Top 5 snow blower safety tips

Whoever wrote the song “Let it Snow” must not have had to shovel much of the white stuff. While kids may welcome the prospect of sledding, snowmen, and snow-days off school, most business and home owners dread the task of snow removal from their driveways and sidewalks.

You can ease the back-breaking chore of shoveling snow with the use of a snow blower, but the following precautions should be taken:

  1. Dress for success. Avoid loose-fitting clothing and long scarves that can get caught in moving parts and pull you in.
  2. Check for debris. Clear the area of items that may clog the snow blower intake. Some examples include branches, old newspapers, doormats, rocks, and boards. Not only can these items get stuck in the auger, but some could pass through and be thrown far distances at high speed.
  3. Provide proper power. For electric snow blowers, use a power cord rated for outdoor use, and plug into an outlet with ground-fault-circuit interruption protection. While operating, be aware of where the cord is in relation to your clearing path.
  4. Power-up outside. Carbon monoxide can build up quickly when using a gas-powered snow thrower. Start and operate the unit outdoors – never inside a garage or enclosed area – even if the doors are open. Also fuel the unit outdoors when the engine is cooled off to avoid dangerous fumes and the risk of combustion.
  5. Keep clear of moving parts. Most injuries occur when the operator tries to clear clogged snow or debris from the auger or discharge chute, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission. Turn off the engine before clearing the snow blower, and use a long stick or broom to work out the clog – never use your hands. Tension can remain even when the engine is turned off, resulting in injury when stuck components suddenly release.

By following these simple precautions, you can avoid being among the 6,000 people who visit emergency rooms each year for snow blower accidents.

SECURA honors 2014 top-performing agencies

We recognized our 2014 top-performing agencies this week. The winners were chosen based on their profitability, growth, and loss history with our company.

Our top-performing agency was seven-time award winner The Charles L. Crane Agency Company, from St. Louis, Mo. Tom Berra, Broker; and Mike Reedy, President; accepted the award from Dave Gross, our President & CEO, at a ceremony during our annual Premier Agent Professional Development Conference. The Crane Agency has partnered with SECURA for 21 years.

These agencies also received awards:
  • Ansay & Associates, LLC, Port Washington, Wis., a two-time award recipient and partner since 1985. Mike Ansay accepted the award. 
  • Beth & Rudnicki Insurance Agency, Inc., Rockford, Ill., a two-time award recipient and partner since 2000. Roger Beth accepted the award. 
  • Dawson Insurance Agency, Inc., Fargo, N.D., a first-time award recipient and partner since 2006. Tom Dawson accepted the award. 
  • Indianhead Insurance Agency, Inc., Eau Claire, Wis., a nine-time award recipient and partner since 1978. 
  • The McClone Agency, Inc., Menasha, Wis., a five-time award recipient and partner since 1976. Brian McClone and Pat McClone accepted the award. 
  • The Neckerman Agency, Madison, Wis., a two-time award recipient and partner since 1992. Doug Dittmann accepted the award. 
  • Blakestad, Minneapolis, Minn., our Rookie of the Year award winner and partner since 2003. Jerod Blakestad accepted the award. 
Congratulations and thank you to these incredible agencies!

UNTHINK & fail your way to the top - guest post

The following is a guest blog post written by Erik Wahl, a presenter at our annual conference for Premier agents. 

“If everything seems under control, you are not going fast enough.” – Mario Andretti, Formula 1 racing legend

Accelerated output changes the game.

Of course, it is far easier to be satisfied with doing our job the way that it has always been done because that is the path of least resistance. Yet if we were to look at any great accomplishment throughout history…be it in art, science, athletics, literature, business, et cetera…these breakthroughs have all happened because someone was daring enough to accelerate around the safety of mediocrity and soar into the realm of uncertainty and possibility.

Wanna accelerate and create some sparks?

UNthink and transform “failure” into “learning.”

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” – Thomas Edison

A freeing benefit of accelerated output is that perfection is no longer the goal. Progress is the goal. When progress is the framework for your task, you are not limited by “being perfect” or laboring for the “right” answer. You are not limited by what has worked well in the past. You are not decelerated by over-analysis. Instead, you are free to blaze trails, to let ideas fly – the more the better.

Failure is not only an option; it is a likely outcome.

But in the accelerated context, you make the choice to let failure show you a better way, not slow you down.

Failure is just one of the guideposts along the way. This does not mean you are aiming for failure. It just means you’re not trying to prevent failure before you begin. Ironically it is the spark to advance into new territory. Improvement comes more quickly and more steadily when you are willing to let the sparks fly.

