Business basics paying off for insurance agency

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by Max Marbut

Staff Writer

There has been at least one insurance agent in Jacksonville named Pierce since Harry A. Pierce opened his office in 1927. Today his sons, Harry Jr. and Tom, along with Gregory — the third generation in the business — open the door to their State Farm office on West Forsyth Street every morning.

When they close the door at the end of the day, it doesn’t mean they’re not working, it just means their phone will ring at home if one of their customers needs to file a claim. Harry Pierce’s home telephone number is printed on his business cards and on the hundreds of pocket calendars he gives away each December.

“And I forward the office number to my cell phone when I leave,” said Tom Pierce, who has been a State Farm agent since 1960.

They said paying attention to their customers’ needs is what has allowed the company to thrive for more than 60 years even during the current economic environment. The agency has written just two automobile insurance policies in the past six weeks. State Farm stopped selling new homeowner’s insurance policies in Florida this year because of rate reductions mandated by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. The company has petitioned the State for a hearing presided over by an administrative law judge and Tom Pierce said he’s confident that State Farm will be writing new homeowners insurance policies in Florida early next year. Until then, the Pierces work to maintain their current clients.

“We don’t sell insurance. All insurance is is a piece of paper,” said Harry Pierce, who joined his father’s business in 1948. “What we sell is service and that’s the key to our business. When you wake up in the middle of the night and your feet hit the floor and land in wet carpet, you don’t want an 800 number. You want some help.”

Both said they’re confident that’s the business model that will see them through the current economy. It has worked for many years through recession and inflation and whether the economy is up or down.

Tom Pierce pointed to the eight four-drawer file cabinets in his office and said, “That’s where all of our client files are. We know each and every one of those people and I can probably take you right to their homes.”

The Pierces also said having their office Downtown is an advantage in the current economy. In addition to being centrally located and within walking distance for thousands of people who work Downtown they own one of just two insurance agencies in the urban core, “And we invite people to walk in our door,” said Harry Pierce.

The two veteran insurance agents are looking to the future in more ways than one. Gregory Pierce is a third-generation State Farm agent with a desk a few feet away from his father’s and uncle’s workspaces. They are also looking forward to being able to offer new homeowners insurance policies as well as an improving national economy.

Harry Pierce can tell you plenty of stories about his clients after 60 years in the insurance business. One of his favorites is about something that happened just a few weeks ago. One of the Pierces’ policyholders had a small fire in her home and called their office as soon as she hung up on 911.

“When we got to her house, they were still putting the fire out,” he said. “Her neighbors were all outside watching and couldn’t believe the insurance agents had already arrived. We like to say we won’t get there before the firemen arrive but we’ll be there before the firemen leave. I passed out lots of business cards that day.”

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