A Family Owned Business, A Family Atmosphere

by P. Andersen

The Business Council of Westchester 2017 Hall of Fame

On April 25th, Levitt-Fuirst Associates was honored to receive the Hall of Fame Family Owned Business Award, presented by the Business Council of Westchester.  The evening included 5 other award recipients (Montefiore, Valerie Wilson Travel, Better Homes & Gardens Rand Realty, Leason Ellis Law Firm, and DeCicco & Sons Grocer) along with 680 attendees, and was held at the beautiful venue of Glen Island Harbor Club in New Rochelle.  We were honored to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, and 40 or so Levitt-Fuirst employees, along with many of our clients and business partners, attended the event.

Watch the short video the Business Council created to tell the story of Levitt-Fuirst.

The Levitt-Fuirst Family

The Family Business Award is fitting for Levitt-Fuirst, as we were founded by David Levitt and Alan Fuirst in 1969, and continues to flourish today with Ken Fuirst, Jason Schiciano (Son-in-law to David Levitt), Valerie Levitt, and Ondrea Levitt all continuing the two-family tradition.  It is also fitting because the business is not simply run by two families, it is run like a family.  The employees at Levitt-Fuirst are treated as a part of the LF family, with trips to Long Beach Island every year, regular after work meet-ups to celebrate “Non-Work Related” events (Cinco de Mayo 2017, here we come!), monthly birthday events, holiday parties, and many other events for employees and our families.  We work together, spend time outside of work together, and volunteer together – as a family.

Like any family, there are ups and downs – but like any family, we stick together.  Levitt-Fuirst has had amazingly low turnover of its staff, something that is unusual in the very aggressive insurance brokerage industry.  In our region, we compete with the largest regional and national brokerage firms – they are known to churn employees at a startling rate.  In the middle of this storm, Levitt-Fuirst keeps its people by treating them like human beings, and by understanding that to be a true leader in our industry, you must hire and keep good people.

Consistency

I have been at Levitt-Fuirst for 6+ years, and most of the faces I started with are still here.  There are many more faces, mind you – we have added 20 employees since that time – but the core people I met when I began work here continue to plug along with me day after day.  During Jason’s BCW acceptance speech, he mentioned 3 people in particular, evidencing what Levitt-Fuirst stands for.  Louise Rush just finished her 25th year at Levitt-Fuirst (you would never guess by looking at her).  Louise has worked in just about every department in the office – our office’s swiss army knife, doing what needs to be done wherever her talents are needed.  Jose Arevalo began as a mail clerk, and is now a million-dollar producer.  Jose always joked he is Ken’s younger brother, because Alan Fuirst always treated him like a son.  Kimberly Vargas was a receptionist, and is now the exceptional manager of our Personal Lines department, a highly profitable and essential piece of our business.  3 stories, unique to the industry but not unique to Levitt-Fuirst.

The Family Owned Business Award was fitting, on many levels.  The Levitt & Fuirst families have built a great business, relying on a great staff.  The staff stays because we are treated well, and our opinions matter.  Because we have good people, and consistent staffing, our clients are better served.  Because our clients are happy (Levitt-Fuirst retains clients on an exceptional level), we continue to grow.  With growth, we hire more top notch employees.  With our continued growth, we moved to a new office in Tarrytown, NY in 2016, and opened a Bonding office in New Jersey in 2017.  We are happy with what we have been able to attain as a team, but are not satisfied – we look forward to the next challenge to continue to grow – as a family.

We want to thank the BCW for recognizing the Levitt-Fuirst Family, the entire Levitt-Fuirst family, for this award.  We truly appreciate the honor.

Impact Building & Realty News

The Case For Snow Tires 2016/2017

Snow Tires GTI

by Peter Andersen

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog on snow tires.  With Winter Storm Fortis hitting hard to our north, I realize that it is that time once again for a quick edit and repost.  Levitt-Fuirst knows insurance, so consider this piece a different type of insurance – because sometimes insurance comes in a policy, but sometimes it comes in the form of 4 wheels ready to tackle the white stuff that is sure to follow.


As the temperatures dip and the winter season arrives, it is time to think about snow tires (again).

But I Have All-Season Tires!

