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.

MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Outstanding Community Transformation

The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Outstanding Community Transformation is given each year to a Main Street program that has achieved a successful, preservation-based downtown revival. The recognized program will have accomplished major goals in downtown revitalization and has both qualitative and quantitative examples to show the measurable impact. A heavy emphasis is placed on the human resources it took to accomplish the work. On June 21, 2018, Laurel Main Street board president, Lew Yoder, accepted this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Outstanding Community Transformation

How do you bring a town back? It’s a question that has no easy answers, and the answers that are given usually require years and more work than one might ever imagine. However, for Downtown Laurel, there is no question that the town has been revived in a powerful way.

It all started when a group of people who loved Laurel sat down together in a room and decided to start a Main Street Program. They couldn’t afford to pay the director or start projects or offer services, but they knew they had to do something to save their hometown. That group became Laurel Main Street’s first board. From there that group changed and grew. When one person couldn’t serve anymore, someone stepped in to fill the space, and here we are a decade later: Mississippi’s Downtown.

The change took time; it happened slowly, then all at once. LMS worked constantly to make Laurel a place where people wanted to live, work, and play. Projects of all shapes and sizes had to take place, and business recruitment was paramount. Results were small at first, but they grew with time.

About two years ago, things really started heating up. The events and promotions LMS produces had kept a steady stream of people interested in the downtown, which put us on the radar of some people with great hope for what Laurel could be. They pursued their dreams using LMS as a starting point and support system along the way. In the past two years, more than a dozen businesses have opened in Downtown Laurel representing millions in private investment, and more are coming. Vacant buildings are now the exception rather than the rule, and a person can spend all day downtown and still not visit all of the stores.

The local business owners are the hero of this story because they took a risk when no one else would. But, it never would have happened if that original group hadn’t met. It never would have happened if dedicated volunteers hadn’t served at LMS events or if the community hadn’t welcomed each new addition to the downtown family. LMS stands at the center of a web that is filled with people who are willing to work hard every day to make Laurel their home and to make their home worth preserving. The truly amazing thing is that the idea of Downtown Laurel is now an exciting one; it’s a place where change happens and futures are crafted. It’s a place where history is lived and not just remembered.

 

MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards: Merchant of the Year

The Mississippi Main Street Association‘s award for Merchant of the Year recognizes one outstanding local business owner who has a flourishing and innovative business and displays an involved commitment to downtown and his or her Main Street program.  On June 21, 2018, Lott Furniture Co. received this honor at the annual MMSA Downtown Revitalization Awards in Jackson, MS. The following narrative was written by Ethan Davis and was submitted to the Mississippi Main Street judges panel.

Merchant of the Year

Lott Furniture Co. is Laurel’s oldest business; they have over a century of history in our small town. Rodney Rowell and his wife Angie believe that their business is more than just a means to an end. They believe that it is a resource for them to put down roots in their community.

Lott Furniture

The business is most certainly a family affair. Rodney’s mother, Nelly, worked there for over 50 years, with Rodney and his sister Candy following in her footsteps. In fact, Angie and Rodney met each
other while working at Lott Furniture. Now, their daughter, Keri, is stepping in to continue the tradition. The Lott crew loves history, and they fuse it with present and future in every aspect of their business. They, of course, take payments via credit cards, but they still do their books by hand, still know their customers by name, still care about the person behind the purchase. 

The Lott Furniture business model is revolutionary, but it’s actually not new. The team took Mr. Lott’s original business model—selling furniture on credit—and adapted it to the young couples that move to Laurel. The couples were amazed that they could get amazing furniture and afford it by paying monthly. Lott Furniture is re-educating the youngest generations about building relationships through credit. They also started a series of workshops called Wine and Design that give décor tips and advice on how to turn a house into a home.

However, the most incredible thing about the folks at Lott is their commitment to Downtown Laurel. Their Instagram feed is dedicated to Laurel itself; you’ll only see ads for their products in their stories. Rodney Rowell has been called the cheerleader for Laurel, and a quick look at how much he supports his fellow local businesses attests to that name. He buys everything he can from fellow merchants downtown and is a tireless supporter of Laurel Main Street. Rodney even met with local creative Bethany Byrd of Own Your Hill to create a map of Downtown Laurel and the other merchants there. Lott Furniture paid for the first batch, and it is now a staple in Downtown; every visitor picks one up when they start to explore.

