Getting an insurance agency up and running requires a lot of planning, but continuing to maintain growth year after year is really where the hard work and dedication come in. Kelly Gonyo understands this first-hand. It’s been 10 years since she first opened the doors to the Blue Line Insurance Agency.
“I decided to open this agency because I loved insurance and I always loved business. Insurance was the first job that I fell in love with. I was fascinated by all the moving parts and how no two days were never the same. Mostly, I loved that I had the ability to help people and make a difference by protecting them with their insurance needs,” says Kelly.
Kelly spent almost 10 years in the insurance field before opening the Blue Line Insurance Agency. During that time, she worked her way through the different roles within the independent agency, while watching, learning and absorbing as much as she could to help her understand all of the moving parts of the business.
“It wasn’t until I was 32 that I realized it just made sense to put my love for insurance and business together to open my own business,” she adds.
Kelly’s first Lake Placid location was on Saranac Avenue, just off Main Street. She remembers it as being about 400-square ft., with a little bathroom. “It was a great space with just enough room for me to have exactly what I needed to do my thing.”
Like any new business owner, Kelly planned on a Grand Opening celebration, but before she could put those plans in place, she signed her first client, for auto insurance coverage, and she was off and running.
A lot has changed over the past 10 years. She’s moved her Lake Placid branch to the Price Chopper Plaza, in a newly renovated space in 2015. In October of 2017, she opened a second branch in Champlain, which was near her hometown. Her last big move was purchasing the Champlain and Rouses Point branches of the Chauvin Agency in 2019, along with the long-time staff that now serves a great deal of the North Country.
“I always wanted to be back home,” mentions Kelly, who was raised in Mooers. “I worked in Plattsburgh for many years before I moved to Lake Placid to start the business. It took me six years to open that branch back home, but that was always a plan from the beginning. My parents live there, my extended family lives there, it’s nice to re-invest, to not only invest, in my current community, but also my original hometown.”
This fall, in order to create more accessibility, convenience and better client care in that area, she renovated the Champlain location and combined the two branches into one.
Kelly adds, “The Lake Placid and Champlain locations are two completely different offices. Lake Placid tends to be a little more automated. At the Champlain location, there’s more one-on-one service, people walking in and sitting down, talking and doing business in person.”
There’s been plenty of changes in the insurance industry too. Technology has become increasingly interwoven into our daily lives and work, transforming the way in which the agency services its clients.
“It used to be that our biggest competition was the agent down the road, but there’s been a shift with technology and it’s now the online carrier that we’re all competing with,” she says. “I think we’ve done a great job keeping up with technology. We’ve been able to weave that in without compromising our love of focusing on our client relationships.
“We can do business any way the client needs us to and as an independent agency, we have multiple carrier options. You don’t get that with an online carrier.”
From beginning the agency on her own, in 2011, Kelly now employees eight staff (four in Champlain, four in Lake Placid) to service the personal and commercial needs of thousands of clients throughout New York State.
“Over the last decade I’ve been able to build an incredible team. I enjoy creating a thriving environment,” notes Kelly. “One of my greatest achievements is the team I have behind me. There’s no way I could have operated this business without them.”
Kelly and her staff continue to navigate their way through the COVID pandemic. Throughout the crisis, Kelly has adapted. For the health and safety for the agency’s staff, its clients and communities, employees have worked remotely, asked clients to call ahead to schedule appointments, offered “curb-side” service and installed drop boxes at the two locations.
Kelly says, “COVID has affected everyone, but it was a positive year because we were prepared to navigate through it and remain open to be there for our customers. As a business owner, it was also important to keep everyone employed, and I take tremendous pride in that.”
It’s impossible to look into a crystal ball and predict what the next 10 years will bring. Just like the first decade, there is sure to be changes in technology, the industry and client needs.
That said, Kelly is excited about the journey that lies ahead.
“Owning a business is a lot of responsibility. There are a lot of moving parts that go into this and at the end of the day, my decisions affect everyone. I enjoy that responsibility.”
She adds, “It’s a life investment too. It becomes your life; it becomes your love.”