Broker Buddha CEO, Jason Keck, is joined by John Darr, CEO and Agent at Darr Schackow Insurance. On this weeks episode, Jason and John discuss John's entrance into the insurance industry, Premium Time with John Darr, and changes that need to be made in the Florida marketplace.
You can also hear the interview on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and other podcasting applications.
Learn more about John Darr.
Episode 17: John Darr
Jason Keck: Coming up next is the latest episode of the Enlightened Agent. On today's show we have John Darr, the CEO at Darr Schackow insurance based down in Gainesville, Florida. I had a good conversation with John about what needs to change in the homeowner's market down there, and also an interesting story about how he was able to help a homeowner down there and get coverage. Not just coverage, but get paid when she had a fire in her house. Fascinating story, and just the kind of thing we'd like to hear on the show about how agents are helping their clients and protect the things that they love. So enjoy the show.
Hi, welcome to another episode of the Enlightened Agent. A podcast that brings you conversations with top insurance professionals and industry leaders. My name is Jason Keck and I'm joined today by John Darr, CEO of Darr Schackow Insurance. John, welcome to the show.
John Darr: Hey Jason, thanks for having me.
JK: My pleasure, John. I've seen recently that you are an avid LinkedIn live broadcaster doing premium time (nice name by the way) with John Darr. As a former social media industry operator, I think it's awesome that you're taking advantage of the platform. I've seen a little bit of the shows, but for those who haven't watched, would you mind telling them who you are, what you do, and maybe a little bit about what inspired you to do the show.
JD: Again, my name is John Darr. I'm an independent agent. We're based in Gainesville, Florida. I've been an agent for 28 years now, so going back to ‘92 or ‘93. ‘93 when I started. We got into doing a podcast, I had a friend of mine that always used to kid around saying “hey, we need to get together and do a podcast” because it seemed like every time we got together, our back and forth banter was pretty good.
I had a friend of mine that invited me on a podcast as a guest. After the podcast, I mentioned to Elio the producer of the podcast, and he said, “would you like to do a podcast”? I said, I’ve thought about this for a while and let me call my buddy and see if he's up for doing it.
I called my buddy, and he said “absolutely, let's let's do it”. Then we said, what's the podcast going to be about? I said, “well, I don't know, because most people don't want to listen to insurance podcasts per se”. So, we're going to have to create value by doing something else. We had a script in the beginning and then it kind of evolved into a free form.
We talk about all kinds of things, sometimes insurance, sometimes sports, local events, we'll have guests on the show. I kid around about the show because I don't have advertisers. I can do whatever it is that I want to do. That kind of makes it different and fun.
JK: It’s nice to have some free reign to say what you want and feel comfortable with it. How many episodes have you guys done?
JD: I knew you're going to ask you that, and I wish I could tell you exactly. We've been doing it every week since the first part of February, so we're six or seven months in. We've probably done 35 to 40 episodes, something like that.
JK: I'm curious why live instead of just a podcast? Is it more just that it's fun to do live? Where did that come from?
JD: That's a good question. When we decided to do the podcast, the producer said, if we just go live I don't have to edit it. I can give you a much better price.
If we just go live I said, “what if we say something we shouldn't say”? The producer said don't say anything you shouldn't say, and you'll be fine. My buddy and I laugh to this day because we can't believe eight or nine months of this and we haven't gotten in trouble yet, or maybe nobody's listening.
It's been fun, it's been a really pretty neat experience so far.
JK: I think certainly during COVID podcasts have gotten popular. A lot of people have started them, and I think people have found that they're relatively easy to do.
You just get on the horn, you have a conversation with people who are fun and interesting and different. You pick some topics that are relevant to the people that you're connected with in your world, and put it out there. We've had kind of a similar concept. I decided to start doing this show after hosting my kids online trivia night for their school.
My wife was like, “man you're pretty good as a host, you should do a podcast”. I was like, yeah, why not? That was easy. So we started, we called a bunch of friends and I said,” hey do you want to have a conversation that we can record and publish”?
Here we are.
JD: I appreciate the opportunity to be on the show.
JK: It's good to have some clever people in the industry. I don't come from the industry, I think most people by now know that. For me, it's always fascinating to hear stories of people who have been in the industry for a while and some of the amazing things they do.
So outside of the show, you’re obviously involved with the agency. Is there anything you want to share with the listeners about the agency, what you guys do and anything new with the company.
JD: We started out as a Nationwide Captive agency in 1992. My dad started it in ‘92 and I joined him in ‘93. Then in 2008 in Florida, they made all of the captive agents become independent agents. So it changed, changed our world dramatically. My dad retired at that point and I basically took over. When he retired we were probably 10 to 12 employees. Most of the agents listening can tell roughly premium wise what that is.
