By Michael Mink, Mink Business Communications
Wendy Baker keeps it simple when it comes to her clients.
“They come first,” said the co-founder of B.W. Baker Insurance Services, along with husband Bart.
When they started their agency some 30 years ago, Bart Baker was still a full-time firefighter. So it was Wendy who was running the agency when her husband was on-duty.
Her networking skills brought in their very first customer and the next 300.
Charley Beals, B.W. Baker’s former district manager for Farmers Insurance, who then became an agent himself, recalls the advice Wendy gave him when he was beginning that phase.
“I had Bart and Wendy at dinner, and I asked Wendy what do I do, how do I start? She told me, `Charley you get the first client and you just wrap your arms around them, you take good care of them, and treat them like family, and then you do the same for the next person.’ “That’s what we’ve done. It’s pretty much the foundation of our agency, and it was great advice.”
It’s the way Wendy and Bart have always done business. “We truly treat our customers like royalty from the moment they walk in the door, or call in on the phone; we take care of our clients and are both kind and respectful of their needs,” Wendy Baker said.
B.W. Baker has won all of the most prestigious awards Farmers Insurance has to offer for agency production, which encompasses customer service, numerous times. B.W. Baker has 7,000 policies in force and does north of $20 million in annual premiums.
Experience Is The Best Teacher
Part of the way they’ve accomplish that in addition to courtesy, is with a high attention to detail. “With 30 years in business, we’re faced with all sorts of unique situations in our office,” Wendy Baker said. “We want to learn, so we strive to keep ourselves educated and on top of the changes going on in our industry. We go to conferences and keep in touch with other insurance professionals.”
“Bart and Wendy have always taken the time to really explain every detail and every aspect of the policies that I have acquired,” said client Patricia Palafox, who has been with the agency almost four years. “It’s a really good feeling that you can trust your agent and you are getting not only a good value for what you are buying, but a whole experience and understanding of the policies themselves.”
“Wendy and Bart are like dealing with family,” said long time B.W. Baker client Lynn Vinnedge.
Son Brian Baker, who is a Personal Lines Producer for B.W. Baker, says of his mom: “She brings that mother feel to the office and creates a personal connection with all employees and clients. There is nothing she would not do to help those around her.”
Besides the technical features of insurance coverage, there’s also a holistic aspect for clients to understand, Wendy Baker says. “We frequently deal with clients who have negative issues with insurance because they don’t understand it, and they need to be educated as to the advantages of being properly covered rather than underinsured with more liability exposure.
“We also have to educate some of our clients who are shopping around for a lower premium, but don’t realize that also typically means a product of lesser value. We are not solely about price; we’re about offering a great quality product at the right price.”
A Long And Fruitful Road
Wendy and Bart, both born and raised in Los Angeles, met when they were 12 years old. They were both at the same restaurant, playing in its ponds. By 21, they were married with the first of their three children.
“It was always meant to be,” Wendy said.
Bart says of Wendy “she’s the joy of my life and the best friend and partner a man could want.”
Wendy had a vision for their young family: “I thought what better place to live than in Malibu, by the ocean and away from the city. I felt that it’s a healthy environment, so we packed up and moved there.”
Once settled, Wendy owned and operated Malibu Maid service while Bart ran B.W. Baker Attorney service and had just sold his natural fast food restaurant, `McNaturals’. They were making ends meet for their growing family and extremely modest residence they were renting, but just barely.
Bart then submitted an application to the Los Angeles County Fire Department and within six months was hired, in 1983. With a fireman’s schedule of only having to work 10 days a month, albeit 24 hour shifts, he kept his eyes open for another opportunity. He found it in a magazine; an ad about owning an insurance agency.
“At first I thought it was way out there, considering we already had other businesses and Bart’s career,” she recalls. “But then in rethinking it, I believed it would be a good adventure, and a nice way to make a good income to raise our family, and then I was on board all the way.”