Used by permission of Erik Wahl, speaker, artist, and author of UNthink. More information available at

Erik Wahl is an internationally recognized graffiti artist, #1 best-selling author, and entrepreneur. Erik’s bestselling business book UNTHINK was hailed by Forbes Magazine as THE blueprint to actionable creativity and by Fast Company Magazine as Provocative with a Purpose.

Word of Mouth has Changed, Sort of - guest post

The following is a guest blog post written by Scott Stratten, a presenter at our annual conference for Premier agents.

“You have to see this!”

Well before computers were making our lives easier by making them harder, people reacted to content. Word of mouth was simply that: people spread the word to each other by talking (talking was an ancient method of communication where two or more people stood in the same room, and then by things called telephones, and used voices to convey messages back and forth. Sounds crazy, I know, but apparently back then it was perfectly acceptable. Crazy pioneers.)

Things shifted in the mid/late ‘90s where we started to scale word-of-mouth with the use of email. We could now tell multiple people without having to re-tell the story, and if we really wanted to be the talk of the town, we simply “CC’d” everyone so all the replies went back to everyone again! Since I run a “viral marketing” company, whatever that means, my job was to ensure our client’s projects were easy to pass around by viewers. The “tell-a-friend” script became popular until people started abusing it, and it was a great way to get your domain blacklisted.

Let me tell ya kids, it was an awesome time to be in the business of sending email to spread the word. Rockin’ 90% open rates, almost 100% delivery, and click-throughs that would make kittens cry with joy. Then spam took it up a notch, everything went into the crapper and now getting an email to your mom is even tough.

Which brings us to today. I was inspired to write this because of a Fast Company article that summarized Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg’s thought on how we communicate. She says that only 11% of teens check their email daily.

Now, all you grumpypants can argue that it’s just teens doin’ that, and the sooner they get off your lawn, the better, but think about it for a second. How do you spread the word about something you’ve just read/seen online?

I’ll take this article for example. I got an email from Fast Company, so that still worked for me, but instead of going into my address book to see who I should email it to, I jumped on Twitter and sent a tweet.

Word of mouth has changed and is still changing. Before, we had to go through our “list” and pick who to email something to. Now, a lot of people simply share it on Facebook, or click “Like” or tweet it. It’s not “Who would be interested?” anymore, it’s “This interests me” and the audience/followers/friends are the ones who filter it for you.

But one thing hasn’t changed…the “why” people spread content.

People don’t go running, screaming about something that is “ok.” People don’t spread mediocrity. People spread great stuff. People spread emotion. Look at what gets shared on Facebook, or retweeted on Twitter. Funny stuff, brilliant knowledge-filled posts, sad things, stuff that angers you.
Repeat after me: People. Spread. Emotion.

Take a stand. Have a freakin’ opinion. Believe in something and then become the catalyst for a discussion around it. THEN make it easy for people to spread it with sharing buttons, like Sociable.
Create great content, and it will be the best SEO, viral, word-of-mouth “tactic” you could ever invest in.

Used by permission of Scott Stratten, author of UnSelling. More information available at

Scott Stratten is an author, speaker, and leading expert in viral, social, and authentic marketing for businesses. His new book, “The Book of Business Awesome: How Engaging Your Customers and Employees Can Make Your Business Thrive,” breaks the rules of how companies are truly marketed and grown through the current online/offline world.

Why Integrity Matters - guest post

The following is an article and book excerpt from Commander Kirk Lippold, USN (Ret.), a presenter at our annual conference for Premier agents.

Integrity. It is a very simple word with incredible power and long-reaching impact. Businesses love to list it as one of their top priorities and a benchmark for customer relations and conduct. The military considers it a core value; lives are at stake and to not understand the meaning of the word is often tragically measured in terms of lives.

As the Commanding Officer of USS Cole when al Qaeda terrorists attacked it on October 12, 2000, the word integrity took on a whole new level of meaning for me. That morning, everything that was important in my world sat on my desk in the daily grind of what needed to be done to run a ship and crew as we prepared for routine operations in the Middle East. In a singular moment in time, my priorities became very straightforward, even simple: What did I have to do to save my ship from sinking and keep my crew alive?

Many people over time have asked for a good definition of what integrity means. The most common definition is doing the right thing, at the right time, for the right reason, even if no one is looking. That definition suffices for a broad swath of what most people in the military and in business encounter in their day-to-day work. For me, however, that definition, in light of what happened on Cole, seemed better suited as a good definition for ethics, not integrity. 

