Brightway’s unique business model allows agents to offer quality customer support
and build client relationships.
By Bianca Herron
Creating a personal and enjoyable insurance experience was the goal when Michael Miller and his brother, David Miller, co-founded Brightway Insurance. When the brothers launched the company – formerly known as Miller Insurance Group – in 2008, they redefined the business by becoming the first retail insurance provider of its kind to provide a diverse portfolio of insurance at the lowest price point possible.
“The basic model for the company from the beginning has not changed, which was to reinvent insurance distribution,” co-founder Michael Miller says. “Prior to Brightway, to buy any type of insurance you either went to an agent who sold for one company, say State Farm or Allstate, or you went to an agent who may have represented two or three insurance companies. These agents’ jobs were to convince you to buy one of the policies that they sold.
“We believe consumers deserve to have more choices of product, a national brand and a local agent who is empowered with the widest product selection at their disposal,” Miller continues. “They also deserve world-class service that starts with agents who have the time to really listen to each customer’s needs and provide expert insurance consultation. This approach, we thought, would change the way insurance is distributed. That’s how Brightway was born.”
When Brightway became a formal insurance agency franchise, in their first year they wrote about $36 million in written premiums. “Today, eight-and-a-half years later, we are at $438 million in written premium,” Miller says. “We’ve grown from 10 to 133 stores, with close to 150 units in the pipeline. We started in Florida and now we have stores in 12 states, soon to be 15. By the end of 2020 we want to have $1 billion in written premium, which correlates to doubling the current 300,000 policies in our agency.”
Brightway’s long-term goal is to become American consumers’ No. 1 choice to protect their families. “That means we’re going to focus on products around the family, which include home, auto, umbrella, life and flood insurance,” Miller explains. “So unlike other agencies that try to be a jack-of-all-trades, we are very focused on what we do and we are the best at what we do. We focus on the family and offering each family peace of mind.”
The Jacksonville, Fla.-based company provides customers convenient service options from locations that offer a range of providers.
“In our business model, we have local agents,” Miller says. “So, in our model, consumers talk with their agent, whose sole job is to build that relationship. They will have a conversation with you, no matter how long, to really understand you, your family and your needs. Our agents will let you know what the real risks are and the coverages you actually need.”
The Miller brothers’ vision for Brightway was that it should be better than what the competition was offering, not only for customers, but also for agents. “Our business model is unique in two key ways,” Miller says. “One, we offer more choice and expert counsel. Think of us like a Best Buy. When you want to buy a TV, you don’t go to a Samsung store or a SONY store. You go to Best Buy because they have a wide variety and experts who can help you understand what you need to watch the big game with your family. Second, we have a central service center that provides all of the customer support, not only to customers, but also to our agents.”
As the leader in insurance retailing today, Miller notes that it blends the local insurance expert—the Brightway agent—together with centralized service to give customers exactly what they want. “Not only what they want, but what they need, which is a lifelong relationship backed by world-class service that saves them money and gives more options,” he says.
Because of this, Brightway’s business partners – or franchisees – can focus on building and operating a retail store. “Their focus is on running a top-performing sales team,” he explains. “Before Brightway, if you wanted to get in this business, you had to operate an entire insurance agency, which was very complex. Because of the support we provide, Brightway agents need to only focus on new business sales and the home office takes care of everything else.”
Brightway Multi-Unit Agency Owner Dimitri Apostle agrees. “I have two locations. The first, in Charlotte, N.C., is three years old and the second in Grand Rapids, Mich., opened six months ago,” he says. “What impresses me from this stage of where Brightway is today, is that they are always thinking ahead. They have a very proactive approach to franchising and also support us in the field instead of being reactive.”
Apostle notes that as a franchisee, he has ongoing support from what Brightway calls “distribution consultants.” “We go to them with any questions, comments or concerns that we have, and they serve as the go-to source between the home office and us,” he explains. “They then take our concerns to the appropriate person at the home office and provide valuable feedback. For example, they give you suggestions of where to open up new locations based on traffic counts for the area and what they deem would be the best place for a successful franchise, all of which is very beneficial.”
Apostle had worked in the insurance industry for 14 years when he decided to join Brightway as a franchisee. “At the time, I wanted to explore opportunities and felt like we were plateauing from a sales point at the company I worked for,” he explains. “Soon after, my dad brought Brightway to my attention. After looking at it and taking some time to think about it, the company sold me on the model of being able to grow exponentially.”
Florida-based Multi-Unit Agency Owner Billy Wagner brings a unique perspective to the table, as he joined the company in 2006 when it was still Miller Insurance Group.
“I was the fifth office and bought into the company after meeting with the founder,” he recalls. “One of the things that attracted me to Brightway was the innovative approach to the insurance business. They stay on the cutting edge of technology and have an attitude of constant improvement that I really enjoy being a part of.”
Wagner enjoyed it so much that he decided to open a second location in 2015. “It opened up another geographical area for us and allowed me the opportunity to reward someone on my team,” he says, adding that the ability to grow and expand was an easy decision because of the unique business model Brightway offers.
“They are very committed to making sure the agency owner wins in the marketplace,” he says. “The things they offer today, I never thought would have even been possible. For example, it starts at the very basic level of being an owner; so I don’t have to get mail or reconcile commissions and accounting. If I didn’t have the support of Brightway, I would have to hire 50 percent more staff and that would take my focus away from growth. One of the other things I enjoy is our Business Analytics team. They can tell me where I am right now in a snapshot and where I’m going to be in three years, so I’m able to properly plan.”
“About three years ago, they brought in a whole team of experienced leaders who are knowledgeable and it took us to a new level,” he concludes. “I’ve figured out that this is a winning formula for me, and I can’t wait to double down again. I’m looking to not only add more sales people, but also to acquire and open more multi-units.”