“One of the first things we look at is whether something will be a win-win, or if someone will win at someone else’s expense. If that’s the case, we’ll go back to the drawing board,” he says. “We don’t look at technology as a way to replace people. Instead we consider technology a force to make the people we have better. An example would be the way we centrally handle a lot of the servicing work we do.”
Instead of calling an 800 number, customers call local agents, who in turn dial a three-digit extension connecting them with customer service representatives trained in specific areas.
“So the consumer would never know they’re being transferred to a call center. They avoid that whole experience of a phone tree,” Miller says.
Find the right people
Owning your own business is a dream many people have. Finding people who have the desire to turn that dream into a reality has been a key to Brightway’s success. Miller says that because of the support the company provides, franchisees don’t need the expertise required of most independent insurance agents.
“That’s what’s so beautiful about our system — all you have to do is follow it,” he says. “We happen to sell insurance, but I look at us as being in the opportunity business, helping people who want to realize the American dream.”
The level of support also means that agents can devote more time to selling — talking with clients about their insurance needs rather than deal with issues servicing existing policies.
Still, a franchise is not the right fit for everyone. Miller says Brightway is focused on finding people with the proper personality type rather than just adding numbers to expedite growth.
Conventional wisdom says that additional franchises are responsible for a company’s growth, but Miller attributes Brightway’s rapid ascent as much to the potential franchisees that are turned down as the ones brought on-board.
“We’ll talk to 100 different people who are interested in buying a franchise for every one we approve. The ones we’re approving are not necessarily people who have 30 years of insurance experience. They’re people with good business sense, a track record of success and they are optimistic. Their personality is one that they believe in being part of a team,” Miller says.
Franchisees go through a discover phase in which they are told about expectations and get a good understanding of what will be required of them. The process is part of why Brightway retains 98 percent of franchisees every year.
Reach the next level
As challenging as it is to create growth, it’s even harder to sustain it. Brightway has made the Inc. 5000 list of fastest-growing companies for nine consecutive years. What makes that particularly impressive is that it becomes increasingly difficult to maintain a high-growth percentage as a company becomes larger, Miller says.
But that growth also necessitated changes — the management team that brought great success grew Brightway to a point where new leadership was essential.
“About two years ago we hit a size where the people and the management team that got us to where we were at that time weren’t the same people we needed to be able to execute on a national level. So we made a conscious decision to bring in people who had already built and run national organizations,” Miller says.
Talman Howard, a former senior leader at Progressive, was brought in as chief marketing officer and was named president in October 2013.
“He helped Progressive grow from what was a $750 million company when he joined to a $16 billion company when he left,” Miller says.
Robert Taylor had been a senior leader at H&R Block before being named Brightway’s chief financial officer. Leslie Kolleda brought 20 years of experience with Progressive to her role leading the branding, marketing and public relations effort.
Brightway also added executives with experience in business analytics at Kemper Insurance and running call centers for Travelers Insurance.