If you bought your car in the northeast, you were given All-Season Tires by default.  Many people feel that their all-season tires are designed to survive winter’s wrath, but they are actually designed to do everything pretty well.  Rain, not bad.  Dry, perfectly fine.  Race Track, meh, not so much.  Snow?  Ummmm… Snow?  Not so good, really.  If we get 3 or 4 inches of the white stuff, if you don’t go up or down hills much at all, if you can leave your car at home and take a train, then you could be set!  For the rest of you, however, driving up and down hills and to and from work, taking your kids to school or driving mom to the airport; snow tires are just the kind of insurance for your family that makes a whole lot of sense.

Why snow tires?  First, read a basic Q&A here, at About Cars…    This is a few years old, but as true today as it was when it was written.  As you can see, snow tires are made of special rubber, they have tread designs specific to the needs of snow and ice, and they make a huge difference in your driving safety when the white stuff falls.  Even on dry pavement, the rubber is more pliable when the temps dip into the teens – while your all seasons get hard and brittle in the winter, snow tires stay soft and grippy.  If you need your car daily, there is no better investment in the northeast than snow tires, making your 2 or 4 wheel drive vehicle safe and secure as you commute.  Wait, even all wheel drive cars need snow tires???  YES!  All wheel drive + snow tires turns your SUV into the perfect winter travel companion, taking on all that winter can send your way.  Without them, you will have just as hard a time stopping as the rest of us…

Does your taste run more toward sporty cars?  The biggest benefit for you is you can buy summer tires for the other 3 seasons, and have snow tires for the winter.  You can improve your driving in wet and dry during the warmer months, and because those expensive sticky treads will be in your garage for 4 months each year, they should last you about 33% longer.  One last note on sports cars – if you have a rear wheel drive daily-driver, go to a tire store and buy snow tires.  Now.  Really!  Go, we will wait…  Your sports car is nearly useless without them in a standard snow storm…

Are You Sold?  Good!  You Have Two Options…

Option 1:  If you have a small or economy car, you likely have wheels in the 15″ – 16″ size range.  This is a good size for snow tires, so you can have them installed right on your current rims.  This requires a repair shop or tire store to do the install.  The benefits are you only have to pay for the tires and installation, the drawback is that you have to pay for that installation twice a year, as you switch between your winter and summer tires.

Option 2: Get a totally separate set of wheels with your winter tires (as I have done with my VW, shown in the picture).  You may see the term “Steelies” used for steel wheels that are often utilized for this purpose.  For those of you with 18″ wheels or larger on your performance vehicle, this option may save you some money on the snow tires, as winter tires for large diameter wheels are expensive and less effective.  Winter tires work well on smaller wheels because the tire sidewalls are larger than the low profile sport tires your car likely came with.  My car, for example, has 18′ wheels with low profile tires, but I use 16′ steelies and winter tires – and paid less for the tires.  The drawback to this option is the initial cost, as steelies run from $50 to $100 per wheel, and you may need 4 tire pressure sensors installed as well – a one-time charge, dependent on your car.  The benefit is the ease of switching the wheels between seasons (your shop will charge you less, or you can do it yourself if you have a jack), and that you will have the wheels winter after winter.  You also save your pretty shiny wheels from the winter salt and punishing ice, making them look better for longer.

Now?  Sigh…

Winter is here, so now is the time!  Contact one of the many retailers that sell those winter tires, because you need them more than you realize.  You may be able to get some used rims off of Craig’s List, or order them online to save a few dollars.  Store your summer tires for the year in your shed, garage or basement (always on their side, stacked), and enjoy the next 4 months without worry.  You won’t believe the change in your car during the next storm!  Now drive smart, drive carefully, and get there safe.


Links:

Tire Rack: Find the right tire for your car (or buy a set with wheels included)

Top 10 Winter Tires (Insurance Hotline,  a Canadian site – because they know snow…)

Snow Tire Q&A (About Cars)

 

Part 2: The Right Home for Levitt-Fuirst

by P. Andersen

520 Exterior

520 White Plains Road, Tarrytown, NY

Last week, I told you about the technology changes Levitt-Fuirst is going through. These are big updates to how we do business, and we are working hard to make the transition as smooth as possible. You would think that such a big adjustment in 2016 would be enough, but that is just the start.

