Sometimes life’s biggest moments arrive by accident. When Kevin Palmer was 21 years old doing seismic exploration in the Arctic, the course of his life changed. Chatting with brother-in-law Ross Salmon, Kevin remembered a suggestion his father made a few months before and threw out the idea of starting an insurance brokerage together. Ross agreed and Palmer Salmon Insurance started to take shape.
“I knew nothing about insurance. I had never even bought an insurance policy before. My dad told me about a guy who owned an insurance office in Raymond, Alberta, so I went down there one Saturday to get a feel whether this was something I’d be interested in,” says Kevin Palmer, president of Palmer Salmon Insurance. “Later that day, I popped over to Cardston where my aunt lined me up on a blind date with a gorgeous small-town gal.”
Eight months later, in March 1979, he not only incorporated Palmer Salmon Insurance but also married Cyndi, the girl he met that special day.
Ross and Kevin studied for their agent licences and sought a sponsor to endorse the fledgling company. They didn’t want to work for anyone else and were excited about building the company from scratch. They contacted countless insurance companies and received the same response from each one.
“Every insurance company turned us down. They said, ‘we can’t let you write policies and run into problems due to your inexperience’ he says.
Undaunted, Kevin continued to meet with insurance companies and continued to get rejected until Western Union Insurance took a chance and gave them a contract to represent their company. Western Union, which later became Intact Insurance (Canada’s largest property and casualty insurer), remains a valued market at Palmer Salmon Insurance.
Through long hours, a steep learning curve and a few desks tucked into the file room of Ross’ father’s law practice for an office, Palmer Salmon started to build a business. Kevin spent hours cold-calling people about their insurance needs and diarizing their policy expiration dates to follow up before they renewed elsewhere. He visited prospective clients at their home, returning several times before finally selling them a policy.
“I’d make multiple trips and give them this incredible service. But we only had one insurance market and they weren’t always very competitive, so I knew we needed to represent more insurance companies,” he says.
He and Ross sought out an insurance broker close to retirement or looking to sell in order to get access to more insurance companies. Kevin met with the proprietor at Nixon Insurance Services, and while he wasn’t interested in retiring just yet he kindly sat and talked with him for hours. Weeks later, they heard Mr. Nixon has passed and his wife was looking to sell. With help from their families, Ross and Kevin scraped together enough money to make an offer.
“We became the owners of Nixon Insurance Services in November 1979 and immediately became representatives of the Wawanesa Insurance Company, Zurich Insurance, Travelers Insurance, Royal Insurance, Canadian Home Insurance and others. It changed everything for us,” Kevin says.
Palmer Salmon became Palmer Salmon Nixon for a five-year transitional phase, and the company continued to give personalized service to its previous and inherited policyholders. Many clients they signed 40 years ago are still with Palmer Salmon, as are their children and grandchildren. The relationships have always been key to Kevin, and he values the friendships he’s made with clients over the years. They interact with many clients in arenas outside insurance like social events, church, community or charity endeavours, which is a real benefit of getting into the business.
It’s never been about ‘let’s grow income, grow commissions.’ It’s been ‘let’s give the best service we can to our clients,’ and the rest has come,” he says.
The partners worked together to build the company until Ross moved to the U.S.A. to pursue an MBA in 1987. Kevin negotiated a buyout and invited his brother Blaine and his wife Linda to join the company. Blaine and Linda bought 80 per cent of Ross’ shares and Kevin bought the rest, making them co-owners of the growing Palmer Salmon brokerage.
“We’re all very different and that’s why it works. Kevin’s strengths are my weaknesses so I’m happy to lean on that. And Linda keeps us in line and continually trains and pushes everything forward,” says Blaine Palmer, senior VP at Palmer Salmon.
They have built a solid insurance business that offers all classes of insurance, from home and automobile to life insurance and commercial coverage. Customers can get a quote online, do transactions over the phone or meet with brokers personally to discuss coverage options. Policy documents and pink cards are available in paper or a digital emailed format. The firm prides itself on presenting all variations and possibilities for coverage to ensure customers have all the information to make an informed choice. And as a fully independent brokerage, Palmer Salmon shops around for the best policy for customers’ needs regardless of which insurance company is offering it.
“We focus on what’s best for the client consistently,” says Linda Palmer, VP operations at Palmer Salmon. “We give the recommended coverages that clients truly need, and I believe that builds loyalty and keeps clients coming back and referring other people to us.”
Those referrals spurred growth, and Palmer Salmon outgrew its location twice before settling into its current Centre Street location in 1989.
Shortly after the government privatized Alberta registries in 1993, the local registry was set to close due to poor management. The Palmers put in a submission and in 1995 were appointed to open a new registry, Registries Direct.
It’s a nice complement to insurance. People get their insurance and can go get their plates right across the parking lot. We offer every registry service available in Alberta,” Kevin says.
When renewing their lease in 1994, they included a clause that gave them right of first refusal to purchase the building, and when the landlord decided to sell in the early 2000s the Palmers bought the mall. This added diversity to their business portfolio, with Boulevard Management handling this and other acquired properties, and running three businesses out of one office increased efficiencies and kept costs lower.
While the company has grown exponentially, with 50-plus staff and five locations, it never lost its family feel. Staff and clients are considered family, and over the years Palmer children have all worked at the company. Kevin and Blaine’s younger brother David works as the commercial insurance manager. Two of Kevin’s sons, Jeffrey and Michael, work at Palmer Salmon. In 2005, Jeffrey was dating the receptionist, Emily, when one afternoon a car plowed through the front window of the busy office, throwing her through a doorway and out of danger. The car reversed then busted through again becoming high-centred on the debris. Thankfully, no one was injured but Jeffrey realized his feelings and soon proposed, marrying her months later.
That family feel extends beyond the company, and Palmer Salmon gives back to the industry through involvement on boards and to the community with charity initiatives, an annual Stampede barbecue and extensive volunteer work with the LDS Church and with youth and young adult groups.
Kevin is grateful for the early clients who took a chance on a new company and remains thankful to everyone who helped Palmer Salmon stay in business for four decades. “As we think about the last 40 years, our hearts are filled with gratitude toward our families, our employees, the industry and the incredible customers throughout the years,” he says.
Palmer Salmon Insurance vows to continue to show that gratitude with unbeatable service for years to come.