Reliable Insurance has been in business for nearly 50 years! In fact, 2024 will mark our 50th year of providing top-notch insurance to Cloquet, Hermantown, Duluth/Superior and surrounding communities. Our co-owners, Steve Micke and Val Wojtysiak, sat down recently to share what helped them with decades of successful business. They also shared some memories of how they got started and what drives them and keeps them inspired to continue in the insurance business.
Steve’s father, Ted Micke, started our agency in 1974. Steve was hired May 1st, 1981, and Val was hired one month later on June 1, 1981. Ted had purchased the agency Val was working for and merged it into Reliable Agency. The first location, located at 803 Carlton Avenue in Cloquet, Minnesota, was just being built at that time, and we moved into that building on July 1st, 1981. Years later, the next two locations were added. The Hermantown office was opened in in 2011 and the Superior, Wisconsin office was opened in 2014.
We’ve always prided ourselves on being a hometown agency that could help customers with their insurance needs. In 1976, auto insurance first became mandatory in Minnesota. Many customers were purchasing auto insurance for the first time and relied on us to explain everything to them. The trust they placed in us was very humbling and something we’ve never taken for granted.
Mission and Goals
Back in 1981, everything was done on paper and mailed to clients. We would manually figure out what the cost would be and customers would stop by to fill out the applications. Then, they were mailed to the insurance company to be processed, approved and issued. Policies were then mailed to us to be delivered to the customer. Since the agency wasn’t using computers yet, this typically took up to 30 days to complete. Over all the years and all the changes, our primary goal is still to take good care of our customers as efficiently as possible. And our Mission is as true now as it has ever been! Technological advancements have not diminished our promise to be resourceful, honest & fair, and our responsiveness remains unmatched.
Without a doubt, automation and the advent of the digital/computer age has been our biggest, most constant change over the years. And, contrary to what some may think, we believe it was actually improved our processes for serving our clients. Policies can now be issued online with our carrier partners in real time. We have always been open to automation changes and pride ourselves on being on the leading edge as technology changes are introduced. Granted, it can sometimes be a tenuous balancing act between keeping that hometown feel while also embracing all the tech advancements. But these days, we have more information available than ever before and can find solutions to our clients needs sometimes within minutes. Whether it be our website, or an email, text, fax, phone call, or even a virtual meeting, we can communicate numerous ways.
Another more obvious change is the addition of new locations. As our Cloquet office grew, we added on to the building and then decided to branch out into new markets as well. We opened the Hermantown office in 2011 and the Superior location in 2014. These exciting ventures have provided more convenience for more clients as we are able to meet them closer to where they work or live.
Insurance is a relationship business. We are proud to be the agency of choice for each of our clients! We enjoy getting to know our customers, thus better understanding their needs. This allows us to provide the coverage they need should something unexpected happen. Hopefully, our customers to get to know us and trust that we never place profits before clients.
Receiving the Agency of the Year award from the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association in 1996, being featured in Rough Notes magazine in December 1994, and being chosen as the Best Insurance Agency to Work for in the Midwest in October 2013 were all very proud moments!
The first thing that comes to mind is getting people to understand that insurance is not a commodity and that everyone’s needs are different. They really need to take the time to sit down with us, so we can explain their coverages. Many companies advertise that you can get a quote in five minutes, yet the customer doesn’t know what they are purchasing, and the coverage may not be adequate should something happen. People often overlook the magnitude of this decision. One misstep could jeopardize them financially for life.
We highly suggest to find an agent that really takes the time to get to know you. The customer needs an agent they can trust to look out for their best interests. A good agent will never sell you something you don’t need and will act more as an advisor than a salesperson.
We feel very fortunate that we have been able to attract young insurance professionals over the years. We are surrounded by great employees that know and understand our core values – Involved, Empathy, Loyalty, Humbly Passionate & Synergy. Our Reliable Family is a great team working together for everyone’s benefit. We are hopeful that they will keep that close-knit family atmosphere. We believe that our culture is what sets us apart from other employers. One of our mottos is Work Hard – Play Hard – Give Generously. We enjoy time together outside of work, whether it be camping, golfing, or simply meeting up after work for dinner. By working hard, we feel it makes the time away from work all the sweeter.
Until recently, no one goes to college to become an insurance agent. Just in the past few years have universities begun offering bachelor degrees in insurance. Because insurance policies can be very complex, having a degree in insurance would really help people know and understand the industry better. Most people that work in insurance seem to fall into the business. Honestly for both of us, it has been a great career. When you enjoy what you are doing, before you know it 40 years have flown by! We have really enjoyed it!!
Love What You Do
This is an amazing business! We love coming to work each and every day. Talking to our insureds and saying “Hi!” when we see them around town. The feeling we get when we are able to to help walk our clients through the process when they have a claim is extremely rewarding. Sure, it is stressful for client and agent alike, but helping them get back on their feet validates that we’ve upheld our promise.
Being involved in our communities is also something we have always encouraged. We stress it is important to find something you are passionate about and pour your heart into it.
The Happy Ending
Our plan is to slowly fade into the sunset knowing our customers will be taken care of in the same manner they always have been. We have such amazing staff that we know, without a doubt, our clients are in the best of care and will be for years to come. The past few decades of successful business has helped shape the future. And the future is bright!