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by Ruth Scott

SBJ Contributing Writer

Helping people is what it's all about, according to Gary Gardner, of Gardner & Associates Insurance Agency.

"We get a great deal of satisfaction from helping people," Gardner said. Gardner and his wife, Jeannette, operate and manage the agency, located at 709 W. Sunshine. Gardner & Associates is an independent insurance agency, representing more than 60 companies.

"It's better to have more than one company to offer people," Gardner said. Gardner & Associates is also a broker, representing customers who are seeking the best insurance to meet their needs.

"This gives us unlimited access to insurance companies and products," he said, adding that being agent-brokers "helps us to build our business while finding the best deal for our customers."

The agency offers many types of insurance, including life, health, auto, property and casualty, and group insurance. According to Gardner, business has greatly increased in the past few years.

"I credit that to the people who work here. The agents and the secretary do a great job with customer service," he said. "By helping people get the best policy for their money, they are more likely to tell their friends and generate more business."

Gardner got his start in the industry in 1972, when he was offered a sales position with an insurance company. He had never done sales before, he said, but he went out one day with a manager to see what it was like. "I liked being able to help people and make money at the same time," he said, "and it grew from there."

Gardner worked for that company for two years before beginning to work on his own as an independent agent. In 1980, he became a managing general agent and started the agency shortly thereafter.

"I used to travel a lot," he said, "but now I mostly work from the office." Eight independent producers do most of the traveling now, working on their own outside the agency to produce business for the companies represented by Gardner and Associates.

Jeannette Gardner began by helping out with bookkeeping, then went on to become an agent-broker. The two enjoy working together. "My wife is my best friend, so it works out well," Gardner said. "We like our family-owned business. We're a close-knit group, and we all get along really well."

Many changes have occurred in the insurance business since Gardner began his career. "I've seen a lot of changes in health insurance," he said. "Hospital insurance plans used to be $300 to $400 a year; now they can be $3,000 to $4,000."

Auto insurance rates have become more competitive, he said, because more companies have entered the market.

"We deal a lot nowadays with people who have problems with their driving record," Gardner said. "There are a lot of companies offering different types of coverage. We use comparative rating to determine what's best for each individual."

This process is made possible by another big change cited by Gardner the use of computers in the insurance business.

"We represent 40 companies for auto insurance alone," he said. "We can put the information in the computer and have the results in five seconds. Without computers it would be impossible to figure quotes."

According to Gardner, recent legislation to regulate insurance agents and companies "has helped a lot." He also said that mandatory auto insurance in Missouri has been a positive change.

"If people have to show proof of insurance, it's better for everyone," he said. "The fewer uninsured drivers, the lower the premiums will be on everyone's policy."

Gardner added that he encourages people to be aware of what kind of coverages they have. "A lot of people get insurance and never really know what they have, what their deductibles are or how it works until something happens and they have to use it," he said. "We try to inform all of our clients and give them as much information as we can."

Gary Gardner owns Garner & Associates Insurance Agency with his wife Jeannette. He's been in the insurance business since 1972 and opened the company in 1980. They employ one full-time producer and several independents.

The virtue of being an independent insurance agency is it helps in finding the lowest premium for his customers. "We represent a number of companies in order to fit an individual's needs," he said.

They look at the number of people who will be insured, in addition to the usual information on sex, age, pre-existing conditions, etc.

Regarding the extent of coverage, "I believe it's important to carry a full major medical plan as opposed to a hospital medical surgical plan because they're usually limited in their benefits," Gardner said.

"They pay a limited amount on surgery, room and board, and miscellaneous expenses like tests, X-rays and lab work: anything other than room and board."

He also recommends that, in addition to health coverage, people carry life insurance. "I don't recommend that anyone carry less than $10,000," he said. "That's a minimal amount. If they have family, it should be a great deal more in order to provide for them."

PHOTO CAPTION:

Gary and Jeannette Gardner started their independent insurance agency in 1980.[[In-content Ad]]

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