When you look at the high standard of what integrity should mean, it has to define more than just ethics. Being ethical is a common standard; having integrity means to do all those things associated with ethics but doing them regardless of the consequences. 

Regardless of the consequences. That’s a tall order and one not to be taken lightly. When you hold your ground to do what’s right, it will have far-reaching professional and personal consequences on your life and your business. In the end, however, maintaining that highest standard of behavior will always work out for the better. 

In the days following the attack, the actions of the crew and me as Commanding Officer would become the focal point of intense scrutiny. A $1 billion national asset had been attacked, 17 sailors were dead, and 37 wounded in the first successful attack on a U.S. ship by enemy action since the Vietnam War. Grieving families and the American people deserved answers. 

While I can in no way predict each and every crisis and its circumstances for every business, the following modified excerpt from my book, Front Burner – Al Qaeda’s Attack on the USS Cole, best describes what adhering to that unwavering standard of integrity can mean for one’s future.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation, Naval Criminal Investigative Service, and the U.S. Navy were each conducting investigations into the attack. Pointed questions were being asked and during the course of those first few days, the Navy’s leadership pondered whether it was in the service’s best interest to allow me to remain in command. My future hung in the balance. On the ninth day following the attack, the Fifth Fleet Commander, a 3-star Navy Vice Admiral visited the ship with several dignitaries. 

After the dignitaries’ departure, the admiral and I went for a short walk. “I need to speak with you privately for a few minutes,” he said. When we were alone and sitting near the ship’s small boats, he said, “Kirk, your crew has been through a lot this past week and I would like you to consider something. The Navy has assembled a team of about a hundred people from Norfolk who have volunteered to come over here and relieve your crew. Most have served on guided-missile destroyers and are familiar with this type of ship. Now, anyone you think you need to keep the ship going will stay behind, but I would like you to consider allowing half or more of your crew to go home.”

I leaned forward on my elbows, my hands clasped in front of me, my chin dropped into my chest as I stared at the non-skid deck that had suddenly become a sea of intense gray ridges and valleys. Inside I knew I had to stay absolutely calm, but I was in total disbelief. Everyone knew the crew had been through a lot and the emotional toll was tremendous, but without warning, the world collapsed around me again. All I could think to myself was, “This is the Commander of the Fifth Fleet, a vice admiral in the United States Navy, and he’s asking me to allow my crew to abandon ship because what we’ve been through has been ‘hard’ on them!?” I was utterly astounded that the Navy’s leadership would even consider such a thing. The historical roots of the Navy clearly meant nothing to the admirals running the Navy today. They appeared ready to make decisions that flew in the face of generations of sacrifices by others who had also suffered at the hands of the enemy. The leaders and commanding officers throughout the history of the Navy, from John Paul Jones to Chester Nimitz, would never have even contemplated such a decision, and I wasn’t ready to, either.

I was on thin ice. How and what I said next to the admiral would probably make the difference whether or not the crew stayed with their ship. Slowly, carefully, and with great emphasis, I looked up directly into his eyes and said, “Admiral, I could not disagree with you more. This crew saved this ship, this crew saved their shipmates; and, this crew, as a crew will get
Cole out of Aden and onto Blue Marlin; then as a crew we will go home. Together.”

Now it was the Admiral’s turn to think about what had just been exchanged between us. He paused, looked down at the deck himself for few seconds; then, as if to redeem himself in the eyes of history, he looked at me and with a confident tone, said, “Ok, you’ve got it.”

Longstanding Navy tradition held that no crew surrendered to the enemy or abandoned their ship without a good fight or unless it was absolutely impossible to keep the ship afloat. This was best memorialized at the Battle of Lake Erie when Captain James Lawrence, who was mortally wounded while furiously battling a British frigate, cried out, “Don’t give up the ship.” History was about to cast its shadow on us. The crew of
Cole and I had fought to keep our ship afloat from the moment of the attack until now. They could not be seen as giving up because of a lack of courage on the part of the Navy’s leadership or for the sake of political pressure or expediency – it would have cast a pall of shame on the crew and their captain for time immemorial.

In the end, despite some very high-level pressure to get the sailors home immediately, the crew and I stayed on Cole and oversaw its return back to the United States for repair. The ship is still in commission and in Spring 2014 it proudly sailed into New York harbor to participate in the dedication of the 9/11 Memorial and ceremonies at Ground Zero. The crew persevered through an unbelievable tragedy. Today, they are remembered for their heroism, especially in the context of the 9/11 attacks, which brought an undeclared war by al Qaeda into sharp focus for every American.

