Experience Built Right In
Construction veteran augments the team at Foster White Insurance Agency
Foster White Insurance Agency understands the construction market.
Owners Jake Olinger and Tony Larson say that many agencies may make that claim, but in this case, the company has an agent who has owned a construction company, so he truly understands that market.
Insurance Consultant Dustin Craig operated a mechanical-contracting firm for over a decade, connecting general contractors with services such as plumbing and HVAC for new buildings and renovations. Now, having joined the insurance agency in 2019, he can offer an up-close-and-personal perspective on what construction and construction-related businesses truly need.
“I know what they are doing on a day-to-day basis,” says Craig, who specializes in helping clients with loss control for their firms. “We provide safety to business owners,” with specific understanding of the kind of work they are doing built right in.
Foster White Insurance Agency—founded in 1963—partners with 22 different insurance carriers. It also offers human resources, insurance, risk management and employee-benefits programs to construction-related companies. Auto, homeowners, term life, recreation and health insurance are also in the company’s wheelhouse.
“This full range of products is important due to the way the construction industry works,” Larson says.
“Contractors have more commingling. They may have a personal vehicle for work and keep work items in a storage shed at their residence, but that’s not a commercial location,” Larson says. It’s a situation commonly seen with smaller contractors. “The lines can get blurred for business owners in terms of categories,” he says, “but not having proper protections in place could open them up to risk. It can be nuanced in the personal lines. And if their personal lines of insurance are with a typical agency, they don’t realize the exposures. That shed could be excluded for coverage because it’s on a personal-property policy. We would place it on a commercial policy,” he says.
This kind of customized, wrap-around service has contributed to the company’s success, earning it industry and local recognition as well as steady referral business.
Foster White Insurance Agency was chosen as Agency of the Year by the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association in 2019, and the Monticello Chamber of Commerce & Industry selected the agency as its Business of the Year.
Traits a company needs to earn such accolades don’t materialize out of thin air. Foster White Insurance Agency leaders say they walk alongside construction clients, whether in need of fleet management or quarterly contract reviews or anything else, with a goal to guide them. Large or small, they aim to provide the best possible protection for their clients’ businesses and their employees.
Olinger, who serves as President, became a partner of the company seven years ago, with Larson, Vice President, becoming a partner in 2016. Over the past several years, they have more than doubled the number of team members at the agency.
The fact that referrals are Foster White Insurance Agency’s main revenue driver speaks volumes about the company’s reputation, says Olinger, which shows the agency as a trusted resource.
“I would say 100% of our personal lines and employee benefits business is from referrals and about 90% of our commercial-lines insurance is from referrals provided from companies we’ve served in the past,” he says.
Community involvement is one way that Foster White Insurance Agency builds trust. This local engagement is rolled into the agency’s corporate culture. It often sets an example of what giving back should look like. Instead of sending holiday cards in December, for example, it rolls the $500 it would have spent on the mailings to a charity, chosen via a random drawing.
Many agency employees volunteer locally. Three willingly jump into action in case of emergencies in the community, such as house or business fires.
Firefighters, When Needed
Olinger is the Assistant Chief of the Monticello Fire Department, a volunteer organization in which he has served since 2011. And Craig is a Captain in the department, joining in 2014, with Customer Service Representative David Berning becoming a Firefighter in the department more recently. Rescue services and hazardous containment are also part of their duties within the unit.
On the one hand, they educate insurance clients on how to protect themselves in case of these dangers, while their volunteer work has them pitching in when these same disasters occur in the community around them.
Larson, meanwhile, serves on the CentraCare Monticello Regional Development Committee, on a local youth-hockey board and is a member of the Monticello Lions Club.
Volunteerism—especially the kind that can save (or change) lives—is highly encouraged at Foster White Insurance.
“The agency is constantly educating clients on ways they can save money, better protect assets and reduce liabilities,” says Olinger. This sharing of information is a natural part of the firm’s culture.
“We spend time educating contractors on the insurance market itself, to figure out why something might be costing them more, or how to manage their risk, perhaps through a contractual risk transfer or by other means,” Olinger says.
Clients can learn how fluid a policy can be crafted so it evolves with the company as it changes over time. “We can build a policy to adapt for their future,” he says.
But as much as Foster White Insurance Agency works to educate its clients, it also listens. Otherwise, Craig says, the partnership wouldn’t be as effective.
“We do everything we can to meet clients where they’re at, from the one-man start-up to the multimillion-dollar contractor,” he says. “We give them tools to augment growth, and as they grow, we have flexibility and thought leadership on how to manage that growth.”
Olinger says that in addition to having a community-service commitment, a construction veteran in its ranks and a client-education focus, a strong benefits program is another huge advantage to using Foster White Insurance.
“We always encourage employers to invest in their employees’ future by offering a comprehensive benefits program. This allows employers to attract and retain top talent, as well as invest in their employees’ overall health,” says Amy Courtright, Benefits Consultant at Foster White Insurance.
Because Foster White Insurance Agency offers a wide range of solutions, it’s not unusual for it to handle clients’ personal and construction insurance needs at the same time.
Its construction bonding is another capability that clients find convenient, adds Larson.
Bonding, often required for municipal construction, is a guarantee from a financial institution that bills will be paid if a project is left incomplete or falls short of specifications. Cities often outsource underwriting to bonding departments, explains Olinger.
“We provide underwriting, financial and reputational capacity,” Olinger says, “supplying a one-stop shop for such services.”
Unique insurance requirements are also welcome at Foster White.
The agency’s leadership is looking to grow its construction business and plans to add more staff members to better serve its clients. Craig says, “We have the tools and resources in place to be a valued partner with construction-related firms of all sizes.”