Change #2: Levitt-Fuirst Is On The Move!

Levitt-Fuirst has been growing for some time now – pretty much from our inception in 1969. When I joined the firm 5 ½ years ago, we had just under 40 employees. We are now over 55 full and part time employees, and we continue to grow. This growth is a testament to the hard work and guidance of our Co-President’s Ken Fuirst and Jason Schiciano, the quality of employees they have attracted to the firm, and you, our clients. As our business has grown, our staffing needs have grown; as our staff has grown, our current office space has… Stayed exactly the same size.

Levitt-Fuirst has been in Yonkers for a very long time, but our location on Executive Blvd. has been getting very busy lately. We are seeing the construction of hotels, retail space, and office space; and these changes have made the traffic worse by the day. Commutes for our staff have been increasing as the Saw Mill backs up in all directions. Several months ago, a beautiful unfinished space became available, and we are proud to say we have signed a lease at 520 White Plains Road in Tarrytown. The office search was a long time in the making, but the space we are moving into was worth the wait – it is a true upgrade in both size and quality.

520 Lobby

520 Lobby

The new space will allow Levitt-Fuirst to continue to grow, and the quality of the building is unbelievable. We are building a healthy environment from scratch, with natural light, an open layout, and exceptional air and temperature controls. The space will be efficient, the layout designed for staff cooperation, and the technology and inernet access exceedingly fast in preparation for our new cloud based software. I think I speak for all of us here when I say how excited we are about this change.

Every business is faced with changes, both good and bad. It is a testament to our management, our staff, and especially our clientele that Levitt-Fuirst has become one of the most successful independent insurance agencies in the region. Growth requires an openness to change, and these recent events should tell you that we don’t plan to rest on past success – we are sure that the best is yet to come. Thank you for joining us for the ride and helping to make all of this happen. Be sure to stick around, though, because we are just getting started…

The Right Tool for the Job

by P. Andersen

Cat5

I have to apologize… I have been remiss in my blogging in 2016, a function of the changes taking place here at Levitt-Fuirst. As with any business, changes happen – both good and bad. I am happy to report that we are in the middle of the very good kind of change, with exciting things taking place later this year. These changes have taken a bite out of my time, but I think I am just rationalizing. With that in mind, I thought it was time to get back to work on the blog, to let you know what is happening here at Levitt-Fuirst.

We have two big changes coming down the pike, today we will look at the first.

Change #1: Computer Software Upgrade.

Back in 2014, I wrote a blog about having the right tool for the job (Tool Shopping at Applied.net). Take a look at that post, because it is as true today as it was then. Go ahead, I will wait for you!

Fast forward to September 2015, when Levitt-Fuirst began the process of upgrading to the newest, most powerful software tool for insurance agencies. Since 1999, we have been on Applied Systems’ flagship program, The Agency Manager. This all-inclusive management program is utilized by nearly 10,000 independent agents across the US, Canada, and the United Kingdom. Last fall, Levitt-Fuirst took the plunge and decided to upgrade to the latest, most powerful software offered by Applied Systems, their new flagship program Epic.

How will this impact Levitt-Fuirst? How will this impact you?

The impact on Levitt-Fuirst is ongoing. The process takes a year, and we are working diligently to make the transition as smooth as possible. We have a vanguard of staff testing the new software, learning its nuances, and finding flaws in the transfer of data. We plan to “go live” in Late September, and the full staff training will take place this summer and fall. During go live, we expect a stressful time as we move from the old and comfortable to the new and different. By 2017, we will be much more comfortable in our new processes, and the new will become the comfortable.

The impact on our clients are many. First and foremost, we are expecting a more efficient system, allowing us to better serve you. The system will better document our interactions with you and our carrier partners, improving the information we have on hand, and speeding up our processes.

Second, the new program is cloud based, allowing our staff to work from any location with internet connectivity. Should there be a regional calamity, we can shift our operations to any location with internet access. In 2014, we moved our email to Microsoft’s cloud based Office365, and our telephone system will be moved to a cloud based vendor this summer. The net result of all of these changes is in the event of a disaster, be it regional or very local, we will have the tools to be up and running quickly and efficiently. When your profession is protecting your clients in the event of a claim, having an emergency plan for your own systems is essential.

