Church Mutual Insurance Company on Saturday invited the public to celebrate the completion of its new CM2 Merrill Satellite Office facility in the former Merrill Walmart building. The project not only solves the company’s space needs, but also helps Merrill make a better first impression.
“It’s rare in our business to get so many win-wins,” said Church Mutual President/CEO Rich Poirier.
Planning for the expansion began nearly two years ago, Poirier noted. The company had outgrown its home office building on Schuster Lane in Merrill and needed to find additional space. While they explored many other sites, dscussions kept coming back to the vacant Walmart building in Merrill’s Pine Ridge Plaza.
“We talked about this site as early as almost two years ago,” Poirier said. Poirier and now recently-retired Church Mutual CEO Mike Ravn agreed that taking over the highly-visibile former retail building would benefit both company and community.
“When you drove into town and you had that abandoned Walmart, that just wasn’t the statement we wanted to make about Merrill,” Poirier said. “We felt it would be an honor to be the first thing folks saw when they came off the highway, and what a great way to make a statement about Church Mutual and Merrill.”
Retired since January, Ravn was taking the tour himself on Saturday. He said he was proud of the project that strengthened the company’s presence in the community where it was founded 118 years ago.
“This is the culmination of just a fantastic project that I think has helped Merrill and has helped Church Mutual,” he said. “I’m really proud of what we have here. The space needs of Church Mutual are satisfied for the foreseeable future and it deepens the company’s roots in this community. Church Mutual has always been proud of its Merrill heritage.”
Church Mutual signed a long-term lease on the building last April. As 2015 ended, the first wave of approximately 200 employees moved into the multimillion dollar renovated building at Pine Ridge Plaza.
For Church Mutual, the CM2 Satellite Office (named through an employee contest) accomplishes the need to bring previously fragmented departments back together. The Claims Department takes up the majority of the new space, with about 150 employees working in the CM2 office.
With expansions over the years, the various facets of the claims department had ended up spread out over different floors of the home office building.
Jeff Szalacinski, Church Mutual’s vice president of claims, said it’s nice to have the whole department in one area. All the support services that work with the claims department are also now located close at hand in the CM2 facility.
“It has been good for us to get back together,” Szalacinski said. “It’s more of a team effort in that sense. Your peers are right next to you; when you have a questions you can bounce it off someone much more easily than we could in the past.”
Moving the entire claims department to the new facility also allowed Church Mutual to bring their underwriting department back under one roof.
“Our problem there was, we had a couple of underwriting divisions at the Elite Carriers building,” Poirier said. “The power in an underwriting department is having them all together and collaborating; it got unwieldy.”
Church Mutual has moved all of its employees out of the Elite Carriers building on Cty. W. The call center, formerly housed there, has moved into space vacated by the claims department in the Merrill home office building.
Collaboration is an emphasis for Church Mutual. Common work areas designed into the CM2 layout are being utilized for collaboration among employees.
“We do a lot of discussions of complex claims,” Szalacinski said. “It’s easier when we’re all together. We can grab a room, put our heads together and figure out the best solution.”
With bright colors and open spaces, the CM2 office was designed to foster employee interaction.
“As you can see, it’s got kind of a Google atmosphere,” Poirier said. “A lot of it is creating an environment where you can collaborate and innovate, so it looks a lot like you would see at an IT ideation center.
“This is our little way of tearing down some of those walls that you had in a more traditional insurance environment.”
Church Mutual employees were involved from the beginning in the look and feel of the new facility.
“All of this was employee-driven,” Poirier said. “We have contests on design, color schemes and layout – even the naming was all done by employees.”
Employees were kept abreast of the developments throughout the project with videos in the cafeteria and renderings in the lobby.
The feel of the CM2 office has been well-received by employees and could prompt a makeover of the home office as well.
“It’s getting really great feedback from the staff,” Poirier said. “They really enjoy it.
“This has applicability back at the home office as we look at how over time we’ll retrofit and create different spaces over there,” he added. “This was kind of the skunkworks, the incubator. We’ll see how the adoption works and then we’re going to roll it out larger.”
With Baby Boomers retiring, Church Mutual is positioning itself to attract talented young Millennials entering the workforce.
“You want to have a footprint that’s attractive to Millennials because that’s our future,” Poirier said. “We’re thinking about the next bounce of the ball.”
The CM2 building also features a state-of-the-art training center which is used almost daily for training new employees and fresher training for existing employees. The training room has pairs of 90” screens that mimic the dual monitors used by employees. The room has video conferencing capability. When the home office is wired, it will allow for remote training as well, cutting down on travel between buildings in Merrill.
“We have live training going on all the time,” said trainer Desirae Thomaschefsky. “It took a lot of collaboration and a lot of minds to put this all together, and a lot of forward thinking.”
Last year, Church Mutual purchased a company in Pennsylvania that specializes in insuring public schools. The technology built into the CM2 office will allow for more efficient communication with the employees in Pennsylvania, Poirier noted.