Have you heard of the London Beer Flood of 1814? No, I wasn’t around then, thank you, but word is, it was horrible. A 135,000 gallon vat of beer spilled from the Meux and Company Brewing in London, creating a spill-a-rama from their other vats and ultimately dumped 323,000 gallons of beer into the streets and nearby homes.
Drowning-in-beer jokes aside, this was an incident so catastrophic that buildings crumbled, people were trapped in basements and several lives were lost.
While no matter how many ounces of prevention you have in your brewery, you might still encounter an unfortunate incident. And, suppose a similar, horrific event occurred today and you insured your equipment but NOT the liquid within? Thousands of dollars of beer would have literally gone right down the drain. But more on that later.
Enter James Dulhanty, partner with Kitto Insurance in Indianapolis. Not your ordinary insurance man, Dulhanty is sort of a present-day undercover agent, slipping into breweries in the light of day while looking most unlike the part.
In a nondescript second floor suite in the heart of Downtown Indy is where Dulhanty gets much of his work done, and, where an Indiana beer is always on tap. But that’s not really where his office is. That would be in a brewery that he supports, where he drinks their beer, where he engages in conversations with owners, employees and fellow beer lovers, and where he completes the rest of his work.
Dulhanty is a bit of an outlier in his field because he and his partner, Ryan Kitto, have skillfully carved out an industry niche, specializing in representing breweries, along with bars and restaurants. See, breweries have very specific needs with its boiling wort, weighty equipment and combustible materials, so it’s important that brewing commercial beer be done by experts. So should the idea of protecting the brewery and that beer.
In just a short 2 ½ years, Kitto Insurance now represents 40-plus Indiana breweries, as well as breweries in North Carolina – Asheville specifically – Colorado, Michigan, Washington, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Kentucky too. Look at that list one more time and see if you see what I see. You got it; prominent beer states. And Washington state actually came to them.
Getting into craft beer
As a four-year soccer player at Marian University, Dulhanty stayed hydrated like most broke college kids by drinking cheap beer. That changed when a friend introduced him to Guinness, and then he began seeking out various stouts and porters. “Shadow Boxer (Indiana City Brewing) was one of my original favorites,” Dulhanty said. “And I still drink that beer today.”
Dulhanty then worked his way around other beer styles and while writing auto and home insurance policies, he picked up a couple of bars and restaurants as clients. James met Ryan Kitto, who was getting back into the insurance game and they soon formed their solo entities into a partnership. They focused their attention on the food and beverage industry after they agreed these were the clients that were the best to work with. Plus, they could frequent those establishments, particularly breweries, to forge true relationships and become valued customers as well.
More than insurance
Being a homebrewer, Dulhanty didn’t think it would necessarily bring him respect from breweries but knowing proper brewing procedures, and the inherent risks and dangers, might. “So, focusing on the craft breweries would translate into learning more and more about the craft beer scene”, Dulhanty says. “Doing our research, talking to the breweries and getting a couple clients here (Triton was their first client), me brewing with clients on bigger systems. I’m a homebrewer but that just kind of sent even higher my love of going to a bar or brewery and drinking.”
Dulhanty’s approach with the owners is more folksy and less sales-y, sitting down with them and simply explaining why they are the best at what they do. He says, “I mean, I don’t dress like an insurance guy. I don’t wear khaki’s or a golf polo or a suit, or anything like that. It just comes back to saying this is all we do.” Dulhanty then repeats a favorite line of Ryan Kitto. “You wouldn’t go to the eye doctor to get your foot looked at.”
In his visits, what Dulhanty found is that some breweries are under-insured because getting sufficient capital can be difficult, leaving the brewers/owners unable to hire a contractor for the buildout. They are then forced to do it themselves, and while many brewers are very hands-on and capable, there is another issue.
Dulhanty used this example. “A brewery of ours, he had it insured for what he did it himself. So the insurance, whoever it was, didn’t ask the right questions and didn’t insure it for what it would have cost a general contractor to do it. Which was four times the amount!”
So, getting back to the beer flood. It’s an interesting story and one which was determined to be an Act of God. (The insurance world’s version of a hung jury). Dulhanty spoke of such a brewery that actually had $200,000 of beer sitting in-house or in-process, that negligently had been left uninsured by their insurance company.
Guess who’s a new client now.
The personal touch
James Dulhanty adds, “I like working with everybody (in the beer industry), they are easy, outgoing. You can sit down and have a conversation at the bar with them and it doesn’t even have to be about the brewery. It could be just about anything. That is the backbone of why I keep doing what I’m doing. It’s because of the industry people in general, and not just the owners, I mean even the brewers.” Yes, the brewery is the subject but the individual is the interest.
Sure, you can represent a laundromat, an auto parts store or a doggie day-care, but randomly going to talk to those folks in the middle of the day but you might leave wanting something more. Instead of an agent dropping off a card or mailing you a bill throughout the year, Dulhanty is there in person, actively engaging with you.
“I can do that with the brewing industry, or the food and beverage industry”, Dulhanty said. “I can come in and have something to eat and drink, or have a beer, and just say, ‘Hey, how you doing?’ You can kind of build that relationship easier than you can working in other industries. If I can patronize and build relationships with my clients that way, that’s the way I want to do it.”
Now I’m not trying to say that the rest of the insurance industry is boring – like watching barley kiln – and perhaps there’s a market for other fun things like regular-golfer-person insurance or cigar-smoker-guy insurance, but it certainly can’t be as much fun and worthwhile as regularly dropping in and checking on your clients.
So, the next time you see James sipping a beer in your favorite brewery, say hi to him. And though he might be working, he’s really just visiting friends.
Kitto Insurance Inc. is an associate member of the Brewers of Indiana Guild. You can reach James Dulhanty at www.weserveinsurance.com or at 765-894-3774. They can be found on twitter at @serveinsurance.