BRADENTON -- Nancy Bancs has never been much for having doubts.
When she quit her job working for someone else to start Bradenton's only woman-owned insurance agency in 1979, she knew it would work.
When she took five years to buy land for a new office and saved to custom build it, she knew it would work.
And when she kept all 12 of her employees on salary and at work during the Great Recession, she knew that would work, too.
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Bancs, who is celebrating 35 years in business this year as the owner of Insurance Time of Bradenton, doesn't do things the way everyone else does. She's never had a business partner, she's never opened a branch office and she has always kept her own counsel when it comes to running her business.
"My father always said that if you can do it alone, you don't need a partner," she said.
Next week, the agency breaks ground on a 700-square-foot addition to the building at 802 Sixth Ave. W. Insurance Time has called home for three decades. The independent agency is growing, having added about 2,000 customers in the past two years.
That growth has come at a time when clients are more price conscious than ever. That makes them more insistent that agents search through dozens of carriers to find the best price for their home, auto, or business insurance.
"We've seen insureds switch to another one of our carriers over $20," Bancs said.
No worries. Bancs never expected being in business to be easy.
When she started working as an agent for Bradenton agency DeChamps Gregory in 1968, the in
dustry was "very male dominated." She was often the only woman at industry conferences, and one of a very few working as an agent.
It didn't eat at her confidence. After 11 years of working as an insurance agency employee, she decided to go independent. Her first office consisted of a telephone on a card table in a rented building, and a client list. She had one employee.
Business built on a word-of-mouth basis. Insurance Time doesn't employ outside sales agents, and spends little on advertising. Its biggest advantage in the early years, Bancs said, was almost everyone who lived in west Bradenton had to drive by the Insurance Time sign on their way through town.
As she hired employees, she treated them like family. This is something she attributes to her viewpoint as a business woman. It's common for Insurance Time employees -- including Bancs' daughter, Bridget -- to have their infants at the office several days a week. This harkens back to the years when Bancs herself brought an infant Bridget to work.
"A lot of clients have been here so long they remember me at eight months," said Bridgette Bancs, who works for her mother as an agent.
Jeff Grady, president and CEO of Tallahassee-based Florida Association of Insurance Agents, said much of what made Bancs' agency unique at the beginning continues to distinguish it. He said Bancs is still in the minority in the insurance business, being both a woman and the sole owner of her business for 35 years. It's kept her on her toes and at the leading edge of market developments.
That's particularly evident in the agency's day-to-day work with clients at a time when insurance policies are often judged only on price, not what they cover.
"They're actually taking time to understand the client and match them up for what they need," Grady said.
Bancs said she is always looking ahead. In 2004, Insurance Time built a paperless computer system and located all its data on offsite servers. Adam Blumenthal, an Insurance Time agent who doubles at the agency's computer guru, said that can keep the agency operating even in the worst of disasters.
"We can board up and work out of anywhere," he said.
Bancs has no plans for selling Insurance Time. Although she receives regular solicitations from larger companies wanting to purchase her clients, she plans to lead her team until her daughter and other employees take over sometime in the future.
The biggest challenge facing Insurance Time now is helping clients in flood zones maintain the insurance they need. Flood insurance rates are expected to increase barring new federal legislation, meaning clients who've seen rates jump from $1,500 to $8,000 a year could be in for even higher prices.
Bancs said she hopes to see options come out of Washington, D.C., before the expense forces homeowners to leave their homes. All her agents can do to keep rates down is help clients increase their deductibles.
"Our hands are tied," she said. "We see foreclosures down the road unless something happens."
Insurance Time will break ground on its new addition March 3. The agency will celebrate its 35th anniversary later this year by taking employees on a cruise to Mexico.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027, or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.