J.C. Whitney, Answer Financial Offer Insurance Shopping

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Answer Financial, a comparison shopping service for various types of insurance and other financial products, parlayed an employee benefits function it was providing for J.C. Whitney & Co. into an agreement to provide an insurance shopping service for the automobile parts and accessories direct marketer.

J.C. Whitney, Chicago, this week said it added the JC Whitney Insurance Center to its array of product offerings. The cataloger is unleashing an assortment of marketing efforts to encourage the use of the service, which can be accessed either through the Web or by phone.

"We're not in the insurance business," said Ed Bjorncrantz, vice president of marketing at J.C. Whitney. "They do all the work."

Answer Financial, Encino, CA, provides services that allow customers to compare the offerings of more than 110 insurance and financial service providers. The company had been providing services to the employees of J.C. Whitney, allowing them to compare insurance providers online, as a benefit from the 85-year-old cataloger.

"We used them for a benefits program for our employees, and we just started to talk," Bjorncrantz said.

The Insurance Center will allow J.C. Whitney customers to access information 24 hours a day, seven days a week, allowing them to compare insurance programs from a variety of providers for cars, motorcycles and other vehicles. The information can be accessed either through the J.C. Whitney Web site, www.jcwhitney.com, or by calling a toll-free number.

The catalog company will promote the new service through blurbs on the covers of its catalogs, which consumers will begin receiving in the next few weeks, and in catalog inserts and product inserts, which recently started circulating.

The company views the insurance offering as another step in its mission to live up to its slogan "everything automotive." Although the company primarily is a provider of auto parts and accessories, it does offer auxiliary services such as extended warranties.

Bjorncrantz declined to specify the financial terms of the company's relationship with Answer Financial, although he did say that "in programs like this" revenues are generated from the individual insurance companies, which pay either a fee per application or a fee per new customer.

The service also is expected to drive additional business to the company's Web site, which Bjorncrantz said has been seeing the benefits of a revision implemented in November. The company about two months ago also launched an affiliate program to drive purchases of its products through other sites and is doing limited e-mail marketing.

Bjorncrantz also noted that the company's magazine ads have become more effective since it established a Web presence, because the Web site gives consumers a readily accessible place to shop.

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