Then, the last count whereabouts just under 60 employees now. We've grown a lot since 2009. At the end of last year, we partnered with a company out of California called Liberty Companies and that's been a great experience for us because it allowed us to partner with a company that has a great culture and great resources. We're hoping to continue the growth pattern that we've had up until now.
We partnered with them at the end of December last year, and we're up this year somewhere north of 15% growth. We continue to grow, but when you get to 60 employees, it can be difficult to grow an agency of that size. Luckily enough, with the resources and the help Liberty Companies have given us we continue to grow.
Liberty Companies is more of a partnership than it is a private equity or an acquisition type situation. It is very unique, and at the time we were not looking to partner sell or anything. The more we dug into it and looked at it, we said this really makes a lot of sense and it's a different experience than what else was out there.
JK: How did you find those guys? California and Gainesville are not exactly side by side.
JD: They had a friend of mine that I knew from FAI approach me about just taking a meeting with these guys. I was always really good about meeting with almost everybody that approached me.
Then over the last couple of years, it's been relentless people trying to sit down and approach us about acquiring us. I always listened but obviously didn’t act on anything, but I did listen. When we sat down with them it was such a different message that it was worth looking into further.
We took about a year, but at the end of the day we ended up partnering with them.
JK: Can you share anything about the nature of the partnership in terms of what's the give/ get? What are they giving you, what are you giving them? How does it work?
JD: They come in as a majority partner, so it allows us to take some chips off the table, so to speak. We still own a piece of the agency entity.
That's where the difference comes in. A lot of times these other companies, or mega agencies come in and they buy a hundred percent making management to their P and L. This is not a situation like that, it's a much different model than that.
It allows us to retain some ownership and truly act like partners because we are partners in the agency. It's unique and it's been very good so far.
JK: Outside of the tech industry, you don't often hear about ownership being shared. In the tech industry, it's common to issue options and grants to employees. Everybody's a shareholder and everybody's rowing in the same direction. It’s interesting to hear that, that you guys have found a model that works for you with those guys.
Very cool, congratulations on that!
JD: The agency started in ‘92, my dad started in ‘92. I graduated from the University of South Carolina in Aiken, South Carolina, and came home in 1993 and I didn’t know what I wanted to do.
My dad said, “well you can sell insurance”. I'm like okay that doesn't sound too exciting but tell me more. In a nutshell he said, “if you can find an industry that you're selling a product that by law they have to buy, then you might want to look into that industry”.
I'm like, what do you mean? He says “well they have to buy car insurance, they have to buy home insurance”. Mortgage companies require them to buy insurance. Now they don't have to buy it from you, but they're going to buy it from somewhere. When he framed it that way I said that sounds pretty good. If I just work really hard, I'm hoping somebody would buy from me.
5,000 policyholders later, it worked. That was interesting to me when I started out, I don't know that I really had any desire to be an insurance agent. At the time when I graduated, I said I can see where this makes some sense.
JK: 28 years in, what do you think has been the biggest changes and what do you think is the next thing that needs to change?
JD: This is a great question. So in 1993, my dad handed me a phone that obviously was plugged into the wall, and a phone book. He handed me a phone book and said, here you go, start calling anybody that you know. Call them and ask them to buy insurance.
The fact that he was only a year into building an agency, he didn't have anything to give me. Look kid I'll teach you how to do it, but I don't have anything to give you. And so we did. I was always the type of person that was able to get along with a lot of different people.
I seem to be able to embrace people of all types and get along with them. In the insurance world that's a really valuable skill to manage those relationships. I look back to when I was in high school, I was an athlete, I played baseball, and I was friends with the athletes.
I was friends with the nerds, I was friends with the punk rockers. For some reason I was friendly with all these different types of kids. It turned out that it worked very well. And the insurance field as we tend to have to deal with all kinds of different folks.
JK: So hard line phone, and a phone book in 1993, clearly a few things have changed since then. Does anything stick out in your mind?
JD: Before, there were two ways for people to get in touch with me. In person, if they walk through the front door or if they call. That was really the only two ways that they could get in touch with me, or I can get in touch with them.
What's changed is there are so many different ways that we as agents can either be contacted or contact other people. I don't know how many social media platforms there are, but it seems like there's a lot and it’s never ending. Now you have the phone and the in person has sort of gone away.
Social media outlets are really your front door, so to speak. Do you make it easy for people to walk through your front door by either LinkedIn, Facebook, Instagram, TikTok? Even I don't do all of those, the more front doors you have the easier it is for people to get in touch with you.
I think that's what's changed that the agents need to embrace if they can, as best they can.
JK: Maybe that explains why you've tripled your book, or tripled your employees over the last 30 years as you've opened more doors. Maybe not physical doors but, digital doors. Are you guys pretty, I won't say aggressive, but it sounds like you're leaning pretty hard on the digital digital track.
