Reliable Insurance has been in business for nearly 50 years. With that much experience, we wanted to find out the secret to their success. We found it with veteran employees and current owners, Steve Micke and Val Wojtysiak.
Recently, Steve and Val took some time to share a bit about their past and how they got started with Reliable Insurance and what drives them and keeps them inspired to continue in the insurance business.
Q: When and how did you two meet?
A: 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 when Ted 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. Since then, we have added two more locations – one in Hermantown, Minnesota, in 2011 and one in Superior, Wisconsin, in 2014
Q: What were some of your first successes?
A: We were a hometown agency that could help customers with their insurance requirements. It was in 1976 that auto insurance first became mandatory in Minnesota, so many customers were purchasing auto insurance for the first time.
Q: What were your goals and mission for servicing clients?
A: Back in 1981, everything was done by paper and mail. We would manually figure out what the cost would be. Customers would come in to fill out the applications, which were then mailed to the insurance company to be processed, approved and issued. Policies were then mailed to us to be delivered to the customer. Since there were no computers at that time, this typically took up to 30 days to complete. Over all the years and changes, our primary goal is still to take good care of our customers as efficiently as possible.
Q: Does that mission still hold true or have you made changes over the years?
A: Our goals and mission are still the same. Automation has probably been our biggest, most constant change over the years and has improved our processes for serving our clients.
Q: What are some of the best “Aha!” moments you experienced?
A: As our Cloquet location grew and we expanded our building, we decided to branch out to other locations as well. Opening the Hermantown office in 2011 and the Superior location in 2014 has provided more convenience for our clients.
Q: What do you believe is one of the biggest reasons you have been so successful?
A: Insurance is a relationship business. Getting to know our customers and understanding their needs allows us to provide the coverage they will need should something unexpected happen. We want our customers to know and trust us!
Q: What are your favorite memories?
A: Receiving the Agency of the Year award from the Minnesota Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers Association in 1996. Also, 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.
Q: What has changed the most?
A: Automation. 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.
Q: What are the challenges in today’s world of insurance? How have you overcome?
A: Getting people to understand that insurance is not a commodity. 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.
Q: What do you have to say to consumers looking for an insurance agency?
A: 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 interest.
Q: The next generation of agents is getting involved in helping run the business. What advice
do you have for them, building off your success?
A: 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 hoping they will keep that close-knit family atmosphere. We have always thought that sets us apart from everyone else. One of our mottos is Work Hard – Play Hard. We enjoy time together outside of work.
Q: Any other thoughts or comments on the insurance industry you would like to share? Or
anything about starting and running a business in general?
A: It is kind of funny – no one goes to college to become an insurance agent. However, insurance policies are so complex that there definitely should be a degree to help people know and understand the industry better. Most people that work in insurance somehow or another 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!!
This is an amazing business, and every day, we have enjoyed coming to work. We love talking to our insureds and always say hi when we see them around town. We feel especially proud to help walk our clients through the process when they have a claim. It can be an extremely stressful time for the clients, and helping them get back on their feet validates we have 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.
Q: What’s the happy ending to this story? In other words, how would you like to see Reliable
Insurance move forward into the future?
A: 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.