Legacy & Leadership: SouthGroup Insurance

SouthGroup Insurance Services is celebrating their 100th anniversary this year. According to a Bloomberg report, 80% of businesses fail in the first 18 months. We admire their longevity and are pleased to share their story.  The following is an interview with Laurel Branch President, Brad Kent.

What is SouthGroup Insurance Services?

SouthGroup Insurance Services is a full-service independent insurance agency.  At our core, SouthGroup provides Property & Casualty and Life & Health insurance to businesses and individuals from a vast array of insurance carriers.  However, from the perspective of a business philosophy, we are actively engaged in helping businesses and families assess and manage the risks they face in everyday life.  Our mission is to manage risk and build personal relationships and partnerships in an environment of trust, integrity, teamwork and stability.

How did SouthGroup Insurance Services begin?

The story of SouthGroup, while unique, is a familiar story of business evolution like many family owned American businesses.  We take great pride in the fact that we have been a locally owned and operated company for 4+ generations. 

Our agency has a very long history in Laurel, as we are currently celebrating our 100th birthday.  In fact, we have continually served the people of Laurel and Jones County for 100 years.  Our earliest roots date back to 1918 with the formation of the Graves, Lindsey & McLaurin agency which was located in the Pinehurst Hotel. In 1929 the business moved into our current location on Central Avenue in downtown Laurel. 

CT Ferrell

SouthGroup Insurance – C.T. Ferrill Building – Central Avenue

My great grandfather, John H. Jones, grew up in Clinton, Iowa, as did several of Laurel’s oldest families.  After a successful career as a publisher in Chicago, he ultimately moved to Laurel and opened the John H. Jones Insurance Agency whose first offices were also in the Pinehurst Hotel.  Both Graves, Lindsey & McLaurin and John H. Jones continued successful independent operations in downtown Laurel until 1983 when a merger created Graves, Lindsey, McLaurin & Jones (GLMJ).  At that time, the companies were operated by Russell Lindsey and my grandfather, Irwin “Skinny” Bradford.

My grandfather died not long after the merger.  That’s when my father, Charles Kent, took over as the 3rd generation to lead the agency.  GLMJ continued success and consistent growth over the next 30 years.  However, times change and industries evolve.  Like many industries, market conditions over the last 20 years have changed and driven consolidation within the independent insurance industry. 

SouthGroup Insurance Services was first conceived in 2000 by a select group of insurance agency professionals from 12 of Mississippi’s leading insurance agencies.  These agencies, widely recognized as industry leaders by their peers, convened to consider the challenges facing successful agencies and the solutions to these challenges that would enable them to offer an incomparable level of service to their clients.  Those solutions were the genesis of SouthGroup.

On January 1, 2002, with the official merger completed, those 12 original agencies began operating under the SouthGroup banner with corporate offices in Ridgeland. 

Today SouthGroup is the largest independent insurance agency in Mississippi with offices in 22 locations.  SouthGroup is also 1 of 2 agencies on Insurance Journal’s list of Top 100 Privately-held Agencies in the United States.

However, the unique quality that SouthGroup possesses compared with other large agencies is our “Main Street approach”.  Rather than consolidating all of our offices, SouthGroup has continued operating in each location.  This validates our strong belief in the importance of building close, personal relationships with our clients, and serving our local community. 

How do you think SouthGroup will be different 5 years from now? 

SouthGroup’s plans are to continue to grow.  Like most businesses, technology is changing the way that we operate. Whether it’s internal technologies to make our business work more efficiently, utilizing social media platforms to engage the community or transacting business online, technology is changing our business all the time. Today SouthGroup operates “in the cloud” and strives to be as paperless as possible.  I predict that we will continue to embrace technology, and therefore it will promote change that presents challenges, but also leads to increased profitability.

Who do you want people to know about your services? 

First and foremost, we offer a valuable service to anyone that purchases insurance.  As an independent agency, we do not work for a single insurance company.  We offer choice, and choice is a vital necessity to promote competition, which leads to value. 

More specifically, SouthGroup remains the dominant business insurer in Laurel and Jones County.  Whether you are a sole proprietor, or you operate a large enterprise, SouthGroup has the products and services to compete for your business.  This includes general liability, commercial property, worker’s compensation, commercial auto and more.  Our clients range from small “mom and pop” businesses to several of the largest employers in Jones County.

What is your best advice for those looking to participate in the growth, revitalization and restoration of Downtown Laurel?  Our goal as Laurel Main Street is to support our existing businesses and recruit new ones. Why should people want to be a part of Downtown? What have you learned that can help that person on the verge of making the decision to start his or her own legacy as a downtown business?

