Moon bounces and fake tans

Markel’s spending streak continued this week with another acquisition.

Although its investment arm is usually the one doing deals, Markel’s latest is in its bread-and-butter business line: specialty insurance.

The company announced Wednesday morning an agreement to acquire THOMCO, a privately held Georgia-based insurance broker that focuses on niche fitness clubs, childcare centers, tanning salons and inflatable rental operators.

Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

As is typical with Markel deals, THOMCO will operate as a separate business unit with its current leadership remaining in place.

The deal is subject to regulatory approval and is expected to close in the first quarter 2012.

Markel has had its eye on THOMCO for a long time, according to spokesman Bruce Kay.

“We dropped our business card off about 15 years ago,” Kay said. Conversations turned serious about a year ago, and the real negotiating took place over the past few months.

“These guys have been in business forever as disciplined competitors,” said Kay. “They’re in the same niches of insurance that we are.”

With the deal, Markel also helps take a bite out of some of its competition. As a broker, THOMCO sends its policies to companies like Markel to be insured. But the two have never done business together before.

“There’s a certain amount of defense in staking out your mote and position in these niches,” Kay said.

THOMCO brings into the Markel fold 108 employees and about $170 million in written premiums. By comparison, Markel brought in $676 million in revenue during the quarter, including $509 million in premium revenue and $62.1 million in investment income.

Markel’s checkbook has been hot this year.

Markel Ventures made several acquisitions this year, including a tanker truck manufacturer in Pennsylvania, a baking machine company in Georgia, locally based concierge medical service PartnerMD and Diamond Healthcare. Its dredging subsidiary also made an acquisition in March.

Those all came on top of several other acquisitions in 2010.

“We’re trying to put our money to work intelligently,” Kay said. “This is an environment where the profitable growth typically comes from acquisitions.”

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