An independent insurance broker which has expanded throughout East Yorkshire is celebrating its 50th anniversary after moving with the times and seeing off tough competition.
Long-serving staff at Hedon Insurance have seen their sector dwindle to only a handful of current operators in the region compared with more than 200 when the firm started – before the introduction of direct selling through TV, telephones and the internet.
But as other brokers around the country have closed, Hedon Insurance has expanded. The business, which was started when a “man from the Pru” opted to set up on his own, now employs 24 people in four offices.
Anne Walters, who joined the business in 1993 and took it over in 2006, said the strategy is to continue to grow gradually by providing a personal service supported by technology and extensive knowledge of policies and pitfalls.
Anne said: “The internet has had an impact. People go online and think they can get their cover at a lower price but they often come back to us when they find out they can’t claim for something that’ s gone wrong.
“We have access to the same facilities as the direct companies – dynamic pricing, which can change on a daily basis, but you don’t see the real value of the policy until something goes wrong and you have to make a claim.
“It’s almost always the case that when people are claiming on a policy they are in a vulnerable position because something difficult has happened to them, their family or their property. That’s when they find out whether the policy is what they wanted and what they thought they had signed up for. Our challenge is getting people to think about that when they take out the cover in the first place.”
Jeffrey Cladingbowl was well known to householders and small businesses as the local agent for the Prudential when he set up Hedon Insurance in 1969, a year when the Yellow Pages listed more than 200 in its insurance classification in the Hull area alone. Known to all his staff as Mr Cladingbowl, he opened and subsequently sold a second office in Barton on Humber, and he sold the business when he retired in 1987.
The new owners ran the company for two years until it was bought by Mike Medforth, who had been looking to buy a local business after a long career with Smith & Nephew and Reckitts.
Under Mike’s ownership, Hedon Insurance expanded to Hornsea and as he moved closer to retirement Anne advanced to the role of Managing Director.
Mike said: “At the time I bought the business there were about 60 different independent insurance businesses as well as large firms and individual operators, but quite a few were closing by the time I left.
“There was also more competition from national firms selling direct by phone and advertising on TV, but the location of our offices encouraged people to call in deal face to face. We survived by being friendly with people and looking after them. The bigger firms didn’t look after their clients very well. Our business grew every year and it was down to customer service.”
Anne opened a Hull office in Holderness Road in 2007 and in 2010 opened a Cottingham office which relocated to larger premises in 2017. The bulk of the business is personal insurance – home, motor and travel – but the commercial side is expanding.
Anne said: “Over the years some competitors retired and there were a lot of mergers and acquisitions. The larger firms have left the high street because they know they can make money from a digital service, and with other firms closing we’ve never been so busy.
“We made a conscious effort to streamline the way we did things and to be better form a business point of view, maintaining that face to face service that other businesses have abandoned. We are local people, we enjoy that approach and we realise the importance of it. We are part of the same community.”
[Phil Ascough – Ascough Associates]