To some, it may seem odd to write about what software we are using in our insurance office. To me, it is incredibly important to let you know that as the world is changing, Levitt-Fuirst is changing right along with it. We are not dragging our feet, we are actively pursuing a technological path that will help us take care of our clients’ needs today and tomorrow.

We appreciate your trust in Levitt-Fuirst, and these changes give us the tools to continue to earn your trust into the future.

 

 

Snow Tires – Yes, You Will (likely) Need Them This Year!

I wrote an article on snow tires last winter – a winter where I was very happy to have my car clad as the snow fell and fell (and fell and fell).  This year has been kind so far in the Mid Atlantic region, with the precipitation coming down on warm days as rain, and the snow limited to flurries and dustings.  It is still early, though, and you can bet the time will come when snow is once again forecast, and being able to get around safely is a priority.

I was contacted by a Mary-Anne, a librarian who is researching storm preparation.  She mentioned that her intern, Julia Tyler, had been doing much of the storm safety research, and found the following article on snow tires, written by Edison Farnell of PartsGeek.  I believe the information is great, and think you will find it useful, so I post it here – with full credit to Edison and his original story(http://www.partsgeek.com/parts/all_about_snow_tires.html – Note, a few of the links that are no longer active have been removed from the re-post below)

SnowRoad
Safe driving, everyone.

P. Andersen


Get Some Traction: All About Snow Tires

Driving on snow covered roads and bridges can be a stressful experience. Fortunately, there are practical steps to help prepare a car for wintertime driving. In short, a set of snow tires and a few safe driving tips can go a long way to reduce the worry that accompanies wintertime driving.

Snow tires are different from all season and regular tires in that they are specifically designed to withstand several months of snowy and icy conditions as well as persist in extremely cold temperatures. In addition, the design of a snow tire, particularly its tread, gives an automobile the extra traction necessary for travel in wintery conditions. The particular rubber material used to make a snow tire gives it an extra element of flexibility in freezing temperatures. A snow tire’s flexibility helps it to cling to wintry roads as well as maneuver them. In the past, drivers were relegated to putting huge and clunky snow tires on their cars to serve their practical purpose each winter. Nowadays, there are quality snow tires that possess a sleek appearance suitable for automobiles of many different types and sizes. Finally, it’s important to put four snow tires on a car instead of just two especially if the vehicle is four-wheel drive. It is difficult for a driver to control a car with two pairs of tires that possess different capabilities in the snow and ice. For example, if the car began to slide the tires would react differently causing further instability. Four snow tires with an equal ability to handle the surfaces of wintry roads proves a more effective choice.

A few simple preparations can help a driver feel more confident and safe when the icy, snow covered roads of winter appear.

For more information on snow tires and safe winter driving habits please visit:

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Levitt-Fuirst Associates Named a “Best Place to Work in Insurance”

Levitt-Fuirst Associates Named a Best Place to Work in Insurance by Business Insurance Magazine 

BI_2015_places_final

We are proud to announce that the national trade periodical Business Insurance has named Levitt-Fuirst as a winner of their Best Place to Work in Insurance competition!

This summer our 50 employees completed an anonymous survey on their opinions about working at Levitt-Fuirst.   This included questions about: their compensation and benefits, how they are treated and respected, opportunities and recognition for individual achievement, what they thought of their co-workers and managers, and some general open ended questions.

 2015 LF Beach Day
2015 Family Beach Day

Levitt-Fuirst Principals also had to complete an in-depth survey that took about 3 hours to complete.   This involved information on: salary distribution, benefits offered, availability of flexible work schedules, number of minority employees, female and minority managers, how do we recognize individual and group achievement, and employee longevity.    We also had to submit pictures of activities we do as a company, such as our Habitat for Humanity project, our offsite team building exercises, and our summer fun day at the beach (including employees’ family members)!

We know that our employees are our strongest asset.   We do our best to help them to thrive, both as individuals and as members of a team.  We strive to offer our staff the independence needed to achieve personal success.   To retain the best in the industry, we provide innovative incentives, such as subsidized gym memberships and healthy lunches, monthly recognition awards, and fun celebrations (when deserved!).