I am a staunch believer in strengthening from your inner core.  Whenever I travel, I am always looking for a downtown area, and I judge the vibrancy of a community on the look and feel I get from the downtown area. Because of this, what is good for downtown Laurel, is good for all of Jones County.  As downtown Laurel continues to flourish, this will lead to increased tourism and economic development, which in turn will provide a higher quality of life for our local families and businesses.  My recommendation to everyone is that they get involved.  This may be as simple as volunteering, or as complex as purchasing downtown property and starting a new business.  While it seems that downtown Laurel is reaching critical mass, I believe that this could be just the beginning of something much more substantial for our community. This requires involvement at every level – families, entrepreneurs, the business community and local government must be in lockstep if we want to take downtown Laurel to the next level.

#ShopSmall with Us on Small Business Saturday – November 24th

The #ShopSmall Movement is Coming to The City Beautiful!

On November 24th, the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we will celebrate Small Business Saturday.

For decades we’ve rushed off to the big chain stores on Black Friday to crowd the aisles in search of that one great deal, or this year’s must-have Christmas toy.

Sometimes, in the excitement of it all, we forget that some of our most enjoyable shopping experiences can be found at a local shop, far from the hustle and bustle of the crowded department stores.

Small business owners pour their hearts into every detail of their business.  They strive to create an enjoyable and unforgettable shopping experience for their guests.  Now it’s time to celebrate these entrepreneurs who put so much love into every detail of their business and the experiences they provide for their customers.  

Be a Part of the #ShopSmall Movement

On November 24th businesses all over Downtown Laurel will not only open their doors, but will welcome shoppers with special events, giveaways, promotions and more! 

Business owners, As a Laurel Main Street member your business can join the #shopsmall movement and receive the attention of our nationwide audience as well as customized promotional tools and tips. You don’t have to be a Main Street member to participate, but we’d love to have you as a part of our #shopsmall team.

Shoppers, do you believe in supporting small businesses?  The #shopsmall movement is a great way for you to support local entrepreneurs while enjoying a unique shopping experience. The effect of an event like Small Business Saturday has a direct impact on the goals and dreams of local folks just like you. When you support Laurel’s small business owners, you’re telling them that you appreciate the work they are doing to further our city’s growth, and that you believe in them. So invite friends to shop with you.  Share your shopping experiences on social media using the hashtag #shopsmall.  Let small business owners know you value their efforts.     

Why #ShopSmall?

The impact of an event like Small Business Saturday can’t be limited to a tally of a single day’s sales, or a list of great deals. The value of an event like this represents something much bigger — an appreciation and support of small business owners, and the impact on the local economy.

Small businesses help communities thrive.  There are 252,019 small businesses operating in Mississippi.  They make up 99.3% of all businesses in our state.  Small businesses in Mississippi created over 5,000 new jobs in 2014 alone.  That means that almost half of all employees in the state of Mississippi work for a small business.  Small businesses help ensure local economies stay strong and vibrant.  When small businesses succeed, we all do.

Consider this: When you spend $100 at a locally-owned small business, $68 stays in the local economy. Compare that to the same $100 spent at a chain store where only $43 remains locally. With the average American shopper likely to spend over $684 on holiday gifts this year, shopping at independent businesses in your hometown has the potential to make a major impact on the health of the local economy.

As the official Neighborhood Champion for Laurel’s Small Business Saturday, Laurel Main Street has worked to bring together an incredible group of local retailers who are ready to welcome you during the November 24th event!

So join us on Small Business Saturday to get great deals, find some incredible and unique local gifts, and enjoy a fun shopping experience, but, most importantly – to support the folks who are trying to make a difference for our city!

Small Business Saturday is a national initiative aimed at helping local businesses compete during the critical holiday shopping season and aims to drive shoppers to local small merchants the Saturday following Thanksgiving. In 2017, an estimated 108 million consumers reported shopping or dining at local independently-owned businesses on Small Business Saturday — generating roughly $12 billion in reported spending. Join the movement and shop local on November 24th this year! 

#ShopSmall #ShopLocal #ShopLaurel

Thank You for Another Incredible Loblolly Festival!

THANK YOU for an INCREDIBLE Loblolly Festival!  This year’s festival saw over 150 vendors and over 10,000 attendees packing the streets of downtown Laurel.  In addition to being the largest Loblolly Festival ever, it was also, quite possibly, the hottest Loblolly Festival ever.  Thank you to all who came out to stroll through the streets of Downtown Laurel, listen to great music, enjoy delicious food, shop and play!

