ADDRESS: 340 NW 5th Street, Corvallis, OR 97330
PHONE NUMBER: 541-757-1321
OWNER & PRESIDENT: Steve Uerlings
VICE PRESIDENT, HUMAN RESOURCES: Kristi Hart
YEARS IN BUSINESS: 102, since 1911
NUMBER OF EMPLOYEES: 21
WHAT THEY SELL: All lines of insurance
WHY YOU SHOULD GO: This business has a track record that is second to none in terms of quality customer service and commitment to the community.
With more than a century of service in Corvallis, Barker-Uerlings Insurance is dedicated to building relationships within the community. Deeply committed to “buy local,” Steve Uerlings and his staff serve the insurance needs of hundreds of local businesses, as well as providing personal insurance to many Corvallis area residents. In recognition of his commitment to the community, Steve was selected as the 2013 Robert C. Ingalls Businessperson of the Year during this year’s Celebrate Corvallis awards.
Steve, when and why did you decide to start your business? Our office dates back to J.F. Porter Insurance Agency, which was established in 1911. I started with the agency in 1978, when it was Cecil Barker Insurance. They offered me a summer internship, since I was a senior at Oregon State. I really enjoyed it but needed to go two more terms to finish my degree. As soon as I graduated in March 1979, the business hired me and arranged for me to go to Connecticut for formal training with Aetna. I became part owner in 1981. Cecil Barker was my mentor. He was the mayor of Corvallis, and he instilled a lot of community spirit in both the business and his employees. A lot of my involvement in the Corvallis community stems from Cecil’s influence.
Tell us more about your services. What are your specialties? (Steve) We sell all lines of insurance. We sell personal insurance, including home, auto, and life insurance. We offer health insurance for both individuals and as an employee benefit, including long-term care and disability insurance. We also serve the commercial sector, both small and large businesses and farms. We offer workers’ comp and directors and officers coverage. In terms of our specialties, we’re known for our coverage of non-profits and large corporate public entities, like the City of Corvallis and the City of Albany.
What does being featured as the Local Business of the Week mean to you? (Steve) It shows we’re a supporter of “buy local” and local businesses. CIBA is a great organization, and we’re happy to be part of it.
What does your business do better than anyone else? (Steve) We have very qualified staff. The quality of their education is impressive. Most have professional designations. And, of course, they provide excellent customer service.
What challenges have you faced as a locally-owned independent business owner, and how have you met those challenges? (Steve) Our biggest challenge is convincing other businesses that we can serve their needs—that they don’t need to go to Eugene, Salem, or Portland. In most cases, we have better pricing and better products. Yet there’s a misconception that we can’t do as much as large corporations. We do try to support the organizations that stay local. It’s a frustration for us to have businesses go out of town for their insurance. We have a lot of good markets on the commercial side. Take health insurance, for example. We know the CEOs of The Corvallis Clinic and Good Sam personally. We have the relationships, and that counts for a lot. Insurance is a relationship business. (Kristi) People can definitely get better service locally!
What is the impact of local independent businesses on Corvallis, and what does the future look like for local independents? (Steve) It’s unfortunate that we’re getting more competition from outside. It’s harder for the smaller businesses to compete with large corporations. It’s nice that Corvallis has a lot more to offer in the downtown than a lot of communities. The future looks good, as long as the small business community supports itself. If not, the future won’t be good.
What do you enjoy most about owning a local, independent business in Corvallis? What excites or inspires you? (Steve) Our clients! I enjoy working with our clients. They look to us as an advisor.
What is your relationship to the community? What organizations do you support or participate in? (Steve) We’re a long-time supporter of United Way of Benton County. We’re also a big supporter of the Boys and Girls Club of Corvallis, the Old Mill Center, and COI [Community Outreach, Inc.]. We sponsor a lot of events, and we contribute around $80,000 per year to local organizations. I’m an advocate for the local Chamber of Commerce Leadership Programs, a former member of the Corvallis Downtown Commission and on the board of Good Samaritan Hospital Foundation. (Kristi) I’m a former member of Soroptimist and Rotary After Five, a United Way Board member, and I recently joined the board of CIBA. We organize employee teams and give them time off for United Way’s Day of Caring.
Have you added jobs to your business? Do you think your employees are better off working for a local independent rather than a chain? (Steve) When I started here in 1979, we had 7 people, and now we’re up to 21. We added a new position 6 months ago, and we’ll be adding another in 3 months. (Kristi) We don’t have a lot of turnover. It’s definitely like a family.
(Steve) Once a quarter, our staff goes to lunch at a local restaurant, paid for by Barker-Uerlings. The management staffs the phones.
How important is sustainability to your business? Have you taken steps to increase the sustainability of your business? (Steve) We belong to Blue Sky and recently participated in an energy audit. As a result, we’re changing to LED light fixtures and generally cutting down on energy use. Also, we’re big into recycling. We shred sensitive documents before they’re recycled.
Please give us your one-sentence take-away message about your business. Our slogan since the 1950’s is “Keeping Promises since 1911.” It still rings true day.
(Interview and article by Annette Mills – July 14, 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).