when he would not have known
what to do with a computer in his office.
“Today we don’t need a file in our hand; we don’t need a pen in
our hand; we do it all on the com-puter,” Bob said. “It’s better. With the touch of a button, I can read the adjustor’s notes an tell the
customer what’s going on.”
“Another benefit that computers brought is the ability for a small agency to provide any type of insurance available and from mul-tiple sources,” Bob said.
By Angie Griepentrog
Working for about $12 a week in a small grocery store just wasn’t cutting it for one Freedom man. The late Art Coffey walked into a nearby Freedom barbershop in
1943 with practically no money
and a strong desire to do better for his young family. He walked out completely broke toting a box of papers.
The startup business expense was not a popular choice with his wife who was at home with their firstborn Fran, who came into
their world with congenital birth
defects and a lot of added doctor expenses.
The box contained a beginning insurance sales business that the barber had been experimenting with when he decided to sell it to Coffey, who basically started
from scratch selling policies door-
to-door. Art’s goal in buying the business was to create a job for
himself where nobody could tell him when it was time to go home
and stop working.
Coffey’s box of papers became an investment that led him into a higher standard of living for his family, and it continues today under the ownership of his two sons Fran and Bob Coffey. Coffey Insurance Agency from 1943 is now Coffey Insurance Services, Inc.
Fran said he feels some pride
that his medical issues might be what drove his dad to start the successful business. Fran was born with deformed hands and
feet and a missing leg bone,
which eventually resulted in an amputated leg at age seven.
Initially located inside the
Geenen General Store at the cor-ner of Hwy E and Hwy S, where the current Citizens Park is in Freedom. Coffey’s insurance business began as a local agency representing mostly the large
stock insurance companies. Up to that point, area policies were rep- presented mostly by farmers who were agents for Home Mutual, a small mutual insurance company that later grew to become Secura.
Art’s challenge was to convince potential customers that his large
stock company insurance was bet-ter than the smaller companies, therefore making it worth their while to pay the higher prices.
"He would go out to Farmer Jones and say ‘my prices are
twice as high, but we’re twice as good’," said Fran.
Computer technology is the
most notable change in the last 10 years, they agreed.
“Today everything is done on computers. Automation has been an extreme change, and it’s more important for the agents to be
there to make the difference,”
Fran said. “Today you can pick up the phone and get your car insur-ance, your house insurance but you’re just a number. We want to be here if you have that car acci- dent to console you.”
People repeatedly tell Fran that the human-to-human service that his agency continues to provide customers is much appreciated.
“I still kind of rely on my files a little bit. I still have the backups, but eventually that will be gone, too.” VanderLogt said.
Bob said he remembers the day
Eventually, Art specialized in insurance for municipalities and
school systems including Outagamie and Shawano coun-ties, the city of Appleton, and
local townships including Freedom, Vandenbroek and Oneida. In 1950, Art decided to build his own office building that still holds the business on Hwy E today.
Fran entered the Freedom business in 1962, after graduating
from Marquette University, and
Art moved to a new Appleton office where he took care of all
the municipal business there. As the municipal business became more and more complex, Art sold out and retired. He died in 1988 at the age of 70. Coffey Insurance’s current office manager, Cathy VanderLogt, started working with Fran in 1969. In 1972, Fran’s brother Bob entered the business. Coffey Insurance Services, Inc. was formed and operated by the two brothers.
Home, auto, farm, life, and
health insurance are all handled
through Coffey insurance
Services today. Fran is also a reg-istered representative for stock and securities, helping people make educated investment choic-es. Bob is a professional flight instructor on the side. Insurance is their main business function together.
“Today the agency deals on a very personal basis with our cus- tomers, any of which have been insured in this agency for 40 years plus,“ Fran said. “We like to say we do business with friends rather than customers.”
Staying small was a choice that Fran and Bob made for their busi- ness. The main focus continued on customer service, rather than on more sales work, which is common for most insurance busi-nesses today, Fran said.
“Probably the negative part is that we aren’t becoming the
largest company in the world, but we are very solid. We lose people when they die,” Fran said.
Bob said staying small was the greatest asset they could have ever chosen.
“Most insurance agencies have many assistants and few agents,” Bob said, “Here you always are talking to your agent. We love that close contact with our clients,
and we are intimately familiar with their insurances.”
Customer loyalty has been the result of a service-focused
agency, Bob said.
Above: Cathy VanderLogt,
Bob Coffey and Fran
Coffey are pictured Dec.
30 in the reception area of
Coffey Insurance Agency
on Hwy E in Freedom.
Left: The coffey insurance
business is shown here in
1945 attached to Geenen's grocery store on the corner
of Hwy E and Hwy S where Citizens Park is today.
According to VanderLogt, the smallness also makes for a com- fortable working atmosphere.
“It’s a family atmosphere. We
can joke back and forth about things.” VanderLogt said. She started working as a secretary
right out of high school in her beginning insurance career.
Over the years, the three have witnessed many changes in insur- ance sales including home com-puter endorsements, sewer and water insurances, and flood insur-ances added as banks started requiring it. A more recent option-
al terrorism coverage clause became available. Many insur-
ance companies started dealing with the customer directly, skip-
ping over the agent. Business accounts used to be the high pre-remium sellers, but now homes double some small businesses in insurance premiums.