Phil Castle, The Business Times
Uwe Kirch sees some similarities between independent insurance agents starting their own agencies and mechanics opening their own garages. They have the expertise, but might need some tools.
Kirch runs an agency network he says provides those tools, among them access to insurance carriers offering a range of products. He also provides management and marketing assistance. “I have a garage full of tools.”
With the addition of 176 agencies over four years, the Grand Junction-based operation has become one of the fastest-growing firms in the United States. And Kirch believes he’s just getting started. “We don’t even feel like we’ve started to scale yet.”
Kirch is founder, president and chief executive officer of Horizon Agency Systems and Rocky Mountain West Insurance. While Horizon operates the network of agencies, Rocky Mountain West serves as a retail agency with a total of 176 branches in 45 states.
With a 655 percent increase in revenue between 2017 and 2020, Rocky Mountain West ranks 755th on the latest Inc. magazine list of the 5,000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the U.S.
Inc. bases the list on the proportion of revenue growth over the previous three years. The 2021 list is based on growth comparing 2017 and 2020. Companies apply for inclusion and report their revenues. Rocky Mountain West is one of 163 Colorado companies to make the Inc. 5000 for 2021.
“It’s pleasing yes, but more humbling,” Kirch says of his company’s inclusion. Moreover, he says, it’s validating.
Kirch started Rocky Mountain West Insurance in 2005 after working for other insurance agencies for five years. Before that, he served a total of 13 years in the Army and Air Force.
He launched his agency network in 2017 with a handful of other agents interested in working with him to start their own businesses.
More agents joined in 2018 and 2019. The network expanded even faster in 2020, and last year ended with 124 agencies, Kirch says. The COVID-19 pandemic motivated more people to want to go into business for themselves, he says.
The network is now up to 176 agencies — and counting — Kirch says.
The network has grown through what Kirch terms accidental marketing — word of mouth as well as what he says is a spirit of service in helping agents.
Kirch says he offers his experience in the insurance industry and connections with carriers. He also offers software to help manage insurance agencies as well as assistance in setting up and maintaining websites.
In return, agents pay a portion of their commissions. But Kirch says they can make that back in volume bonuses and incentives from carriers they wouldn’t receive in operating on their own.
Independent agents enjoy an advantage, he says, in their abilities to offer a choice of carriers that best meet the needs of their customers at what are usually lower premiums.
Rocky Mountain West offers auto, business, home and life insurance as well as other products, Kirch says. “If it’s insurance, we can do it.”
Rapid growth has come with challenges, Kirsh says, among them complying with insurance licensing and regulations in 45 states and managing a growing network. While proprietary software has proved useful, he credits his staff in addressing those challenges. “It’s 100 percent having good employees helping.”
Looking ahead, Kirch expects to push growth in his network rather than just accept growth. He eyes a market with 40,000 independent insurance agents already in business in the United States and more people entering the field.
If growth in the network and the resulting revenue continue apace, Kirch believes his operation could move even higher in the Inc. rankings for 2020 — perhaps to the top 500.
It’s a matter, he says, of providing insurance agents with the right tools.
For more information about Horizon Agency Systems, visit www.agency.builders. For more information about Rocky Mountain West Insurance, call 778-6000 or visit the website at www.rockyquote.com.