Diel Insurance carries on 125-year tradition
The name on the letterhead may be different, but the professional and personal touch given to all of Diel Insurance’s customers has stood the test of time, as the business is celebrating 125th year in business.
While the business’s downtown location still bears the iconic “Estabrook Insurance” name, it was sold to Brian Diel in 2008. Diel, who had worked for the company since 1988, said he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to keep the company, which had been in the Estabrook family since 1946, locally owned and operated.
“I was and continue to be thankful for the mentoring from (former president) Tim Estabrook for the 20+ years that I worked for him, and for the Estabrook family having the faith in me to carry on the tradition of such a well respected insurance agency in our community,” said Diel.
The history of the company actually dates back to 1886, when a local attorney opened the business, then known as the “North Wisconsin Insurance Agency.” According to Diel, the idea of selling insurance was a new concept, and for many years, lawyers were the only ones certified by the State of Wisconsin to sell plans. The Estabrooks purchased the agency in 1946, and the family instilled a professional atmosphere, and a sense of respect for Rhinelander’s small town values, into all their employees.
“The biggest thing Tim (Estabrook) taught me was that, in spite of all the changes going on, doing things professionally and having the customer always come first is the key to success in this industry,” said Diel.
Judy Korb has seen those changes in the industry first hand. The Senior Customer Service Rep has worked for the company for 34 years, serving under three company presidents (Ed Shihadeh, Estabrook and Diel). She said the biggest change she’s had to adjust to within the industry was the transition to computers two decades ago.
“We used to have a row of typewriters set up here in the office, and we would sit down and type out every policy,” said Korb. “Now we just type the figures into the computer, and the formula figures everything out. We don’t have as much control over adjusting the policies as we used to, but the new technology does have its advantages, too.”
Diel said that the biggest change he’s seen in the industry is the near-extinction of small, locally-owned insurance businesses. The fact that many policy providers sign exclusive deals with large insurance corporations has made it increasingly difficult for small companies to compete. Diel said the only way for a small company to make it in today’s climate is to be extra-attentive to building relationships with clients.
“We are seeing these large corporate agencies buying out small independent agencies more often,” said Diel. “We really have to stay on top of our game to keep preferred contracts. Our focus is on building relationships.”
Diel saw the other side, working for a large insurance corporation, first-hand when he worked in sales for Sentry Insurance in Stevens Point before moving to Rhinelander. He said he disliked the impersonal nature of the industry, so when he saw an ad looking for a commercial insurance salesperson with Estabrook Insurance, he jumped at the opportunity. “I grew up in Niagara, so I’m a small-town guy at heart,” he said. “It was a great fit for me then, and it still is.”
Despite the difficult economy, Diel has taken steps to expand the business, purchasing the Dunn Insurance Agency in Tomahawk in January 2010. He plans to open an office in Minocqua in the next year, and then in Eagle River after that. “We see a good fit for what we do in smaller towns,” said Diel. “People in small towns are great to deal with, and they recognize the value of keeping their business, and their money, local.”