Story by Sara E. Teller
Photos by Ed Abeska
Marty O’Neill spent most of his early career life working in the automotive industry. “I worked primarily in account management for component manufacturers supplying the Big Three,” he says. However, his State Farm Agent, Dave Arce, would eventually change all that. “Dave talked to me about the opportunity to open my own agency. He said State Farm was looking for entrepreneurs with sales experience who wanted to be their own business owner.”
Marty was married with four kids and needed to be able to put food on the table. He also had no prior experience in the insurance industry. The decision to change careers was risky, but he was up for the challenge. “I was in my mid-30s, and felt if I was going to make a bold career move, now was the time. Dave introduced me to the area manager and set the process in motion.”
Each State Farm Agency is owned by the agent, who then employs a team he or she determines to be the best for the agency. Since State Farm follows strict policies and specific criteria for the agency role, the process of becoming certified and proving he had what it takes would prove cumbersome. “The process was long and difficult. State Farm is very serious and protective of the Agency Role and takes careful measures when selecting agents,” Marty explains. “After numerous evaluations and interviews, however, I was selected and was asked to open a ‘new market agency’ in Ferndale.” A new market agent is an agent who starts scratch, without an established location and without any customers. “I had to grow my agency from the ground up,” he says.
Marty opened the Ferndale location in December 2006, and by the end of the first day the branch had their first client. “Since then we have helped thousands of clients and have been recognized by State Farm for our work and commitment to Ferndale.” Marty appreciates the opportunity to work with the Ferndale community specifically. “I couldn’t ask for a better place for my business than Ferndale,” he says. “Every time I’m around anyone who will listen I brag about Ferndale.” He claims the insurance business is strong in the area and everyone on his team is driven to succeed. Ferndale’s diverse customer base also keeps the day-to-day interesting and exciting. “My favorite thing about Ferndale is the diversity,” Marty says, adding it gives him “great options as a businessperson.” His team is afforded the unique experience of being able to work with all kinds of people, building long-lasting relationships with residents and a repeat customer base.
This year marks the Ferndale location’s ten-year business anniversary. Marty discusses some of the high and lows his team has experienced over the past ten years. “When we opened, it was rough. Starting a business is difficult. You make so many mistakes. Those mistakes are great learning tools but they are expensive. They cost time and money,” he explains. “We also opened just before the economic slide of 2008 and 2009. Our clients were moving away, losing jobs, having their houses foreclosed. It was hard. But we found that helping people during these times helped us get closer to our customers and helped us make long lasting relationships that we still have today.”
The Ferndale location has grown and evolved since the early days. The team has learned from the tough years, and has had many uplifting experiences as well. There will always be challenges in the insurance industry, which by its very definition is unpredictable. “We have seen people go through some major challenges. We have had clients hurt in car accidents. I’ve been called several times at night because a house caught on fire. Our clients have passed away,” Marty says. “However, the satisfaction of helping someone who has lost their home, or handing a check to some whose spouse has passed away, makes doing what we do worth it.”
Marty is also thankful for Ferndale’s office manager, Julie Toggweiler. “The highlight of the past ten years was finding Julie,” he says. “Julie is the heart and soul of the agency.
We would have never had made it this far without her.”
Future goals for the Ferndale branch include continuing to offer the best prices possible to patrons and keeping pace with a fast-moving industry. “Every two minutes there is a commercial telling people they can save money in fifteen minutes. Our job is to make sure that our clients are not only getting the best price possible, but also getting the service they need,” Marty explains, adding, “An insurance policy is only a piece of paper with a promise written on it. The promise we make is that if something bad happens we will be there to help.”