By Ray Linker
Observer Staff Writer
With no sales experience, Jerry Brookshire opened an insurance agency in La Grande in September 2001.
One thing he did have going for himself was confidence.
"You can make a business work if you do your research and are willing to put energy into the business, you can be successful," Brookshire said from his 1,200-square-foot American Family Insurance office in the Town Center Mall. He is in the same building as Klamath First Bank.
And he is not afraid to put his nose to the grindstone.
"We work many hours," he said of himself and his two licensed customer service representatives, Annette Rogers and Annie Morrison Valek. He is quick to give them credit for making the agency as successful as it is.
"We are customer oriented," Brookshire said. "Our regular hours are 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, but we take after-hours appointments. We've had a lot after 6 p.m., and we've found that people who make those after-hours appointments rarely miss them."
He added, "We take our commitment 100 percent to heart and give it all we can give."
It doesn't matter that he has no background in sales, said Brookshire, who for the six years previous to opening the American Family office was the district executive for the Boy Scouts of America. He left that position rather than move from the county as the Scouts wanted him to take a position elsewhere.
"We don't sell you," he said of how he treats customers, which he prefers to call clients. "We educate you about our product. We help you make the decisions about the insurance you need. We've turned away business because the client didn't want to educate himself about the product.
"We try to explain in detail the various products, from the very basic policy to the most complicated ones. We tell the client he or she needs to maximize their dollars to their best advantage," he said.
Other companies have comparable, competitive rates, he said, "but we take care of our clients."
The company writes a full line of insurance policies life, auto, home, business, farm and ranch, health.
"We have done absolutely phenomenally well," he said.
That is attested to by the large number of plaques and trophies around the office.
For 2002, his first full year in business, Brookshire was in the top 2 percent among 48 U.S. agencies in new business production, based on the dollar amount and the application production, he said.
Other national honors include being an All-American qualifier (in the top 20 percent of agents).
He was the state life leader, state agent of the year, district agent of the year, state agent of the month twice, state life agent of the month three times, district agent of the month nine times. The district includes Eastern Oregon and Idaho.
The company named him a Peak Harvest leader for writing polices on farms and ranches, a Gold Key leader for business insurance and a Life Diamond Club leader for life policies.
For being an all-life leader, he (and wife Jennifer) were sent by the company for a week-long vacation in Belize.
Fellow business people in the community thought enough of him to nominate him for business person of the year, an honor he cherishes even though he was not named the winner.
He is active in the community. Brookshire becomes president of the local Rotary Club on July 1. He belongs to a Lions Club, has been on the Union County Chamber of Commerce board for two years, is a member of the Eastern Oregon University Booster Club, helps out at the La Grande 24-Hour Relay and the Salvation Army food drive.
He grew up in Union and now his company is a sponsor of the Eastern Oregon Livestock Show. And he still helps out in Scouting, serving in an advisory capacity at the district level.
So, what can he do for an encore?
"I'm going to open an office in Baker City," he said. "We now serve Baker City on an appointment basis, but we will open a full-time office there June 16. I'll be in both places and it will be fully staffed.
"When people ask me if business is good, I say, No ... it's great' because it is. We have been extremely successful."