A Wales, U.K.-based car insurance firm announced it was launching a U.S. subsidiary in Richmond.
Now that Elephant Insurance has finished its first year, we decided to catch up with CEO Andrew Rose to see how it went and what to expect next from the upstart insurance company in Innsbrook.
Below is an edited transcript.
Richmond BizSense: Where are you now in terms of growing the business?
Andrew Rose: We’re really concluding our first year. We formally launched the business in October of last year. That Q4 was spent kicking tires, making sure the system works. We began advertising in January.
We’ve had our best month ever as it pertains to plans in November. We are up to 90-plus employees in the West End from three of us less than two years ago.
AR: I’m not allowed to release those details, but I can say we have thousands of people across Virginia now trusting Elephant to be their auto insurance. We are writing million in premiums, but we are by no stretch of the imagination a large insurance company. You’ve got to be small before you can be large.
RBS: Do you have any expansion plans on deck for next year?
AR: As we enter 2011, we hopefully will expand beyond Virginia. We’re not releasing which state is next, but you could make a reasonable guess of where we will go.
RBS: What has been your marketing strategy over the past year, how does it differ from your competitors?
AR: When it comes to going up against formidable competitors like Geico, State Farm, Allstate and Progressive that have enormous marketing budgets and great name recognition, our approach on some things is the same. You see us on the Internet and on TV, but we also go out and do different things.
For example, we’ve been downtown giving out bags of peanuts, playing off a crazy name like Elephant. When you do focus groups, thing like that stick out and are memorable for consumers.
RBS: What’s the feeling from your parent company in Wales, Admiral Insurance? Are they pleased with the progress so far?
AR: Very pleased. They are veterans of this kind of exercise. We are the fourth international subsidiary they have launched. It is good to have an intelligent parent that knows that success is not made overnight. It takes years to be profitable, and they recognize that. A lot of what we are doing is investment now. Admiral is a highly profitable, fast-growing, low-risk company. The recipe they have in the U.K. — it is a matter of translating it into America, and we’ve got a great opportunity for success.
RBS: What has been the experience being one of the first firms to fill in some of the big vacancies left when Innsbrook first started to empty out?
AR: It has worked to our advantage here. Being a Richmond resident, seeing these fantastic companies fall by the wayside was very sad. While we are in no position to replace those name plates, it is nice to be out here refilling the vacant office space, giving folks that might have worked at those places a chance to work out here.
As those companies went through an unfortunate downturn, we’ve had the luxury of grabbing talented people and making them Elephants.
Al Harris is a BizSense reporter. Please send news tips to [email protected]