David Miller, founder and CEO of Brightway Insurance, received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. He received the Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow designation in 1998 and has been recognized nationally as a top writer of auto, home, business, and life insurance. From 1993 to 2003, David was a senior agent and a manager for Liberty Mutual Insurance Company of Boston. In 2003, he purchased the Jennings Insurance Agency, forming Miller Insurance Group, Inc., which is now operating as Brightway Insurance. At that time, the agency had one office and three employees.
Brightway Insurance opened its first franchise agency in 2007 and now has 95 franchises across the United States.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you share with us the story of how Brightway Insurance got its start?
David Miller (DM): I was a successful Liberty Mutual Insurance agent for 11 years. Despite my success, I felt as though my potential was being stifled because of the time I had to spend performing the additional responsibilities beyond selling insurance. I shared my frustrations with my brother Michael (currently the Chief Marketing Officer of Brightway Insurance Inc.), who has an operations and management background. Together, we developed a smarter and more efficient way to run an insurance agency. We call this more efficient way to run an insurance agency the “Brightway.”
FC: For those unfamiliar, please tell us about the range of insurance products that you offer. What are some of the benefits of choosing Brightway Insurance over other insurance agencies?
DM: At Brightway Insurance, we offer a broad range of coverage for automobile, home, business, and life insurance policies. Auto coverage includes car, truck, SUV, motorcycle, ATV, RV, and boat insurance. Brightway Insurance offers home insurance in the form of home, condo, renter’s, vacation, investment or high-value personal property insurance. We have business owner and contractor’s insurance coverage. We also have term, universal, and whole life insurance policies available.
At Brightway, customers have options. Many times, insurance agents are “captive,” which means they can only represent one carrier or a limited number of carriers under the insurance brand with which they have a contract. An independent agency will have up to 10 carriers that they offer to their customers. Brightway Insurance has relationships with more than 100 carriers, which means a customer has that many more options for better pricing and the best available solutions for his or her unique and specific insurance needs.
Another reason that customers benefit from choosing Brightway Insurance is the reason that makes Brightway unique and appealing to agents/franchisees. Brightway Insurance provides all back office support to the independent agent. Brightway’s service center provides our clients with a better overall customer experience. The scalability of our call center allows us to service customers more effectively and accurately, with a better overall quality than what either a captive or independent agent could provide on his or her own. It’s our service center that keeps Brightway clients with their Brightway agent — our overall retention is between 92-95%.
FC: Can you differentiate Brightway’s agency model from the traditional agency model? How is your model better for agents/franchisees?
DM: At Brightway, we work for the customer’s best interests by offering a multitude of carrier options. At the same time, we provide back office support to our franchisees so they can focus on selling and growing their books of business.
Many agents tell me, whether they are captive or independent, that 60-90 percent of their time is spent on servicing issues, not selling new policies. As they grow their book of business, more and more time is devoted to the service side and their income tends to flatten, yet they work harder and longer hours than before. This was my challenge and that is why Brightway and its associate agency owners are so successful.
For example, Tony Barletta, an associate agency owner at Brightway Insurance, used to have 17 employees at his three Allstate agency offices. Only three of those employees did any actual selling. Everyone else was preoccupied with servicing nearly 10,800 policies among about 8,600 customers. His overhead was overwhelming. Today, he has five employees who are all focused on selling and zero employees who are not revenue generators. He now enjoys 10 times the success that he had before. Tony opened his Brightway agency in September 2010. In his first year, he grew faster in one year with Brightway Insurance than any year in his 18 years with Allstate.
With our model, a Brightway franchise can accomplish in three years what another agency model could do in 10 years.
FC: Can you describe the ideal agent/franchisee for Brightway Insurance?
DM: The ideal agents/franchisees for Brightway are individuals who can run a 5- to 10-person sales team and operate a retail store — preferably someone with previous business-owner experience, a manager in a retail store or previous insurance experience.
Furthermore, we are looking for people who are looking for a smart business opportunity — someone who is a licensed insurance agent or someone who is interested and willing to complete the two-week Brightway Insurance training program that is required to open your Brightway Insurance franchise. These individuals are typically 30-50 years old with $150,000 to invest.
