As it enters its 50th year in business in 2020, specialist insurance broker and BAR Affiliate Basil Fry & Company takes stock of the successes it has achieved in the removals and self storage sectors through delivering top-quality customer service with an innovative twist.
In 1970, after becoming disillusioned with his fellow directors at the City of London brokerage where he worked, Basil Edward Fry decided to launch an insurance business from his home in Surrey that would concentrate solely on the removals industry. On 9 July of that year Basil E. Fry & Company was incorporated.
Basil drew up a document titled “Fry’s business plans for the 70s (and no longer!)”, which set out the future aims of his new company. His plan was to continue to service the insurance requirements of certain members of the National Association of Furniture Warehousemen and Removers (NAFWR) and the British Association of Overseas Furniture Removers (BAOFR) – which were to amalgamate in 1972 to become the BAR – as well as those of the Road Haulage Association (RHA).
Basil had already built himself a reputation in the sector for his exceptional advice on terms and conditions of contract. In a special supplement to the August 1967 issue of this magazine he wrote an article headed “Problems relating to the revision of conditions”, which began with the word “Gentlemen.”
While times may have changed drastically since then, Basil Fry & Company’s philosophy and approach to service have not. For instance, the very same leatherbound file in which Basil chose to record the names of all his clients is still used for this purpose today. The first entrant in the book is BAR Founder Member White & Company, for whom Basil Fry & Company still provides services, followed on the next few pages by BAR Member companies Smith Bradbeer Removals, Smarts of Northolt, Martell’s of Sutton, GH Yeates & Sons and W Harris of Chelmsford.
The 1970s proved to be buoyant for Basil, and before long his son, Christopher Fry, and son-in-law, Christopher Thorpe, had been brought on board as directors. In 1983 Philip Wildman – the brother of current MD Greg Wildman – joined, having begun his insurance career in a claims role at another company. After Basil died in the mid-1990s at the age of 75, his son, Christopher, succeeded as Managing Director and ran the company alongside existing directors Christopher Thorpe and Philip. At this point, the company employed 18 members of staff and operated from an office behind an opticians in Great Bookham, Surrey.
In 2001, Philip recruited his brother, Greg, as hisaccount handler. “What struck me at this time was the company’s traditional outlook regarding the importance of excellent, friendly service,” Greg explained to R&S. “This has always been our bedrock and is central to the way in which we operate to this day.” Conscious that the two Christophers would someday wish to retire, and after several unsuccessful attempts by insurance consolidators to purchase the business, Philip decided to safeguard the future of the company by heading up a management buyout in 2007. This brought Greg on to the board of directors, alongside David Pite and Susanna Hudson.
Navigating times of hardship
By the late noughties, the global financial crisis was imminent. An almost immediate drop in client turnovers, an increasing number of laid-up vehicles and decreasing manual wages – all of which are major contributory factors to the cost of insurance premiums – arrived as the first signs of recession, prompting the board to take measures to accelerate growth targets. Peter Doman, now a Director of the firm, was hired and began training to take on the role of account executive.
Another initiative which the board developed in 2008 to weather the storm was to penetrate and grow within the self storage sector, with a view to becoming the market leader a decade or so later. Fast forward to 2019 and the decision appears to have paid dividends, as Basil Fry & Company now covers 40% of UK-based self storage facilities and is an insurance advisor to the SelfStorage Association (SSA).
Under Philip’s guidance Basil Fry & Company enjoyed high levels of growth from 2011 through to a second management buyout in 2017. A new group structure was established, and Greg took over as Managing Director, joined by Peter Doman, Ria Houston, Adam Kellaway and Sue Thorn. “It was clear by the end of 2010 that we had hired two very special people who would be key to the company’s upward development,” explained Greg. Ria, who joined Basil Fry in 2005 as Greg’s account handler, exhibited her talent through a combination of strong operational sense and determination to succeed, while the more client-focussed Peter showed his by developing a good book of business. Bob Tree later joined the firm as a Director, bringing with him a wealth of knowledge and expertise, and in 2012 Sue Thorn joined as Finance Director, soon restructuring the accounts department. Finally, in preparation for the management buyout, Adam Kellaway rejoined as Technical Director after four years spent underwriting multimillion-dollar oil and gas risks in the offshore energy sector.
Standing in good stead for the future
As it enters its 50th year in 2020, Basil Fry & Company is in a good place. The firm now comprises 42 employees who all continually strive to deliver excellent customer service with an innovative twist. It represents nearly 1,700 clients throughout the removals and self storage sector and continues to grow this number on a monthly basis. In addition, Basil Fry’s relationship with the BAR – which, according to Greg, played an integral role in its early growth – is as strong as it has ever been since it joined the Association’s Panel of Professional Advisors in the late 1980s. Indeed, Greg, Peter and Ria have all served as BAR Area Secretaries in their time.
Basil Fry’s position within the insurance market is also looking strong. “Recently we’ve seen a continued upward drive on rate in the insurance market, especially in motor as insurers report the effects of Ogden – the personal injury discount rate – coupled with Brexit and rising claims costs. This factor is leading to increases of between 7-10%,” Greg explained. “If and when Brexit does hit, we think the accessibility and price of replacement parts will be integral to the wellbeing of the motor market. While any decrease in the availability or increase in the price of parts may lead to the hardening of rate, we’ve utilised the same three motor insurers for many years so the effects will be minimised but will likely hit other brokers much harder.”
Regarding the removals industry, while Basil Fry’s forecast may be slightly less rosy Greg has some words of advice for Members. “Despite 2019 having been yet another year blighted by Brexit, the removals market seems to have had a busy summer,” Greg continued. “However, there seems to be a downward drive on rate, as many companies report that some in the market seem to be cutting the cost of the move to keep their staff busy. It seems to me that removers who concentrate on storage and building up their container numbers are the strongest, especially given the financial pressures which are being placed on removals firm by Clean Air Zones and London’s Ultra-Low Emission Zone.”
Part of Greg’s role is to now implement measures to futureproof his business. “We’ve always tried to ensure that there is a diverse age difference across our board of directors, and with the recent promotion of Amy King to the position of Claims Director (see page 50) we range from 28 to 64,” Greg explained. “This is a deliberate strategy to guarantee that we always have a younger generation of directors to advance the business if the older generation falls ill or decides to retire.”
“At this milestone in our history I’d like to thank everyone who has made use of our services over the years,” Greg continued. “You really have been part of our journey and your loyalty to us is greatly appreciated. I’m proud to be the Managing Director of a very strong brand in the industry and I will save my final thanks for our staff who have continually strived to be the very best – thank you.”
SOURCE: R&S Magazine November 2019