Nothing says ‘labor of love’ quite like classic car collection and restoration. For true classic car enthusiasts, every vehicle has a story; every piece of chrome and drop of oil at a swap meet has sentimental value; and every drive with the windows down, the wind blowing and the engine roaring makes the heart race.
It’s this passion that drew Collette (Coco) Champagne to specialist insurer and automotive lifestyle brand Hagerty 22 years ago. While she’s not exactly an auto enthu-siast herself – although she does appreciate the hobby and has a classic Chevy pickup truck that she inherited from her father – Champagne was captured by the all-round enthusiasm of Hagerty’s members.
“I just love hearing our members’ stories,” she says. “There’s so much history, nostalgia and emotion in every car, and it’s amazing to be able to deliver a service at Hagerty that enables people to follow their passion.”
All about the people
Champagne has always been a people person. A graduate of the University of Michigan’s Executive Human Resources program and a member of the Society of Human Resource Managers, she began her career as an officer of a national bank focused on retail consumer lending, where she led a region in generating government-guaranteed mortgages.
In 1999, Champagne joined Hagerty as leader of its sales and service operation. She was promoted to vice president of human resources in 2002 and later to senior vice president and chief people officer. In that role, she was responsible for setting strategic direction and ensuring that Hagerty’s workforce was prepared to meet business growth initiatives through recruitment, corporate development and by maintaining employee touchpoints reflective of the company’s unique corporate culture.
In 2018, Champagne became the second woman in Hagerty’s history to be named chief operating officer. Today, she works with Hagerty’s executive team to oversee the firm’s member sales and service, strategic planning, human resources, employee engagement, growth culture, and more.
“Hagerty has become a market leader and an automotive brand recognized for excellence worldwide precisely because we have such great people,” Champagne says. “My passion since I joined Hagerty has been helping employees develop to their full potential so they, in turn, can continue to help us make Hagerty a stronger company and a fantastic place to work. That continues to be a major focus of mine as COO.”
“I just love hearing our members’ stories. There’s so much history, nostalgia and emotion in every car, and it’s amazing to be able to deliver a service at Hagerty that enables people to follow their passion”
Creating a community
During Champagne’s tenure with Hagerty, the firm has shifted gears from operating under an insurance-based model to a membership model, with the vision of nurturing one of the world’s largest communities of classic car enthusiasts. Hagerty still delivers market-leading insurance products for classic cars, including specialized offerings like cherished salvage coverage, instant new purchase coverage and auto show medical reimbursement coverage. It also runs the Hagerty Drivers Club, which gives members access to white-glove roadside assistance, including guaranteed flatbed towing, real-time truck tracking and an unlimited number of service calls annually. Members also receive daily updates on the classic car market and can sign up for monthly newsletters or the bimonthly Hagerty Drivers Club magazine. They also get exclusive event access, as well as discounts from automotive suppliers.
“We’re successful because of the strength of our brand,” Champagne says. “We have an amazing brand team who work incredibly hard to create and sustain this wonderful client experience, and that’s really played into our incredible growth journey. We now have more than 650,000 members in the Hagerty Drivers Club, 3.1 million followers on Facebook, 287,000 Instagram fans and 20,000 Twitter followers, not to mention 1.6 million YouTube subscribers – and they’re all engaging with the Hagerty brand and their fellow car enthusiasts on a regular basis.”
“We have an amazing brand team who work incredibly hard to create and sustain this wonderful client experience, and that’s really played into our incredible growth journey”
Hagerty Drivers Club members don’t have to purchase insurance to gain membership. Many join initially to become part of the community, Champagne explains, and as they engage with Hagerty’s ever-expanding range of services, they naturally turn to the company for their classic car insurance needs. This has led to growth in Hagerty’s direct-to-consumer offering, which makes up 46% of its distribution, alongside its agency partner distribution (54%).
“One thing I’m really passionate about is attracting and retaining top talent,” Champagne says. “We’re lucky, in a way, because a lot of people who come to work for Hagerty bring with them a passion for vintage cars or motor-sports, and they’re excited about engaging with our members and finding new ways to connect with the community. But it’s always been my policy to attract the best possible talent for the job, regardless of their background or their interests. Insurance is a people business; it’s about relationships, and we’re looking for talent that can meet the unique needs of our very passionate membership.”
Hagerty’s support for its members also extends into community grants. In April 2020, the firm launched a Restore the Roar grant initiative to help enthusiast vehicle restoration shops, specialty parts manufacturers and other related businesses negatively impacted by COVID-19. Hagerty redeployed its entire budget for partnerships and events (which were canceled due to the pandemic) to support small businesses with grants ranging from $5,000 to $10,000. “That’s another example of how we are supporting our member’s passions, even through these unprecedented times,” Champagne says. “We’re all in this together.”It’s often said that the best cars are the ones with great stories; perhaps the best insurers are the ones with great brands. That’s certainly the road Champagne has been cruising down – and she’s had a pretty smooth drive.