For those who know Jeff Reed as their “insurance man,” they probably imagine him as someone who spends most of his time sitting behind a desk.
But they’d be wrong.
A State Farm agent for 20 years as of this month, Reed is an insurance man. But he’s much more. And he rarely sits still for long.
“I’m just a regular guy,” said Reed, whose office is located in a 1930s Craftsman house in Old Town. “But I’m pretty independent and this job is great for that.”
The son of a longtime State Farm agent, whose sister also is a State Farm agent, Reed didn’t set out to go into the insurance business. As he tells it, he kind of “got into it by default.”
Reed grew up in Anchorage, Alaska, where his family moved after his father gave up farming in Idaho. His father spent a couple of years working as a State Farm insurance agent in Idaho before he was offered the opportunity to take State Farm to Alaska.
Reed graduated from high school and went to college at the University of Alaska and at Colorado State. He spent a semester at sea, where he traveled from Ft. Lauderdale to Seattle, studying along the way.
“I was 21 or 22 at the time,” he said. “It was August and I decided that I liked Seattle. So I stayed for the winter.”
By the time he was 26, he’d worked in the oilfields in Texas, earned enough money to buy a dump truck and went back to Alaska where he helped build roads. During a couple of summers, he went commercial fishing off the coast of Alaska. He learned to surf and scuba dive in Hawaii and even got credentials to teach others to scuba dive.
In his spare time, he jumped from planes, bungie jumped, and tried racing bikes.
Eventually, he made his way back to Seattle where he planned to sail to Mexico with a friend, but the boat wasn’t ready before typhoon season hit. So he and his friend were “stuck” here for the winter.
“We stayed because the weather was so nice,” he said, noting that winters in Alaska are no picnic.
He went to work for Frederick & Nelson department store. Eventually he opened a store called “Weather Or Not” in Westlake Center in Seattle. In the winter, he sold umbrellas, rain gear, and boots. In the summer, he sold sunglasses, flip-flops and T-shirts.
By 1990, he was ready to move on and began working for Domino’s Pizza, hoping to buy his own franchise. He had a hand in a couple of delis and espresso stands.
And it was then, that he and his first wife had a daughter and discovered that she was severely ill.
“It took a few years, but we finally got a diagnosis of Rett’s Syndrome,” he said. “Caitlyn was having seizures and by age 6 we knew that she would never have a normal life.”
The medical bills and his daughter’s future led Reed to decide he had to find a more stable, predictable career with health benefits.
“I tested with State Farm and did well,” he said. “But there weren’t any openings.”
It took two years but eventually there was a spot in Silverdale for a scratch agent, which meant he’d start from nothing and build his own clientele.
Although he didn’t have a lot of leads, he signed on. That was Oct. 1, 1993.
“I went door-to-door,” he said. “You couldn’t do that anymore, but back then it was OK.”
He also used the reverse directory and phoned strangers, calling them by name and making appointments to sell them insurance.
Today, he estimates that he insures a couple thousand clients.
“I’m not really a salesman,” he said. “I just like people and I like to talk. What I do is show people the opportunities and help them figure out what they want.”
State Farm offers home, automobile and life insurance. The company also has health and disability insurance and even has a bank that does everything any other bank does, he said.
“About 25 percent of the cars on the road are insured by State Farm,” he said. “We are the largest insurance company in the country.”
Although Reed is now a businessman, his sense of adventure hasn’t left him. He’s a runner and has completed more than a hundred 5Ks and several triathlons. He also ran the Boston Marathon in 1996. He climbed Mt. Rainier on his 40th birthday and he and his wife have rafted the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon.
And he likes to ride road bikes.
“Last year I did the Tour de Kitsap and in the process broke my collarbone,” he said. “That’s slowed me down a bit this year. But I still like to ride and I go to the Y(MCA) at least a couple of times a week.”
He can ride a unicycle and helps teach kids to ride them at Cougar Valley Elementary School.
He also has a grown daughter and son with his second wife and became a grandfather six months ago. His son is a Marine stationed nearby.
As for the insurance business, Reed’s glad he got into it. His father, who has since passed, helped him buy the house where his office is now located.
“I think he was glad I went into the insurance business,” he said. “State Farm was really important to him.”
Silverdale is important to Reed, too. He’s active in the Silverdale Chamber of Commerce and has been on the board three times.
“Back when I started with the Chamber everyone was in it,” he said. “It was the quasi-government for the area, since there was none. For me it has always been a way to give back to the community.”
He loves Silverdale because it’s like a small town. And yet, it’s close enough to Seattle if he’s in the mood for the big city.
And his business gives him just the right mix of independence and variety.
“Every day is different,” he said. “What I like best is building relationships with people.”
So much so that he still answers the phone in the middle of the night when a client calls.
“And it’s always the middle of the night when it’s a bad fire,” he said.
To learn more, stop by 8901 Pacific Ave., or call 360-698-8029.