Protective Service: Summerville dealership teams with the 'good hands' people to house local insurance agency

The Allstate "good hands" symbol is in several places around the McElveen building, including overlooking the service area (Jim Parker/Staff 2-28-2014).

Car shoppers at McElveen Buick GMC in Summerville don't have far to go to find coverage - they can step into an Allstate office within the showroom.

The dealership-agency partnership is believed to be among the first in the Charleston area, at least involving an Allstate center within a GM outlet, said Doug McElveen, dealership owner and chief of McElveen Automotive Group.

There's a ready audience: The dealership counts "approximately 175 new car sales a week," and handles more than 800 service calls. "They really look for the volume of new car sales to sustain the business," he said.

The Allstate agency, located in twin, glass-fronted offices a short distance from new cars on the showroom floor, took part in a grand opening earlier this month.

Debbie-Freed Madden, a 30-year insurance veteran, heads up day-to-day operations as agency manager and dealer principal for McElveen Automotive Group at Allstate Insurance Co.

"This is an exciting opportunity for me," she said. "It's a marriage of two strong brands."

According to Madden, "We have a fully licensed staff that can support any and all clients' insurance and financial needs as part of their sales or service experience when visiting McElveen."

The office stays open during the dealership's sales hours.

Large signs hang in McElveen Buick GMC showing an etching of one hand laying on another, a reference to Allstate's longtime "You're in Good Hands" slogan.

The idea for opening Allstate offices in dealerships countrywide is most associated with Mark LaNeve, a one-time GM executive and top marketing officer who joined Allstate in 2009.

Insurance companies within car dealerships may be a novel concept at least in recent times, but the idea of matching auto coverage with car places isn't new. Allstate was founded in 1931 as part of Sears, Roebuck & Co. During its heyday decades ago, the department store chain opened Allstate offices in its high profile outlets around the country.

"Originally, it was in a Sears store next to the auto (centers)," Madden says.

In early2012, Northbrook, Ill.-based Allstate said it intended to open full-service agent offices in car dealerships nationwide.

"Allstate's dealer program seamlessly integrates the purchase and service of a vehicle with the opportunity to price your auto insurance with Allstate and work with a licensed insurance professional on all your coverage needs in a way it's never been done before," said LaNeve, Allstate's chief marketing officer at the time.

LaNeve now works for Ford as the head of its Lincoln operations.

Before launching the auto dealership program, Allstate tested it in 11 car stores across the country, according to Dealer Marketing Magazine.

A July 2013 article in The State newspaper noted that Allstate and Love Chevrolet had teamed up to open an agency within the Irmo-based dealership. Plans called for another office to open in the Love Buick GMC dealership in the Columbia area last fall.

Allstate has set up shop in 80 dealerships nationwide, Madden said, and plans to expand to 400 by the end of 2014.

Reach Jim Parker at 937-5542 or