shopping,” he says.

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