Fortner Insurance

Pride in Protecting What’s Yours
by Sara Browning

With a reputation for trust and longevity of service, Fortner Insurance has been helping businesses, families and individuals since 1992.

Taking care of customers’ insurance needs… all the time. That’s what Fortner Insurance Agency provides, serving nearly 3,000 individuals and families and more than 400 businesses across the country, with a focus on the Midwest.

“We always take care of our customers—not just when something bad happens or a crisis occurs,” says J.R. Runkel, co-owner and president. “This is not an 8-to-5 job—this is a 24/7 job. We work whenever our customers need us, and we take pride in understanding what it means to personally be your agent.”

Established in 1973 by Robert Fortner, the agency continues to operate by the same philosophy under which it began: matching customer needs by providing comprehensive coverage for their assets at a competitive price. “If you know your customers, you know their needs,” says Dawn Fortner-Alwan, co-owner and vice president. “Our motto is: The insurance you need today to protect your world tomorrow.

“We are not salespeople; we are consultants and advisors,” she adds. “We realize all of our customers’ needs are different, so our job is to ask the right questions, determine the need and offer a comprehensive proposal that is unique to that customer. We do not take a cookie-cutter approach to selling insurance—we take a personalized approach.”

From the Ground Up
Growing up with a father who had a passion for insurance, the business runs in Fortner-Alwan’s blood. Licensed since 1987, she worked alongside her dad, learning the industry at various independent agencies. In 1992, he incorporated Fortner Insurance Agency, Inc.

“I watched a man basically create an empire from nothing,” Fortner-Alwan explains. “My father was one of the hardest teachers I ever had and one of the hardest workers I have ever known. I would not be the agent I am today without his guidance and help.”

When Fortner decided to semi-retire and enjoy his other passion—fishing in the Florida Keys—he and his daughter began looking for a partner to help run the business. That’s when Fortner approached Runkel, then a commercial and field underwriter for Westfield Insurance.

“Bob came to me and told me he and Dawn were looking for a partner… and asked if I wanted to join the agency,” Runkel recalls. “I had always dreamed of someday owning an insurance agency. With my knowledge and Dawn’s agency background, the partnership made perfect sense. Dawn and I have owned the agency since 2000.”

Setting Themselves Apart
With 19 years of experience in the industry, Runkel is licensed in the property/casualty and life/health insurance lines. Prior to that, he worked in public relations for the Indianapolis Colts.

“I was a marketing representative out of college,” says Runkel. “I had an education major and a business minor. I enjoyed the insurance business and wanted to own my own business. I saw a partnership with Fortner Insurance as a way to educate people regarding the right type of insurance they need. We direct our customers to the insurance company that is the best fit for them.

“My father always said, ‘Almost anyone can sell insurance, but it’s the education, the service and the promise down the road that someone will be there for you that sets Fortner Insurance apart,’” adds Fortner-Alwan.

The Personalized Approach
In the decade and a half Runkel and Fortner-Alwan have been managing the business, revenues have tripled. “Our customers recognize that we’re not your average insurance agency,” explains Fortner-Alwan, “and they reward us with their faithfulness. Eighty percent of our business stems from referrals from satisfied customers. They appreciate the peace of mind we give them when we write comprehensive insurance plans. We set their minds at ease.”

Runkel adds that everything Bob Fortner did in business was for the customer. “Bob’s emphasis was always on customer service. He preached that to me when I entered this field and pointed out that there are insurance agents all over town offering almost the same policy. Our job as agents is to make a difference in how we sell our products.”

With a combined experience of over 100 years, the agency staff is comprised of licensed professionals with strong community ties and a dedication to the kind of exceptional service that earns customer loyalty. As an independent agency contracting with more than 70 insurance companies, Fortner promises a complete analysis of their customers’ insurance needs. Agency professionals will design a customized protection program just for them while providing access to a range of companies to ensure a competitive price and the prompt settlement of claims.

“We look for companies that have an ‘A- rating’ or above,” says Runkel. “We want to write coverage with companies that have strong financial standing in the market and the ability to provide the claims service to our customers when needed.”

“For many customers, insurance is just a piece of paper in a file—until a claim happens,” adds Fortner-Alwan. “Our agency backs that ‘paper’ up, and we are there for our customers every step of the way. For example, on one occasion, one of our customers had a water backup claim at their business. On a Sunday morning, I was there bailing water in knee-high rubber boots. On another claim, I loaned my Bobcat to a customer to help speed up the debris removal [following] storm damage to their barn. Our customers know they can count on us in their greatest time of need.”

Efficiency and Long-Term Trust
Advances in technology, of course, have helped make customer service more efficient. “Technology has changed everything for our industry,” Runkel explains. “You used to be able to gather enough information on a napkin from lunch [to] quote a small business policy. Now, with the technology available, companies can look at the condition of the roof of a building prior to binding coverage. Rating and underwriting is much more comprehensive and extensive.”

“Technological advances have allowed for a high volume of customers to be handled by each employee,” adds Fortner-Alwan. “We use paperless technology and shred all personal information, ensuring the security of our customers.”

One of the top 15 commercial producers for auto insurance in the State of Illinois, the agency has also won the Better Business Bureau Torch Award, recognizing its extraordinary customer service. But Runkel says the agency’s real success is building long-term trust with its customers. “We want to build trust not only with our current customers, but over generations, so the children of the customers we work with today will be able to say, ‘Our insurance agency is Fortner Insurance.’”

Working and Playing Together
Amidst running a successful insurance agency, Runkel, Fortner-Alwan and their employees still find time for community involvement—and fun. “We are an agency that works and plays together,” says Runkel.

An avid horse lover, Fortner-Alwan has served on the advisory board for Central Illinois Riding Therapy. She and her husband, David Alwan, have twice served as co-chairs for the Wines and Polo fundraising event for Easter Seals, while in 2009, she was named among the 25 Women in Leadership for her community service. The same year, Runkel was recognized for his leadership and service with the 40 Leaders Under Forty award. Not only does he participate regularly with Big Brothers Big Sisters, he has served as president of the Downtown Kiwanis Club and as past president of the Wittenberg University Alumni Association.

“Community involvement is a must,” notes Fortner-Alwan. “We believe in giving back to the community that has supported us.”

In the years ahead, Runkel and Fortner-Alwan will concentrate on growing the business and bringing in the right people to help it expand. “We want to recruit people who share our philosophy and understand the importance of the correct insurance coverage for each customer,” says Fortner-Alwan. “It is protection for you, your family and for what’s yours.”

And this has brought far-reaching rewards. “When you can be there for people when their lives are an absolute mess and help them heal and put things back together, you know what you’re doing is important.” iBi

Fortner Insurance Agency is located at 3304 N. Prospect Road in Peoria. For more information, visit fortnerins.com or call (309) 682-0519.

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