A huge THANK YOU goes out to all who worked so hard to make this year’s festival such a great success!

First, we would like to thank the Laurel Main Street volunteers and board members for making this day possible and for helping us organize this incredible event. LMS volunteers meticulously marked each vendor’s booth space on Friday evening, and were back downtown early Saturday morning to direct vendor traffic and assist with setup.  The Loblolly Festival just wouldn’t be possible without you!

Next, thank you to all of our wonderful sponsors, especially Howard IndustriesJones County Board of Supervisors and Chamber of CommerceSanderson FarmsSouthern BeverageB Clean LLCTrustmark National BankBancorpSouth, Coca-Cola, Gilchrist Sumrall Yoder Yoder & Leggett PLLCCommunity BankHolt & AssociatesMagnolia State Bank, Mississippi Power and First State Bank.

To the City of Laurel, the Laurel Police Department, Laurel Fire Department and Parks & Recreation Department — thank you for your support and for keeping the festival-goers, vendors, musicians and volunteers safe, and our downtown clean!

Many organizations came together to cover the logistics of producing an event of this size. We are so appreciative of your time and efforts to make this all possible.  We would specifically like to thank Studio 5 FiftyOwn Your HillSlowboat Brewing Co., Clairmont & Co., The Knight Butcher, Crescent Line Toys, Masonite, Jr. Auxiliary of Laurel, and Pro-Flow Motorsports.

We appreciate the efforts of the local media and your continued support and coverage of this great event. With the help of the Laurel Leader-CallThe ImpactWDAMB95Rock 104, and SuperTalk, we were able to reach and serve more locals and out of town folks than ever before!

We would like to thank the Laurel Arts League for their partnership in producing the Art on Masonite contest.  Congratulations to these fine young artists!

art on masonite

1st Place – Mackenzie Masters, West Jones High School

art on masonite

3rd Place – Olivia Thornton, West Jones Middle School

 

art on masonite

2nd Place — Grace LaPan, Northeast Jones High School

Scarecrow Invasion

Thank you to all the businesses who participated in this year’s Scarecrow Invasion!  It was a rousing success and saw more participation and creativity than we ever envisioned!  Congratulations are in order for these outstanding participants!

Honorable Mention

Trustmark Bank, Patina’s, and Sherrell Upholstery

3rd Place

The Loblolly Boutique/Crescent Line Toys

2nd Place

Oak Street Salon

1st Place

Jack and Jill Consignment Boutique

scarecrow invasion

1st Place — Jack & Jill Consignment Boutique

We also saw tremendous participation and creativity in the inaugural Jr. Scarecrow Invasion!  Congratulations to the following participants:

3rd Place

St. John’s Day School “Blackbird Pie”

2nd Place

Nora Davis Magnet School “Crayola Box”

1st Place

St. John’s Day School “Reese’s Candy”

scarecrow invasion

1st Place — Jr. Scarecrow Invasion — St. John’s Day School

Lastly, we would like to thank the residents and business owners of Downtown Laurel. Your help in clearing the streets before the festival and graciously allowing us to fill the downtown area with tents, rides, and food trucks, is absolutely vital to the success of an event such as this. Your continued support for the efforts of Laurel Main Street makes us so proud to call Downtown Laurel home!

See y’all next year at Loblolly Festival — Saturday, October 5, 2019!

101 Things to do Downtown THIS WEEKEND

Ok… not really 101 things to do, but there is SO much going on this weekend!  Loblolly Festival is all about arts, crafts, food, and family fun!  Here’s the rundown of places to go, drink, eat, and play!

Food + Drinks

Enjoy delicious festival food from the vendors and food trucks that line the 400 block of Oak Street.  You’ll find corn dogs, funnel cakes, fish on a stick, award-winning BBQ, hot tamales, steak sandwiches, baked goods and more!  Stop by the beverage wagon near the Loblolly stage (near Trustmark Bank) for a cup of Budweiser, Bud Lite, and Michelob Ultra or taste a craft beer brewed locally by Slowboat Brewing Company while you enjoy live music.  It is ok to sip and stroll, just stay within the boundaries of the festival, which is the walkable downtown.  For more information on the sip and stroll ordinance, click here.

