ADDRESS: 456 SW Washington Avenue, Corvallis, OR 97330
PHONE NUMBER: 541-757-1990
OWNERS: Peter Ball & Wayne Lystra
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 41
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 8 (in two offices, Corvallis and Monmouth)
WHAT THEY SELL: Insurance services
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: For a wide range of insurance services, offered in a personal setting to meet each customer’s needs.
You can’t get much more local than Peter Ball, who was born and raised in Corvallis. “I love the Corvallis community and the livability it provides,” explains this fourth generation Corvallis resident. With a focus on personalized service, Peter and his business partner, Wayne Lystra, pride themselves on making connections within the community. Whether a customer is looking to insure their home or business, or to find out their options for health insurance, Peter, Wayne, and their staff are eager to help the customer find just the right fit.
Peter, when and why did you decide to start your business? I was born at the old Heart of the Valley Hospital on Harrison, and I grew up in the College Hill neighborhood. My dad started the insurance business in 1951, and after I graduated from college in 1972, he invited me to join him. When I first started in the business, we were located at 311 SW Jefferson. My grandfather owned the building. My great grandfather started Ball Studios. He was an artist, and one of his large oil paintings is in my office here in Corvallis.
We have a second office in Monmouth, which we opened in 1998.
Tell us more about your services. What are your favorites? We’re an independent insurance agency, so we represent many different companies. We have a lot to offer our customers. A lot of agents sell for only a single company. Our advantage is that we offer a lot of different types—auto, home, commercial, health, and life insurance through a variety of companies for lots of choices. Most of our business is by referral. This isn’t surprising, since we offer personal service. You can do business locally or you can do it remotely; there’s no difference in cost.
What I like most is working with people. I do some personal health insurance work, but I usually do commercial insurance, and our office does all kinds of insurance. We’re generalists, so I’m really here to help whenever I’m needed.
Does your business fill an unusual niche? We do a really good job of focusing on customer needs. One of our specialties is churches. Corvallis is a unique community in that we have very few businesses for a population our size. We have a great job base, but not a large business base. OSU is not a business per se, although it provides economic stability.
What challenges have you faced as an independent local business owner? One of the biggest challenges for businesses in Corvallis is expansion and development. There are a lot of barriers. I was chair of the Economic Development Committee of the Chamber years ago, and I’ve been involved with land use hearings. The process is very cumbersome. It should be proactive to help small businesses succeed. A lot of the barriers aren’t things the City can do much about, but there’s a lack of focus in helping businesses. CIBA is trying to create a better relationship between businesses and the City.
Personally, I don’t have many challenges, but one has been the silver maple tree in front of my office that’s done damage to my building. I don’t want to sink money into repairs until the tree has been removed, but the City won’t let me remove it.
What do you feel is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for the local independents? Independent businesses define a community. They give us a sense of pride. If people are visiting, I take them to the local independents.
The future for the local independents can be good, since a lot of them are doing well. People gravitate to the familiar [national chains], so the independents have to work twice as hard. The more transient we are, the more we gravitate to the familiar. When people make the personal connections with the local independent businesses, then they’ll be more likely to shop there. Local businesses need to let people know what they can do, since a lot of potential customers may not know.
What is your relationship to the community? I was a founding board member of CIBA. I’m currently on the board of Cornerstone Associates, and I’ve been on The ARC of Benton County board. I was active in the Chamber, and, on a larger level, I am a past president of a state trade association, the Professional Insurance Agents of Oregon and Idaho.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. Support your community and buy local even if it is insurance.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – October 6, 2013)
The Local Business of the Week program is designed to help the Corvallis community identify our locally owned independent businesses by featuring one business each week. The program is part of the Buy Local First campaign co-sponsored by the Corvallis Sustainability Coalition and the Community Independent Business Alliance (CIBA).