Many of our most successful associate agency owners fit this profile. We are very selective and we know that someone with the right personality and work ethic can be successful in our system, regardless of experience and industry background. Many associate agency owners have come from different industries, including an advertising executive, a stock broker, and someone from the air conditioning business.
FC: Please walk us through the requirements and process for becoming a licensed insurance agent.
DM: Each state has its own requirements. For example, the requirement for the P&C (Property and Casualty) License course in Florida is typically a 200-hour course, while in many other states the course is about 40 hours. The P&C License course costs about $1,000 for the tuition, books, license, exam, and background check that includes fingerprinting. One must pass the course or have a degree in insurance.
We do not require a franchisee to have any past insurance experience; however, franchisees must complete and earn the insurance agent’s license before they can execute a franchise contract with Brightway Insurance.
FC: What is the ideal location for a Brightway Insurance agency? Do agents/franchisees get an exclusive territory?
DM: The franchisee is contractually obligated to maintain a storefront location. We provide our agents with specific criteria for a brick-and-mortar retail location, which include visibility from the road, compliant with signage, and storefront guidelines. The potential franchisee gives that information to a commercial real estate agent who then makes recommendations to the franchisee. As long as that location meets the criteria that Brightway provides, then Brightway will approve the location based on a photograph and images from Google Maps. Based on our experience, if these criteria are met then we know the location will be a success.
Currently, we have identified 18 specific states that we believe would most benefit from the Brightway Insurance model. These states typically are difficult to insure in, where customers have limited options, and where our franchisees can be the most successful.
We designed our franchise programs to ensure that our franchisees are not competing against one another and they can work together in a collaborative and collegial environment. One franchise will not be placed within the immediate vicinity of another franchise. This is different than many captive models where another agent might open an agency within a few blocks and less than a mile away. We find that our most successful agencies benefit from the cooperative associate agency owner community of peers.
FC: What specific steps do your most successful agents/franchisees take in order to build and grow their respective businesses?
DM: There are seven steps promoted by Brightway Insurance for a successful franchisee. These steps can help many companies with building and growing their businesses. The steps include developing clearly defined sales goals, setting a sales process, meeting weekly to review progress, and creating an ideal office atmosphere for associates and customers.
FC: What are some of the things you are doing to help your agents/franchisees become profitable?
DM: At Brightway Insurance, every decision we make must either help make our franchisees more profitable or enable them to sell more insurance. That’s our corporate mandate.
In addition, we have outstanding field management representatives who are tasked with helping new and existing agencies grow. They are a resource to our associate agent owners and they are truly focused on agency profitability. We help them review costs, motivate and manage their team, identify and develop greater return on marketing, as well as share best practices. It’s been my experience that many captive insurance companies only care about top line growth and there’s not enough focus on profitability of the individual agencies.
Lastly, we help facilitate a very strong associate agent owner community. The peer-to-peer mentoring helps accelerate the learning curve and the profitability of each franchise.
FC: Can you tell us a bit about the initial investment to open a Brightway Insurance agency? What are the major operating expenses? What is the profit potential for your franchise?
DM: In states where we are well established, the one-time franchise investment is $60,000 and we will finance it. In the states where we are breaking in, like the 18 states into which we are looking to expand, we are going to reduce the cost to $30,000 for the first franchisees in each of the states. As our presence grows in each state, the fee will grow to up to $60,000. The fixed expense for a Brightway Insurance office runs between $60,000 and $90,000 per year for a 6- to 10-person office. There is no annual franchise fee.
Due to franchise regulations, we are prohibited from disclosing financial expectations. However, we encourage anyone considering a Brightway franchise to contact any of our associate agency owners and ask them about their success. In our franchise disclosure document, we list each of our associate agents and they are available for interviews with interested parties.
FC: What are your goals for Brightway Insurance in the next few years and how do you plan to grow your business?
DM: Over the next three years, Brightway Insurance’s goal is to offer franchise opportunities in 18 more states, and we will do this by attracting the best franchisees and being very rigorous with our vetting process. We expect to grow our existing 95 franchises to 225, and our Jacksonville headquarters staff from 105 to 250 by 2016.
To learn more about Brightway Insurance, please check out their Facebook page.