If food trucks aren’t your style, never fear.  Your favorite downtown eateries will be open too!  Stop by old favorites such as Café La FleurThe Loft (dinner only)Lee’s Coffee & Tea, and The Knight Butcher or check out downtown’s newest additions, Sweet Somethings BakeryShug’s Cookie Dough and Candy Bar, and The Pearl Diner.2018 Loblolly map

Family + Fun

An expanded Kids’ Zone at Loblolly Festival means there’s something to delight and entertain kids of all ages.  You’ll find fun jumps, rides, slides, train rides and more! Enjoy face painting, a special craft area at HAND+made and fun learning activities from Central Creativity.  On Central Avenue, big kids will get a thrill from riding the mechanical bull, water surfing, and much more!

central creativity

Walk through downtown and enjoy the creative, life-size scarecrows on display as part of our Scarecrow Harvest, a growing yearly competition among downtown merchants.

International World Cup champion chainsaw artist, Dayton Scoggins, carves all day near in center of downtown near Mimmo’s.  You’ll be mesmerized watching him and observing his attention to detail in every cut he makes!

Student artwork painted on Masonite door skins will be on display at the YWCO of Laurel, depicting this years’ theme, “Laurel — the Future IS Ours. ”  Be sure to stop in, take a take a break from the heat, and admire Laurel’s talented young artists.

Your family will love the annual Heritage Arts Festival at Lauren Rogers Museum of Art!  Enjoy FREE music and art activities, FREE pizza and soft drinks at 11:30 a.m.  While you’re at the museum, stop in to see their current exhibit, DaVinci’s Machines, on display through November 11th.  Laurel First United Methodist Church will host their annual Pumpkin Patch fundraiser during Loblolly Festival. The Pumpkin Patch will be open from 12-6 p.m. on Saturday, October 6th, on the front lawn of the church. Purchase a great pumpkin and support the student ministry of FUMC!

Live Music + Entertainment

Enjoy live music on the Loblolly Stage located on North Magnolia Street, near Trustmark Bank. 

The Knight Butcher Stage on Central Avenue will also host live music throughout the day.

11:00 – 11:50: Eric Woods

12:00 – 12:50: Paul Johnson

1:00 – 2:00: Jesse Howell

And don’t forget to join us at the Official Loblolly Afterparty at Slowboat Brewing Company beginning at 5:30pm with live music from Molly Thomas The Rare Birds!

Celebrations + More

Meet the Loblolly Lumberjack, a definite crowd favorite as he towers over the festival goers adorned in plaid and carrying his trusty axe. Geo-cachers, check your websites and join the hunt for special treasure hidden in historic downtown Laurel! Stop by the Gazebo at Pinehurst Park for any information you may require during the day’s event. Remember, all Laurel Main Street events are rain or shine so plan accordingly!

With so much to see and do downtown this weekend, you’ll want to commemorate all the fun you had, so be sure to visit the Laurel Main Street trailer during Loblolly Festival and purchase an official Loblolly t-shirt!

Loblolly Festival: Things to Know Before You Go

It’s the most wonderful time of the year — It’s time for Loblolly Festival!  This year’s festival is one you won’t soon forget because it’s our largest Loblolly Festival EVER!  Here are some tips to help you enjoy the festival, whether you’re a first-timer or a seasoned veteran.  Loblolly Festival is one of Laurel’s biggest events with over 12,000 people attending annually, so lace up your walking shoes, it’s festival time!

Beat the Crowds:

The festival officially starts at 9am, so if you want to get first pick of the merchandise or avoid the crowds, come early.

Get a T-Shirt While You Can:

Stop by the Laurel Main Street trailer, which will be stationed on West Oak St., and purchase a Loblolly Festival t-shirt.  Make this one of your first stops because these shirts will go fast!

Wear Your Walking Shoes:

Loblolly Festival covers almost all of the central business district of downtown Laurel and includes over 120 vendors, crafters, performers, and activities. You’re bound to see a lot of people you know and some you forgot you knew!

Check the map and schedule:

When you arrive be sure to pick up a map.  If you’re a strategic shopper, this will definitely make it easier for you to find any specific vendors you came to see.  

2018 Loblolly map

Bring cash:

Some vendors accept credit cards, but not all do.  There is an ATM located downtown at the Laurel Welcome Center inside the First National Bank building.

Be sure to check out the brick and mortar merchants too:

Most downtown retail stores and restaurants are open during the festival and many offer sales, specials, and live entertainment.

Check the weather:

Loblolly Festival is a rain or shine event so check the weather and dress accordingly.  The Laurel YWCO will be open and available to the community from 10am – 2pm during the Loblolly Festival.  Come in to cool off and enjoy your lunch in the tea room!