Investing in People

From shaving his head to donating money to local charities, Alandale Insurance Agency’s Jeff Smith stays committed to his customers and community

Jeff Smith’s mellow attitude has served him well at Alandale, as the insurance business is full of unexpected ups and downs for the provider and clients alike.

Jeff Smith is mellow. Maybe it’s because he’s from California. Or it could be that his dad was a roofer and moved the family around a lot, making Jeff more adept at change. But, most likely, it’s Jeff’s experience in the insurance industry. As the vice president of operations for Alandale Insurance Agency, Jeff projects a Zen-like nature; after all, he’s spent most of his life ensuring that other people won’t have to worry. “The insurance industry kind of gets a bad rap,” he says. “I tell people all the time [that] we’re not selling insurance; we’re selling peace of mind. You’re paying for an intangible, but once you actually have to use it, you are sure glad you had it.”

Defining the elusive is how the independent insurance agency has grown since its founding in 1928. Today, Alandale has two locations and thousands of customers throughout California. In an industry that thrives on referrals, the agency is a giant among mere men. The firm has managed to rack up a 92 percent retention rate among current custo-
mers and an 85 percent referral rate.

Like most other small businesses, Alandale incentivizes its current customers to refer other customers. Each customer gets a $20 gift card per referral. The age-old marketing vehicle has yielded great results, but the California-based agency has given traditional referral programs a novel twist, creating a bonanza of goodness for Alandale and its community.

Everyone knows that the philanthropic dollars of small businesses are instrumental in keeping a small community awash in charity money. Alandale surely does its share. In the last decade, the agency has given more than $25,000 to the Youth Center in Los Alamitos, California, and has also participated in community events. In another instance, Jeff shaved his head alongside Alandale’s marketing director, Ryan Smith (no relation), to raise $3,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a children’s cancer organization.

Few companies fund-raise for their community in the strategic way Alandale does. With the Partners in Fundraising (PIF) program, charities are able to raise hundreds of dollars without much effort. If a nonprofit refers a person to Alandale for an insurance quote with no obligation to buy, Alandale makes a $20 donation to the select nonprofit. An additional $20 is given to the charity if the person referred becomes an Alandale client. It’s an unusual way to raise money, but it’s worked for both Alandale and the charities. “You get so many calls for donations,” Jeff says. “When the economy took a dive, a lot of that extra money wasn’t lying around anymore. We had to find a way to get involved with the community, but in a way that made sense. This way we can say yes to everyone, because it works out in their favor as well as ours.”

PIF has raised hundreds of dollars for various charities since it began two years ago, and Smith doesn’t see any end in sight. “It’s really a win-win-win,” Jeff says. “The client wins, as we usually end up saving the new referral money on his or her insurance policy; Alandale wins, because we’re writing more business; and we get these great stories of the money we’ve given to these great charities.”

As much as Smith loves giving to his community, he loves serving his customers more. He’s passionate about providing customers with a personalized service that can’t be beat. “There are a lot of places out there where you can get insurance, and there’s plenty of places that spend billions of dollars in advertising,” Jeff says. “But when you call them, they immediately start asking you for your zip code. You become just a number. They often give you prepackaged minimum-coverage policies that meet state requirements, but do not fit your needs. There’s really no bond there. It’s easy for us to compete against that kind of one-size-fits-all business. When clients call us, they find they get the protection they really need.”

Jeff Smith isn’t above a little trim around the ears if it’s for a good cause. Alandale’s VP of operations had his head buzzed to raise $3,000 for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation.