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Benefit products are, by nature, a commodity. To stand out from the sales crowd, brokers must expand their reach beyond products and toward other areas of business employers are struggling with today.

Bob Gearhart Jr., partner at DCW Group out of Boardman, Ohio, understood this concept early on and was determined to adapt to the changing landscape. “We’ve ended up in a lot of interesting spaces that you probably wouldn’t associate with employee benefits,” Gearhart says.

A couple of years ago, Gearhart’s client was interested in Zenefits’ technology, but did not want to switch brokers. While the business remained with DCW, this was a warning signal to Gearhart that the market is hungry for a one-stop-shop for all their benefit needs.

DCW moved into benefits administration, and handling payroll consultation became part of the territory. Now, meetings with clients often cover everything but benefits.

“We all have access to the same stuff, so everybody begs for the rates and the census, everyone goes out to market and comes back with the same proposals, and they tell the client, ‘We service really well and we have great relationships with our carrier partners,’” Gearhart says. “If we are going to move the needle and deliver value to the client, we need to figure out — in the areas of business we can impact — how we can do business better?”

Gearhart says one of the ways to improve business was to tie benefits administration and payroll together to simplify administration processes. “We started with ben admin, we quickly into payroll and the most recent thing that we have been assisting clients with is applicant tracking,” Gearhart says. “In our market in particular, it is incredibly difficult to hire.”

Serious pain points
In Gearhart’s home state of Ohio, he says problems such as the opioid epidemic has caused many employers to have open job positions but not enough qualified individuals to fill the spots.

“We have recognized the need to go beyond just market evaluation, prompt service and strong relationships,” Gearhart says. “Our clients have serious pain points and it is prohibiting them from operating their business at the maximum levels. Our job is to figure out how we take what we can impact and free them up to do that.”

Expanding DCW’s operation of business to benefit administration, payroll and now talent acquisition is the type of innovation Gearhart’s clients and peers admire him for. Mick Rodgers, founder and managing partner at The Axial Company — as well as EBA’s 2017 Employee Benefit Adviser of the Year — works with Gearhart as a part of the Agency Growth Mastermind Network, a national executive peer-exchange group for non-competing benefits leaders who work collaboratively to grow their firm practices.

At 31 years old, Rodgers says Gearhart is one of the youngest and brightest minds in the benefits business. “He has this great perspective for such a young guy,” Rodgers says.

Rodgers adds, “He comes at benefits from a business perspective, which again, when you have someone who is young in the business, the only thing they can think of is just benefits, and not how it affects their clients as a business. Usually you don’t see that until you are a much more mature and tenured professional.”

Rick Fryda, president and CEO of Compco Industries in Columbiana, Ohio, is one of Gearhart’s clients and says he could rely on Gearhart even before Compco officially signed on with DCW.

“Bob had probably called on us for two years before we made the switch over to him,” Fryda says. “In those two years, he never ever pressured us and would always take a look at the deal we had and told us how to make it better.”

Within the four years Fryda has been a client of Gearhart’s, he says the company has taken on zero cost increase in their benefits offerings. “Bob is on top of things,” he says. “He gives us advice on what we can do to maintain or lower our cost and keeps us abreast of the market.”

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