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Dreams do come true: Schwartz makes childhood wish a reality with business

Press Photo by Virginia Grantier Kristi Schwartz, 53, of Dickinson, aspired since childhood to have her own business. After years of managing other people’s businesses, including years in Walmart management, she started her own insurance agency in downtown Dickinson in 2012.

Two years ago, Kristi Schwartz of Dickinson started her own business — fulfilling a childhood aspiration — with one full-time employee and one part-time employee in a 700-square-foot space in downtown Dickinson. And that space is now getting tight.

The Kristi Schwartz Insurance Agency, which sells Allstate Insurance, now has three full-time employees and two part-timers in the same space at 37 First St. W. It’s in a circa-1906 building she loves and owns but may have to leave because of how much the business has grown.

Currently, Schwartz has to share her office with the part-time employees. The rest of the space has two additional offices and one makeshift office — the room was made for a desk near the office’s front door. But there’s no door and no privacy.

So Schwartz, 53, is looking for double the space. She hopes to stay downtown, even though part of her, as president of the Downtown Dickinson Association, would like to see precious downtown space used for unique gift shops and such, instead of professional offices.

“I like the atmosphere of downtown,” she said. “It’s kind of where the heart of the city is.”

A childhood dream

Schwartz grew up in Sheridan, Wyo., and remembers as a small child wanting to own her own business.

“I knew I wanted to do something on my own,” she said, and was focused on academics, being a straight-A student. But when she was 14, her father, a house painter, died in a car accident and her mother struggled for awhile. Schwartz said she became even more driven to be independent and finished high school in three years instead of four.

“I like excelling at things, doing well, doing my best,” she said.

She first was an assistant manager of a convenience store, then manager, then Walmart hired her to be an assistant manager.

She did that for Walmart stores in Sheridan, Casper, Wyo., and then in Montana, in Billings and Bozeman. In 1995, she was promoted to Dickinson’s store manager and relocated here, a place she really liked because it reminded her of her hometown of Sheridan — albeit without the mountains.

Schwartz said she spent 21 years in Walmart management before starting the business. Her last two positions with Walmart were as manager of the Dickinson store for 15 years. Then she was promoted to watching over eight stores in western North Dakota. She said eventually the time spent traveling away from family was too stressful.

So she decided it was time to do something different.

It apparently was time to fulfill her childhood aspiration to own a business. Allstate contacted her after seeing her resume, she said. They wanted Schwartz for her years of management and customer service experience. And Allstate would provide the insurance training.

After training, Schwartz opened her agency in May 2012. She enjoys being her own boss, but also enjoys providing education about insurance and helping to protect people’s possessions and lives. Sometimes, they’re not even her clients.

Helping people out, even if they aren’t clients

An elderly couple in Bowman had questions about a life insurance policy they bought many years prior, but the agent had retired and wasn’t available. Schwartz drove down and spent time explaining the policy and their options, even though there was no financial benefit for herself.

She also enjoys educating people about insurance, even if they ultimately decide not to buy it from her. She said she just feels better knowing they know more. Many people don’t have a clear understanding of the differences between liability, collision and comprehensive, she added.

Many people also don’t realize the importance of having enough liability insurance. Having only the minimum amount of liability insurance required by law might mean that a client could be financially devastated, lose their house, have their wages garnished and so on in case of a death or a large lawsuit arises.

Having $25,000 to $50,000 liability coverage, for most lawsuits, won’t get people very far, she said.

In addition to auto insurance, the agency sells home and renter’s insurance, business, life and financial services.

Horsing around, cleaning up

When Schwartz has time to herself, she often can be found out with the horses. She and her husband, Randy Schwartz, raise quarter horses that have race-horse bloodlines. They have 38 of them, now, including the current crop of foals.

She said she doesn’t ride. She just likes to be out there with them, cleaning stalls and such.

And those stalls are probably pretty clean.

She also likes clean.

At one point during the interview, she saw a flattened white bag, almost the color of the sidewalk outside her office, and stepped away for several seconds to pick it up and dispose of it.

There have been bigger cleaning projects.

Last month, Schwartz’s office was cleaning Eagles Park as part of Allstate’s commitment to community service, which coincided with the city’s recent clean-up campaign.

“I don’t like trash,” Schwartz said, which is another reason she likes Dickinson.

Team that puts the customer first

Schwartz, who is secretary of the local chapter of the National Association of Insurance and Financial Advisors (NAIFA), said she thinks it’s helping her business that she knows many people because of her years in management positions and there is a level of trust there.

And there’s that team of licensed agents she has brought into the agency:

Schwartz said agent Dawn Boyd provides great customer service, is a friendly voice on the phone and helps people better understand auto insurance. Kathy Olin “wants to make sure every aspect of your life is protected (and) … brings a wealth of life experiences to the office,” Schwartz said. Lara Joseph is a “young, fresh, very positive influence in the office — always in a good mood — reflects that with customers even in situations where the customer is upset about something.”

Mike Hutchison, a friendly, helpful addition, brings prior insurance sales experience and knowledge, she said. And Bonnie Ness has years of working with a Montana insurance agency and is knowledgeable, friendly and “always has a smile on her face,” Schwartz said.

“All of my staff understand that the customer always comes first,” said Schwartz, who provides on her cellphone number on her business cards so clients have a way to reach her.

And that’s always a good way to clean up.

Kristi Schwartz Agency

What: Allstate Insurance agency

Where: 37 First St. W, Dickinson

Phone: 701-483-0760