Oltman Insurance nearing 75 years in business

Ed Chatterton
   O.L. Oltman founded the insurance agency that still bears his name in 1932.
   Its first office was on Holly Street in downtown Bellingham in a small space leased from Brown’s Beauty Supply Store. Through several moves and changes in ownership, the agency has continued to provide for the insurance needs of families, farms and small-business owners.
   Co-owners Marlo DeYoung and Dale Hendricks emphasized Oltman Insurance is not overtly targeting a “niche” clientele, but instead simply “doing what we are good at;” co-owner Ann Medina echoed this sentiment, saying the agency’s secret to success is working with the familiar and serving their clients well.
   Oltman Insurance is preparing for its diamond anniversary in 2007 as one of Bellingham’s oldest firms, as well as having no one named Oltman involved with the agency.
   The agency moved along with Brown’s Beauty Supply to Meridian Street, and has remained a long-time resident of the Fountain District. This Bellingham neighborhood features many locally owned businesses, including Griffith Furniture, Fountain Drug, and Cascade Pizza.
   Street parking, location, business longevity, and local ownership have all contributed to the success of the Fountain District, as well as maintaining a sense of the “small town” Bellingham once was.
   Donald Oltman took over ownership and operation of the firm from his father in the 1950s. Ben Knight purchased some shares of the agency from Donald in the late 1960s. Alvin Stauffer joined the agency in 1969, and bought some shares of the agency in 1971 after selling his farm.
   Oltman, suffering from MS, took a smaller role in the agency and passed away October 24, 1976. Pat Barnes bought into the agency in the late 70s.
   The agency, crowded into a small operating space, purchased a building at 2400 Meridian Street in the late 60s. The agency moved into the back half of the building, and opened Hall’s Bakery in the front half. Keith Cox was the first manager of the bakery; the name was soon changed to Fountain Bakery.
   At this time the agency not only sold insurance, but also license tabs, real estate, full storage lockers as well as doing income taxes for their clients. Diners in the bakery might find Stauffer, Barnes, or Knight pouring coffee during the busy hours. Knight and Stauffer sold the restaurant to Karen and Lee Walkup; currently the site is occupied by Speak E-Z’s, a New Orleans-style eatery.
   Oltman moved into its new offices in a 7,000 square foot office complex built and owned by Nick Tsoulouhas, the owner of Cascade Pizza.
   O.L. Oltman was originally an agent for State Farm and after a few years began representing Farmer’s Mutual. The agency began its long-standing relationship with Mutual of Enumclaw in 1941, and added Safeco in the ’70s, American States, and Uni-gard to its list of represented companies. Oltman offers not only a wide range of insurance companies, but products as well. The agency sells policies to contractors, churches, farms, retail stores, manufacturers, convenience stores and restaurants.
   The agency is currently owned by four associates; DeYoung, Hendricks, Ann Medina, and Ken Van Ry. Ms. Medina, Stauffer’s daughter and in the insurance business since 1982, has earned her Certified Insurance Counselor and Life Underwriter Training Council Fellow professional designations.
   Medina has emphasized the importance of customer service to Oltman’s continued success, and mentioned a recent meeting with a client whose association with the agency began with O.L. himself.
   DeYoung and Hendricks are proud of clients who are the third generation of family involvement with Oltman. While the agency’s association with different insurance companies does allow Oltman to shop for better prices and polices that can be tailored for each client, she acknowledged the agency has no control over insurance prices.
   Including the four owners, Oltman currently has eleven employees, with nine licensed to sell various types of insurance. Medina stressed the importance of each member of the Oltman team and has said while finding trained people is good, perhaps it is better to “train people in your own way.” Some employees have been with the agency for over 20 years, a tribute to a stable work environment and a sense of family and common vision.
   The ownership of the longtime Bellingham agency has adapted to the growth of Bellingham and Whatcom County while still striving to maintain its “small-town” feel. In 1996 Oltman Insurance bought Dean Morgan Insurance and inherited its business, clients, and two of its employees.
   Oltman has also recently purchased the personal insurance side of another local agency. DeYoung and Hendricks said that Bellingham’s population growth has been serviced by more insurance agents, and recognized there are “more fish, but [also] more fishermen.”
   Hendricks recognized this greater competition for insurance dollars forces all employees at Oltman to not take any business for granted, and to appreciate and respect every customer.
   Oltman Insurance in this respect is representative of smaller, locally owned businesses in the Fountain District and throughout Whatcom County. Customer loyalty based upon personal relationships and service is still crucial to business success.



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