 

 Habitat
Habitat for Humanity

We are very proud of this Best Place to Work in Insurance award, especially since it reflects that our employees enjoy being part of the Levitt-Fuirst family.

 

Storm Preparedness and You

Flood

Today, we have a guest blogger from EducatorLabs, Jasmine Dyoco.  Jasmine came to us with the thought of giving our clients and readers some great information on storm preparedness.  The best way to lower claim costs is to stop the claims from happening in the first place, and storm preparation is a great first step.  These great tips will help protect you, your family and your property from loss during storms of all types.

Thank you, Jasmine, for this valuable information.  You are welcome to join us as a guest blogger any time!

P. Andersen


Tree-Fall-house

by Jasmine Dyoco

Although summer is coming to a close, hurricane season is still in full swing. These storms’ strong winds and torrential downpours cause millions of dollars in damage each year, often due to tornado-strength winds, and most especially, flooding. In fact, around 75 percent of Presidential declared weather emergencies are flood related. While we can’t control the weather and the many natural disasters it causes, we can be prepared for them to help ensure the safety of our loved ones, homes and communities!

But how many people really know what measures to take to protect themselves in the event of an emergency?

That’s why I created the following list on preparedness for floods, hurricanes and other weather phenomena.

Thank you for taking action to create a more well-informed community on staying safe and healthy in the eye of a storm!

Seeing The Light – 1 Year After Incandescent Lighting was Retired

luminance

by P. Andersen

About a year ago, the standard incandescent bulb was officially phased out. You can still get them under certain circumstances, but the technology of that style bulb has run its course. It was up to 10 times less efficient than newer technology, and had a much shorter shelf life than the bulbs that would follow; CFL (compact florescent) and LED (Light Emitting Diode) bulbs. Today, a year later, the options have grown and pricing has come down – and the energy benefits continue to be staggering. That 60 watt bulb now uses around 10 watts, and lights a room in so many different ways; from a nice incandescent feeling summery warmth to cool and clear stark blue hues.

If you have been following this blog, you know that I bought a house about a year ago. My energy bills are too high for the size of my home, so I am in the process of doing all the little things I can do to make things better. Today, I wanted to let you know what I have done regarding my lighting, and why I made the choice…

Up to this past month, I was buying CFL bulbs for my lighting needs. Every time I tried a new brand it was hit or miss if I would like the light that was emitted. Some of the best bulbs were warm, but the worst were a harsh color that would make anyone look washed out and old! Most were slow to fully light, causing a 30 second delay in lighting the room fully, and their life is reduced by regular on/off usage. Finally, disposal of these bulbs is difficult, because of the use of Mercury in them.

(NOTE: BE CAREFUL IF A CFL BREAKS! Leave the room immediately, open windows, air out the room, come back and sweep up the mess, do not use a vacuum or you will potentially spread the mercury. There is a link at the bottom discussing how to clean up a broken CFL).

LED’s are the alternative, and they have recently taken off. They come in every imaginable shape and size (including candelabra, Christmas tree, standard, and more), are more efficient than CFLs, light instantly, are not impacted by regular on/off usage, work well in all temperatures, and give you whatever lighting you want (warm, cool, daylight, colors). They ARE more expensive, between $5 and $15 per bulb on Amazon if you buy in bulk, but they last longer than any other bulb out there.

I decided it was time to buy into the LED craze, and I have been replacing all of my bulbs with Cree 2800 (warm) LED bulbs in 40 or 60 watts. This light has the feel of an incandescent without the drawbacks. Even for my small house, there are light bulbs everywhere! Inside, outside, basement, closets, desk lamps, stove lamps, etc. etc. etc. You will find old bulbs here and there, and you will know how much more efficient your home will be with each change. I should have my house completely turned over to LED this week.

What is the net result? I am not sure yet, but I know that with each improvement, I am moving toward a net-zero energy footprint. Bigger repairs and updates are on the horizon, but today I can say that at least my home is lit with the warmest, longest lasting, most efficient lighting available. It is an easy change for a modest investment. Don’t think of it as a $10 bulb, think of it as a home improvement project costing $250, and know that it will pay for itself in no time at all. More importantly, these cost savings will be rolling in while I continue to find ways to have a lower impact on the environment.

LED vs. CFL

Cleaning up a CFL Break