by Janet Bressler-Bilenky
Insurance. Everybody needs it, but who wants to talk about it? We do! Why would an insurance company from CA want a presence at the Philly Bike Expo? I already knew that ISU Insurance Services of Westlake’s first bicycle industry client was Yeti, 35 years ago. And that they now handled insurance for frame builders and bike businesses large and small, but how did this specialization come about? Company president Lora Van Dixhorn tells her story:
I was young in my career, “cold-calling” fellow tenants in our office/industrial building, when I knocked on Yeti’s door, 4 suites from mine. John Parker proudly explained a Yeti as a $4,000 carbon fiber bicycle frame. Knowing nothing about bikes, I asked who in their right mind would pay this much for a bike. “No ma’am, that’s just the frame”. I worked hard to find him the best product liability coverage with a good insurance company, and came back with precisely what he needed, for only $800 a year. Starting price anywhere else was $10,000 so most builders went without insurance. Linda Parker sat me at her desk with 3 pens and a lot of paper. “This is just what we’ve been looking for! Here’s my Rolodex. You need to call our friends”. And I started phoning.
There were quite a few custom builders back then, most starting in their garage, passionately and carefully crafting beautiful bikes. I needed a quick means to market this more expansively. By the early 1990s the internet was catching on, so I jumped in wide-eyed, creating my own website. Builders called me from all over the country, even Canada and Europe. Then retail shops, large mass producing manufacturers and importers. I grew staff carefully, only hiring sharp, licensed agents. We learned which companies were able to grow successfully, and why other struggled. Instead of just “selling insurance”, my staff and I trained ourselves to understand and manage this risk, helping our clients grow their business, and reducing costs. I travelled throughout the US, meeting new underwriters, to constantly keep our insurance policies broad and the rates low, and I continue to do this even today.
Kristin Ruda now heads our bicycle manufacturing division. I hired her 15 years ago, and her passion is riding and racing mountain bikes, so she is a perfect fit! My husband and I bought our first electric assists last December, after insuring electric bikes for more than 30 years. I enjoy a long cruise around the lake or at the beach. Tom appreciates the extra power his serves in our Santa Monica mountains.
John and I met again a few years ago at Burbank Airport, boarding the same flight for another custom bike show. We’re both 30 years older now, looking back on how this little garage industry has grown up to play with the big boys. The excitement is still in his blood, and it keeps me knocking on doors.