Sections

Weather Forecast

Close

Risk management is good for Brainerd business. Company has storied past, looks to the future

Joni Ebert (left, front row), Seante Sibbert, Robyn Rudek and Jill Janzen, and Jayme Steele (left, back row), Jake Huser and Craig Miller smile for a group photo in the conference room of Weizenegger-Engel Insurance in Brainerd. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch1 / 2
Weizenegger-Engel Insurance in Brainerd has served the insurance needs of more than 1,500 businesses and families in the state for close to a century. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch 2 / 2

The clients of DD Insurance hope they never have to file a claim with the longtime Brainerd-based company, but they will be glad if they do.

Weizenegger-Engel Insurance has served the insurance needs of more than 1,500 businesses and families in the state for close to a century by managing risks.

"What I would emphasize is we're probably 90 percent business insurance is what we do. We're handling commercial business enterprises for insurance," said Craig Miller, agency principal.

Weizenegger-Engel Insurance has licensed agents in all states except Alaska, Hawaii, Vermont and New Hampshire.

"We have gotten farther out in our geography of where we do business. We have clients on the Iron Range, down in the Twin Cities, out in far western Minnesota, so we have expanded our service area," Miller said.

The company insures, for example, businesses in these industries or groups: auto sales and service, building materials, contractors, equipment dealers, funeral directors, hotels and restaurants, manufacturing, medical, professional, retail, resorts, tire dealers and retreaders.

"In 2008, we saw a lot of our contractors go out of business, so there was a big slump for several years ... but we pretty much weathered through it," said Robyn Rudek, senior agency marketer.

Miller said, "We were still very aggressive with our marketing - getting out there and doing business with new businesses to replace what we were losing. And we have diversified over the past 15 years. We only insured one school district 15 years ago."

Rudek said the company now insures "a number of school districts ... and a number of municipalities and a number of nonprofits."

Miller added, "And most of the major manufacturing in the community. ... We've had people that have done business with us for over 50 years."

Miller is one of 10 employees of Weizenegger-Engel Insurance, which is affiliated with Primary Source Insurance, a nationwide organization based in Owatonna.

"Insurance is very dependent upon - and the pricing of it, long term - handling your claims and minimizing your claims, so we're very involved with our clients to help them develop strategies, best practices, to minimize claims," Miller said. "Our core is going to continue to be business insurance, but what we want to do is also do the group health for the business owner, so we want to be that one-stop shop to handle their needs, so they've got one agent to talk to, one agency to talk to, to solve their problems."

Rudek has worked at Weizenegger-Engel Insurance for more than four decades and is not the only employee at the company with that kind of longevity. Renae Vogt, who retired about a year ago, also worked for the company for more than four decades.

Company origins

"We were kind of a melding of two businesses," Rudek said of the company's origins. "I originally started with Opsahl Insurance - Butch Opsahl, he was in downtown Brainerd - and his father started it in 1921, I think it was."

She said she thought that it was in 1981, after Butch Opsahl's death, that the company was purchased by the Graham Weizenegger Insurance Agency.

"Steve Engel and Bob Weizenegger brought our agency together, and we operated separately from the Weizenegger office for a few years and then we all merged," Rudek said.

Weizenegger-Engel Insurance is owned by Federated Insurance Companies of Owatonna.

"That's who Steve Engel sold out to 15 years ago," Miller said.

Other notable changes that affected Weizenegger-Engel Insurance include how computers became standard office equipment. Rudek said when she started at the company, everything was done by paper.

"We're totally internet based with our software and records retention, so all client policies, all client service management," Miller said. "We've got records of phone calls, we've got records of conversations, emails, all catalogued when we used to have walls of file cabinets in this building."

Growing cyber-liability and computer hacking

Rudek said another change is employment practices liability has grown a lot over the years.

"It just seems like something keeps getting added every couple of years, like now the hot item is cyber-liability with all the computer hacking," Rudek said.

Miller added, "Or employees losing a computer - obviously consumer information, credit card information being obtained. ... Or you can get duped into wiring money into an account, and businesses - it's happening in our neighborhood quite frequently ... being approached to do it."

Weizenegger-Engel Insurance provides its clients with annual review for their safety and risk management practices, financial and business succession planning, insurance coverage and options, and insurance renewal, according to its website.

"I also see us adding additional companies that we represent," Miller said of Weizenegger-Engel Insurance, which represents an estimated 18 different insurance companies, too.

"Every insurance company has their specialty of what they want to do, so over the past four years, we've added two new companies, and over the next two years, I'd like to add another company, so that we can write more diverse types of businesses out there."

And as for the future of Weizenegger-Engel Insurance? Miller said he expects their clients will come from even farther areas in the internet age.

"But it still comes down to two real key areas: one, businesses are more complex, and it takes some expertise, and, two, that's where our people come into play," Miller said of his coworkers' strong work ethic and professionalism that have stood the test of time.

"Anybody can sell insurance. What it comes down to is how well do you understand the policies and the coverage needs of the client."