Balancing Being A Mom And A Business Woman
With Bart being a full-time fireman, Wendy’s business acumen and work ethic acquired at her young age was vital to getting their business off the ground.
“When you first start out in the insurance business, you don’t make a lot of money, so we needed the extra income,” she said. “But then, as we increased our income in the insurance business, we were able to phase out and sell the other businesses.”
B.W. Baker began as a scratch agency, meaning one started without any existing clients. The agency offers all lines of insurance for personal and commercial needs, including auto, home, health, umbrella, and life policies.
As a committed young mom, Baker became very involved with the Malibu community as her three children grew. She was a Cub Scout Master, on the P.T.A for over 20 years, Girl Scout leader, room mother, and involved in water polo. She also created the tennis tournament for Malibu High School, helped out with Little League, T-Ball, and Swim Team.
She found there was an unintended residual effect: “Just through doing those things I earned the trust of our community. I would have done those things anyway, but it’s so great that they all ended up supporting our new business efforts as well.”
She says Malibu isn’t an easy community to start a business like insurance. In addition to showing staying power, “you have to earn their respect, before they will trust you enough to do any kind of financial business with you.”
From the onset she took charge of company finances and when they started to add employees, she headed human resources. Although fully licensed to sell insurance, her focus has been on networking and bringing in the people that Bart then helps in creating the right coverage for to earn their business.
“I’ve learned to be very supportive and to compromise a lot, to take my responsibilities very seriously so that Bart could flourish in his areas of responsibilities in our business,” she says. “I felt that it was important for me to learn to step away at times, and to be motivating at other times.”
“She just did and did it all with fun and enjoyment,” Brian Baker said. “I never knew she was stressed or too busy for me as a kid. I always felt like she was there for me even while running the maid service, agency, and raising my sisters and me. In addition to the help she did for her extended family. I had the most friends and was popular throughout my childhood partially due to her ways.”
A long time ago when Baker was a Mary Kay Beauty Consultant and make-up artist, she discovered Norman Vincent Peale’s book “The Power of Positive Thinking,”
“I’d say that ever since, that book has been my mentor, my guide to the way my thought process works,” she says. Baker not only exudes that, but uses it as the impetus of training and motivating B.W. Baker’s 15 person staff. She strives to serve clients by being very consistent in everything they do.
“My mother is the definition of a boss lady who does what it takes and does everything with a positive attitude,” Brian Baker said.
“If you keep your thinking positive, you will have more positive, peaceful outcomes,” Wendy Baker says. “Negative thoughts do come into play, but if you are a powerful positive thinker, you can put them into perspective and use them as a tool, to help you recognize how to become even more positive about the situation at hand.”
She credits that kind of thinking with helping her and Bart get the agency off the ground. “We had to be in the mind space that we were already a successful, busy agency, when we weren’t,” she said. “We wanted our new clients to believe that we were already successful, already busy, which worked out very quickly. Before we knew it, in just a year’s time, we had one full file cabinet of clients.
B.W. Baker’s success has yielded an important life lesson for her:
“Whatever you want to do, you can do, and you just have to allow yourself to dream big and to believe in your dreams. I’ve always had big dreams, and I’m not afraid to take chances in order to grow and improve myself, which is something that Bart and I share in common.”
Making A Difference
The Bakers are long-time supporters of local charities, including The Lighthouse Women & Children Emergency Shelter, The Boys & Girls Club of Malibu, and Malibu Urgent Care.
“It’s very important to me to give back to the community,” Wendy Baker said. “I believe in helping people that have been less fortunate. I learn from them, it feels right and it’s the right thing to do.”
As a company she says B. W. Baker’s core values are “to properly insure our clients, to volunteer in our community, to remain grateful for what we do, and to continue to treat everyone with kindness and care.”
©Copyright 2017 B.W. Baker Insurance Services, Michael Mink/ Mink Business Communications. All Rights reserved.