EVERETT - A small business needs to find its niche in order to succeed.
That's certainly been true for Everett Cash Mutual Insurance Co., which is celebrating its 100th year in business.
"Agriculture is our main niche," said Randy Shaw, who became president and CEO of the company in 1998. "We are the third largest writer of farm insurance in Pennsylvania and the second largest in North Carolina."
(Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich)
Everett Cash Mutual Insurance Co. marks its 100th anniversary this year. ECM officials said it is proud of its rural heritage and tradition of people helping others in time of need. The company is the third largest writer of farmowners insurance in Pennsylvania.
(Mirror photos by J.D. Cavrich)
Randy Shaw (left), president and CEO of Everett Cash Mutual Insurance Co., and Kerry Foor, treasurer and CFO, examine a policy at the Bedford County business.
The business, founded by Simon Whetstone on May 8, 1913, in a room above the Everett Bank in downtown Everett has grown into a multi-line, nine-state carrier with $50 million in insurance premiums and assets of nearly $100 million.
The company employs 40 people.
Whetstone, who had been an agent with Friends Cove Mutual Fire Insurance Co., founded the business on the "cash" insurance plan.
In 1913, there was a new concept called a pre-assessable policy where people paid up front. Pre-assessable policies were called cash policies, so Whetstone included "cash" in the name of the business, Shaw explained.
"It was generally a cash business. Checking accounts weren't well established back then," Shaw said.
In the beginning Whetstone sold fire insurance, but in 1954 the name of the company was changed to eliminate the word "fire" because the company was offering more than fire coverage.
Over the years, ECM added other types of insurance including homeowners, auto, workers compensation and inland marine.
Shaw said by the time he joined the company in 1987, the focus had shifted away from agricultural coverage.
"When I took over, we were mired in the wrong focus. I returned us to our agricultural roots," Shaw said. "One of the keys that unlocked our growth was finding a niche we could do better than anyone else. When we were writing homeowners policies, we were competing with giant companies. That prompted us to refocus on the farm side. We offered products that the farmer needed - that was the key that unlocked our growth potential. There were not that many companies that focused on the farm."
Today, Everett Cash Mutual operates in Pennsylvania, Indiana, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, Kentucky, Tennessee, Ohio and Georgia.
Part of the company's expansion was achieved through acquiring other insurance companies. For example, in 1992 ECM acquired Manor Mutual in Mountville, Lancaster County.
"Manor gave us 50 agents down east. That became a distribution channel for Everett Cash Mutual," Shaw said. "[Acquisition] can help you both geographically and with the types of products you are offering."
Acquiring other businesses, such as SAC Computer Solutions and D.L. Dravis and Associates, an adjusting firm, also was beneficial.
"By acquiring SAC we got software talent - the human element, the programmers. We now have the software solutions we develop that are sold to nine different insurance companies. They pay us an annual maintenance fee," Shaw said. "We could acquire more [businesses], maybe a HR company. We are open to creative solutions wherever we can find them."
Today, Everett Cash Mutual's focus continues to be on agricultural and commercial operations such as restaurants, small contractors, agri-business, wineries, bed and breakfast operations, car washes and taxidermists.
The company has succeeded by "paying attention to detail balanced with creativity," Shaw said.
Chairman of the Board Kenneth C. Stover credits Shaw and the company's employees for its success.
"We have had good management, especially over the last 15 years with Randy being there," Stover said. "The people who are running it have had their heart in the best interest of the company and are not interested in trying to make a big buck. They stuck to good insurance principles. If you do that and hire good employees and the employees stay a long time, you can't go too far wrong."
As the company celebrates its 100th anniversary, the third and fourth generations of the Whetstone family are represented by Donn C. Whetstone and his son Jeffrey, who both serve on the board of directors.
Jeffrey and his brother Daniel operate an independent insurance agency in Everett.
To celebrate the 100th anniversary, the company created the ECM Centennial Scholarship program. Shaw said the board has approved $100,000 to be set up to provide scholarships for students pursuing a bachelor's degree.
"Our goal is not to be the biggest but the best. We focus on being the best we can be," Shaw said. "We drive ourselves to do the best for every policyholder that we have."
"I would say we are going nowhere but up. We have the technology and skills. We will do great," Jeffrey Whetstone said.