I think certain platforms are more effective than others. LinkedIn's a great effective platform for me, and then Facebook seems to be probably the two most popular. The more active you are (I don't claim to be an expert by any stretch), I'm more of the throw some stuff up against the wall and see what sticks kind of guy.
That's probably not the right way to do it, but that's the way I've done it. A lot of folks, if you can just be active on those platforms and be aware of what is out there and how to put valuable content out there.
Understanding what valuable content is pretty unique. It's not what you think, they don't want to hear about insurance.
JK: Bull-horning is the term that was called early on and is not well-received right.
It’s like, stop selling directly to my face, we're not even having a live conversation. It's a really powerful place to build a brand and help people get to know you and get more comfortable with you and feel safer contacting you. There's no question that social media is really good for that.
Kudos to you for having some success there. You're doing it right in the beginning, you throw some stuff at the wall, you start to learn. We've seen, both in and outside of the insurance industry, as you start to get more advanced you start getting into the analytics around it.
We've done X many posts, what's performed, what's not performed, what are the reasons why? There's a next level of social analytics you could get to. It requires a little bit more time and investment into it, but sometimes it's just a branding exercise.
You just want to get your name out there and let people get comfortable with you. Is it mostly you, or do you have other people in the company doing it? I know obviously the LinkedIn thing is powerful for you, but do all your producers do content? How do you guys do that?
JD: I beg them and plead. They do what they can, and they do the best they can. LinkedIn is definitely me, Premium Time the podcast is definitely me. We do have a marketing company,Keep it Real Social, that helps us out of Michigan. The agency coasts, and even they are trying to make the posts be more personable and not necessarily bull-horning.
Most of it is me and that's going back to the podcast. When we got together and did the podcast, I told my co-host that we're not going to talk about insurance. We might talk a little bit about one sentence, a very little, tiny bit.
He was very surprised. I said we're going to talk about fun, cool stuff. It may be how bad the Gator football team is this year or how great the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are.
If I can provide value to other agents to understand, I just don't necessarily make it all about insurance. They know you're in insurance, they know they can buy insurance from you.
JK: What do you think the effect has been? It's always hard to measure. Have you generated any real leads out of it? People contact you, but you have no idea if they have seen the show or not.
JD: I can tell you this, almost every time I'm in the community and literally every day I'm out in the community, sometimes in a restaurant, sometimes it's a meeting network for the chamber of commerce, I get a comment about the podcast.
I'm sure they're not watching every episode and I'm sure they're not tuning into every minute and all that kind of stuff, but they're noticing. One of the important things is people usually will have a trigger that will happen when it's time to buy insurance.
Maybe it's a renewal, maybe their rates went up, who knows because there's a million different reasons. If I can be on the top of their head, I win.
JK: At least you get a phone call, and you get a chance to win and the brand awareness is exactly your point. I have a problem, either my new coverage or my existing coverage I’m not happy with. I need an option, and I could either go on the internet and try to search and qualify people that way or, I can say, “John didn't seem like such a bad guy. I'll give him a call”. He's clearly established enough to do a podcast so why not have a chat with him?
It's one step better than going on the internet and looking up somebody that you don't know. That's all you need to do is be one step better than the next guy, good for you. The way in which you communicate with customers has changed, what else needs to change?
JD: In Florida especially, we have hurricanes here, we have attorneys and we have something called assignment of benefits. Some of the problem that needs to be fixed here, specifically here in Florida, is the fact that when an attorney sues an insurance company, all I have to win is a dollar to get all of their legal fees paid.
We are in a situation where we didn't have this claim, but I know about this claim, the attorney sued the homeowner and won $1,000. It was a $25,000 roof claim, and instead of $25,000 that the homeowner got $23,000 which was supposed to be $26,000. Well in Florida, the attorney won. The attorney got $75,000 in legal fees paid for, but there's something called a fee multiplier that the judge awarded the attorney which allowed the attorney to TEDx his legal fees. The attorney walked away with $750,000 in legal fees on a claim where the homeowner received $1,000 of the $750,000 legal fees. I think that is something that needs to somehow change. The legal attorneys have a pretty strong lobbying group.
JK: What's the consequence of that? Does it mean policies are more expensive because you end up paying for not just the claim, but carriers have to factor in legal fees for those claims?
JD: Rates are going through the roof here in Florida. The rates are going 10, 15, 20% every year. The state of Florida’s insurance companies fill it up because a lot of the carriers are not writing houses with roofs that are five years old.
That's kind of broken, we have to figure that out. As an industry, we have to figure that out and. I understand we need attorneys, don't get me wrong. I get the fact that we need attorneys because there are situations that we need attorneys to be involved in. It's not a healthy industry right now because insurance companies are losing pretty poorly and they're just going to pull out, they're going to leave that state.
JK: Is that law, the 10X, is that recent? Is that why prices and rates are going up because this was introduced recently?
