Before the Deluge

| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

From western wildfires to Superstorm Sandy to the super soaking the Seattle area received in November, weather swept the headlines in 2012.

For Washington state residents, perched on fault lines with wilderness at their doorsteps, disaster preparedness is second nature. Earthquake insurance is common and most homeowner policies cover fire.

Yet flood insurance remains a mystery for many. It is not included in most standard policies, but it is federally mandated for residential structures in designated flood zones. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has overseen flood insurance nationwide since 1968. Through its National Flood Insurance Program, local insurance brokers can become licensed to sell flood insurance to their clients.

“Anybody can become a national flood insurance agent, through national wholesale brokers,” explains Joe Snapp, principal of Snapp & Son, a Seattle insurance company founded in 1937 and originally specializing in maritime shipping insurance. But, he estimates, the majority of agents licensed to sell flood insurance do so only a few times a year because the process is so convoluted. While FEMA makes and distributes flood zone maps to consumers, piecing together an accurate insurance estimate requires understanding of structural engineering reports, maps, policies and databases.

Snapp & Son’s answer to this situation, FloodBuddy, turns buying flood insurance into one-stop shopping. Users can access FloodBuddy online or through an iPhone app, and need only type in an address to see a “visual quote” in which rates and flood zone maps are presented together and colorized. The quote is a live offer from which a user can immediately purchase flood coverage. Sometimes, FloodBuddy needs more data and asks for a phone consultation.

Stephen Schramke, head of marketing for FloodBuddy, says, “Joe is doing for flood insurance what Zillow has done for home appraisals.” FloodBuddy consolidates what Snapp describes as a minimum of 10 phone calls and faxes among banks, surveyors, insurance agents and customers into one or two exchanges before generating quotes for customers.

Beta-launched in 2011, FloodBuddy now accounts for about 25 percent of the firm’s phone call activity, says Snapp, with customer interest growing markedly after Hurricane Sandy’s devastation. Climate change and coastal development also make flood risk a moving target, so FloodBuddy is constantly updating its databases to alert policyholders and potential customers.

Bright Idea: Space Exploration with Flexe Inc.

Bright Idea: Space Exploration with Flexe Inc.

Need a warehouse in Omaha for eight weeks? Flexe’s online marketplace will find it for you.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 

Amazon has poured tens of billions of dollars into building close to 100 highly automated ware-houses around the country to cut costs and reduce delivery times. That reality has put competitors in a quandary. How can they match Amazon’s capabilities without spending the same kind of money to build a similar network?

Seattle-based Flexe (flexe.com) thinks it has the answer with an Airbnb-style service that allows companies to rent warehouse space virtually anywhere in the United States.

Manufacturers or distributors that need warehouse space use Flexe’s online application to describe the amount of space they need, the kind of space they want (whether it’s food-grade or temperature-controlled), the location and how much they are willing to pay. Flexe pops up alternatives from among its partner list of 300 warehouses.

“Amazon is raising the bar, and everyone else has to react to keep up with them,” says Flexe cofounder and CEO Karl Siebrecht. 

With most warehouses having an estimated 20 percent of excess capacity at any given time, Siebrecht figures there is a potential $140 billion worth of additional business for warehousing services. 

Using Flexe, companies can store products closer to their markets so they can fill orders by cheaper ground transport rather than having to fulfill orders by air from distant locations. Arranging for space through Flexe also enables businesses to respond to seasonal changes in demand without signing long-term leases.

Siebrecht, who previously worked for digital marketing firms like aQuantive and AdReady, says the disruption occurring in the logistics business is huge. “If Amazon can deliver from a nearby warehouse for $1.70,” he muses, “and it costs another company $9, well …”

Siebrecht says the idea came from True Fabrications, a wholesale wine accessories distributor that was experiencing high growth. Because demand was seasonal, the company couldn’t predict how much warehouse capacity it needed. It suggested the idea of a space-rental service to Siebrecht and became Flexe’s first customer.