When it comes to Downtown Laurel, the Rowell’s have seen it all: a thriving center of business, a downtown disrupted by urban renewal, the sheds coming down and the streets alive again. Rodney is the go-to guy for all young and older entrepreneurs. He is the epitome of believing, in good times and bad.

Rowell Family

On Thursday, June 21, 2018 the Mississippi Main Street Association hosted their 29th Annual Downtown Revitalization Awards Luncheon at the Old Capitol Inn in Jackson, MS.  Each year Mississippi Main Street recognizes excellence in downtown revitalization and honors local Main Street champions.  This is a wonderful opportunity to show the success of Laurel Main Street, to exchange ideas with other Main Street organizations, and is especially encouraging to see other thriving and successful communities. 

Vote Now for Best of the Pine Belt and Best of Mississippi

Voting for the Best of the Pine Belt and for the Best of Mississippi are both currently open. Help us celebrate the best of Jones County by voting in BOTH polls.  It just takes a few minutes to submit your ballots online!

Best of Mississippi

Best of MS 2018

Mississippi Magazine publishes an annual list of the Best of Mississippi — dining out, getting out, and seeking out .  Laurel and Jones County businesses have been featured many times in the past and we hope to see even more representation this year!  Vote for past honorees and new favorites from across our community to be featured as the Best of Mississippi.

You must enter votes for a minimum of 20 categories and you can only submit one entry per e-mail address.  Ready to vote for your favorites?  Click here to access the online ballot for Best of Mississippi 2018.  Voting is open until April 15th.

Best of the Pine Belt

BOTPB logo

Festival South and Signature Magazine will announce the Best of the Pine Belt winners on June 2nd and there are many local businesses nominated.  Look for these categories featuring Laurel/Jones County businesses: Best Bank, Best Men’s Clothing, Best Jewelry Store, Best Vintage/Antiques, Best Full-Service Bakery, Laurel’s Best Ambassador, Best Pine Belt Personality, Best Music Venue, Best Locally-Brewed Beers, Best BBQ, and Best Music Festival.

You may vote ONCE A DAY until April 29th, so keep voting!  Click here to access the online ballot and vote for Best of the Pine Belt 2018.

Thank you for supporting our local businesses.  We can’t wait to see who is recognized this year!

Laurel, MS is Home to State’s Only Maker Camp©

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

Contact:

Rhye or Jenny McLeod

(601) 580-8773

info@centralcreativity.com

Laurel, MS is Home to State’s Only Maker Camp©

Laurel, MS — July 5, 2017 — Central Creativity has been designated as an official Maker Camp©, making it the only Maker Camp in the state of Mississippi.  Maker Camp is part of Maker Media, which includes Make: magazine and Maker Faire®.  Each organization is rigorously evaluated throughout a six-month process before being awarded affiliate status.

Maker Camps can be found around the world. Many libraries, makerspaces, and community centers are hosting Maker Camps.  Maker Camp provides simple, fun ways for kids to get involved in MAKING.  Over 1 million kids have participated in Maker Camp since it launched in 2012.

The Maker Movement is a growing movement in education.  It offers students the chance to work with new technological materials, while providing expanded opportunities and learning through firsthand experience. It’s bringing electronics, programming, and computational mathematics together in meaningful ways. It’s more than just high-tech gadgetry, though. It’s about “hands-on” crafting, and the discovery process that occurs when we create and evaluate.  The Maker Movement overlaps with the natural curious inclinations of children and the power of learning by doing.  In short, The Maker Movement incorporates the arts, engineering, and science in a cooperative learning environment.

“What you see in the Maker Movement is a wide range of people, young and old, who are developing their talents and discovering new ways to solve interesting, everyday problems by working together on projects. Making is a meaningful form of personal expression that fosters creativity, builds community and encourages the collaborative practice of innovation.”

Dale Dougherty, Founder & CEO, Make:

Central Creativity is a dynamic, innovative learning facility that provides immersive instruction in art, music, drama, craft, science, culinary arts, math, engineering, technology, reading, and writing for students in grades PreK-12.  All members of our faculty are dedicated education professionals who employ a student-focused, energetic approach to teaching that sparks critical, creative, and imaginative thinking.  The goal of Central Creativity is to empower the minds of Mississippi’s bright young learners so they can become champions of critical and creative thought in our community and beyond. 

Central Creativity’s Summer Camp series launches July 10th. Visit www.centralcreativity.com to enroll.