In the life of any business, every one of you as a leader will invariably face a crisis that will challenge your standard of integrity. Tough decisions, often opposed by those around you, will have to be made. How each of you as leaders face up to that challenge and the standard you hold yourself to first, will define whether you and perhaps even your business survives with its reputation intact. Integrity doesn’t happen in the moment. It is a concept that requires daily thought until it becomes an integral part of your decision-making process and second nature in every aspect of your life. While ethics are the minimum standard in how you do business; integrity sets the bar for how well your business is poised to succeed - regardless of the consequences that challenge it . . . and you!

Commander Lippold was the Commanding Officer of USS Cole (DDG 67) when it was attacked by al Qaeda terrorists in the port of Aden, Yemen, on Oct. 12, 2000. His book, Front Burner – Al Qaeda’s Attack on the USS Cole, recounts the heroism of his crew and the impact of leadership in the ongoing war on terror.

This article is copyrighted and the sole property of Kirk S. Lippold. No part may be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission. More information at

Lippold, Kirk S. Front Burner - Al Qaeda's Attack on the USS Cole (New York: Public Affairs, 2012), 193-195.

Seasonal vehicle insurance can save money

Some commercial and farm vehicles are operated during specific months and left in storage for the remainder of the year. Yet, many people maintain full insurance coverage on these vehicles, even though the prospect of a collision or other mishap has virtually been eliminated.

Examples of these types of seasonal vehicles include:
  • Farm vehicles used only for planting and harvesting. 
  • Landscaping vehicles that are in storage for the winter.
  • Heavy vehicles that aren’t permitted to be used in spring because of temporary weight restrictions.
Insurance companies often are able to temporarily suspend some insurance coverage for these vehicles, such as liability and collision, and then reinstate the coverage when the vehicles are back in use.

Comprehensive coverage should remain on the vehicles to cover risks like storm damage, vandalism, or theft. Do not cancel your policy completely, as it will require more time and paperwork later, and you will likely have to pay a higher rate than if you had kept continuous coverage.

Some insurance carriers require notification to reinstate the full coverage, so be sure to check with your agent for your specific policy requirements.

When you can demonstrate clear, consistent patterns or regular periods of suspension due to seasonal operations, some carriers can apply a credit to the policy to reflect the reduced potential for loss.

Bottom line? These credits may result in reduced insurance premiums for seasonally used farm and commercial vehicles. Contact your agent to discuss the options available from SECURA for your specific needs.

Resolve to stay fit and safe at the gym

The top New Year’s resolution continues to be weight loss. It also is the most commonly broken resolution. Still, many people try to beat the odds by joining a gym or fitness center in early January. While some are daunted by lack of motivation, others are hindered by injuries and other avoidable aches and pains.

Follow these tips to make your fitness journey rewarding and safe so that your goals of weight loss and health are more attainable.

Take caution in the locker room. “What? I haven’t stepped foot in the gym yet!” True, but bacteria and fungus can thrive in a locker room environment where there is lack of sunlight, increased humidity, and warm temperatures. Cover any open cuts or sores with a band aid to avoid infection. Never go barefoot. Wearing shoes or flip flops will reduce your risk of slips and falls, as well as decrease your chances of getting athlete's foot or other fungal conditions.

Ease into it. Don’t believe the “no pain, no gain” mantra. Muscle strain is the most common injury at the gym. Many people who haven’t exercised for a long time all too quickly realize their bodies don’t react to physical exertion the way they did when younger and more in shape. Stretching and warming up prior to a work out will help, but knowing your limits is even better. If you’re not sure how much weight you should lift, or the proper form for a particular exercise, consult with a personal trainer.

Inspect equipment. Weight machines have many moving parts like pulleys, clamps, weight pins, and locking mechanisms. Always wear closed-toe shoes and watch for points that can pinch fingers. Make sure you know how to correctly use any equipment prior to working out, and check that all moving parts are operating smoothly. If you notice frayed cables, loose fittings, or other wear and tear, notify  gym management immediately.

Check cardio machines. The use of stair climbers, bikes, ellipticals, and other electronic machines can burn calories quickly and help increase endurance. They also pose risks. A simple YouTube search for treadmills will reveal a plethora of fails and mishaps. Do not push yourself beyond your ability to keep up with the machine’s speed, and notify gym staff about any erratic electronic behavior.

There are reports of thousands landing in emergency rooms each year after run-ins with workout equipment. By taking a few precautions and sticking with it, you’ll be able to look back a year from now and celebrate the fact you actually kept your resolution to get fit. Good luck!