JD: I don't know exactly, I think it's been around a while. It actually was brought over from medical malpractice, lawsuits, that kind of thing. I mean, now their attorneys are suing on windshield claims. So you've got a $300, $400 windshield claim, and if the attorney can win a dollar, the insurance company should have paid $350 instead of $300. Now all of their legal fees are paid for by the insurance company. It could be thousands of dollars over a windshield claim, it's not good.
So that needs to change, and I'm optimistic that it will. It just takes a little bit of time and energy.
JK: I don't know if you do much in cyberspace, but we're seeing rates skyrocket in cyber right now. With all the claims and the breaches over the last few years, the prices on cyber insurance are through the roof. Some other coverages are even hard to get, everybody's looking for options. The carriers are starting to panic because they don't really know how to rate it properly because it's a changing space.
It’s a different world entirely, cyber versus homeowners. It generally feels like hardening markets of late prices going up makes your job a little harder. Hopefully if you guys are talking your clients through it, you're going to be okay in the end and part of what's driving your 15% growth at the end of the day as well.
I think we talked a little bit about this before the show, but the show is called The Enlightened Agent because we like to share stories about amazing agents who do amazing things. Enlightenment is defined as, “the state of having knowledge or understanding”. I wanted to ask you if you have any stories that you'd like to share either from your career or from agents that you know, where you've been able to really help people?
JD: It's been a couple years now, but we had a client of ours that called on his neighbor whose house was burning down. It turns out we were the agent of record on this house, ironically. This guy was an attorney and friend of ours. He called and said, “hey this is what's going on”. I literally just grabbed my keys and ran out of the office and went. I knew where it was, what house it was and all that. I showed up on scene and literally the homeowner is a widow. She's been a client for 25 years and she's standing in the front yard, watching her house burn down and the firefighters are there. It was a pretty intense scene. I will tell you that when I showed up, she definitely was very glad to see me and glad that I was there to help her. It was a pretty intense situation that you don't see every day, but it does happen.
We spent the next whole, gosh, about four or five months maybe. The insurance company paid the full policy limits, all the contents, the whole thing. She was living in the house at the time with her grown adult son, but she ended up not rebuilding the house, she ended up selling the lot and somebody else came in and tore the rest of it down.
It definitely showed me the value of personal relationships in insurance. We do things that are important and houses do burn down.
JK: You saved her life, right?
JD: She was struggling to begin with because her husband had died a few years ago. She was struggling with the whole thing. It was about a 5,000 square foot house, so it was a pretty good size house to keep up and take care of.
JK: I have to imagine in the moment when you're watching that, you have so many questions. You realize obviously there's nothing you can do, or you're feeling pretty helpless. Having somebody especially, you, her agent, rock up and be there is special.
If I were in that situation, I'd be like, uh, I don't even know. To be proactive on that is super powerful.
JD: Nationwide was the carrier and they have a large claims catastrophic loss team. I got a hold of them and they actually came out the same day as well once the fire was out and helped just introduce themselves to her and start the whole process that day just gave her some comfort. It's going to be okay, that kind of thing.
JK: Those aren't stories that you like to hear, things that go wrong. Whenever they happen, it's always good to know there's support for them and good people looking after people who need it so, good for you! It sounds like maybe good for her in the end as she moved onto something new and different. Sometimes you need events like that to help you move into the next phase of life, whatever that may be.
JD: Needless to say she's not going anywhere as a client. She doesn't care what it costs, she's like “you're my guy”.
JK: Awesome, man. Well, good for you! Thank you for sharing that story, this has been a great conversation. I think we have great people on the show and you included so I really appreciate you making the time before we wrap up here. Is there anything you want to share with our listeners today?
JD: I just thank you for allowing me to be on the show. Thank you for allowing me to expand the brand and tell folks who we are and how we do things, our experiences.
JK: If people want to listen to your show, how do they do that? How can they find Premium Time with John Darr?
JD: So usually LinkedIn, if you search Premium Time with John Darr, it'll probably come up. We have a Facebook page as well where you can search Premium Time with John Darr. We don't have a website, I probably should have a website, but I don't. Like I said, it’s what we do for fun. If you can search those two things, it'll probably pop up.
JK: It's a live show, right?
JD: Lord knows what we're going to say. You can call in and heckle us or comment on it. We're good with that.
JK: When does it go live?
JD: Tuesday at three o'clock, every Tuesday.
JK: I can find that on LinkedIn? If I want to mark my calendar right now for the next live show, can I heckle you on the show? Is that allowed? You take callers like a radio? Okay, all right. Well I’ll make sure you publish the number I'm going to bomb into one of your shows. I'll press you about your days playing baseball or something about LSU beating Florida. Well, John, be in touch. I really appreciate you being on the show and look forward to seeing you around sometime in the year.
JD: Thanks again, Jason.
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