The Saleme Insurance story is that of a thriving family. As a third-generation, family-owned business, Saleme’s perception of family is broader than that of many companies, and includes their staff, clients, and community.
Saleme’s story begins in 1954; as a funeral director, James F. Saleme dedicated himself to providing care and compassion to families during their time of loss. Times were tough financially, so to support his family, James secured a contract to sell insurance, which marked the founding of Saleme Insurance. Initially, he ran both businesses out of the funeral home’s office, drawing upon the care and compassion he provided to grieving families to serve him in his new business venture.
James quickly realized that what began as a way to provide for his own family was also providing something valuable to others: peace of mind knowing their insurance would protect them if unforeseen events happened. Eventually, Saleme became Jim’s primary focus, and in 1976, Jim moved the Saleme office out of the funeral home to 509 2nd Street, Juniata.
With hard work and perseverance, Saleme Insurance reached an important milestone in 1982: $250,000 in revenue. That same year, Jim’s son-in-law, Gerald B. Hymes, purchased the agency, and three years later as growth began to accelerate, Jerry moved Saleme’s office to its current location at 11th Avenue in downtown Altoona.
In the early 1990’s, Barry D’Andrea was working for a food service company when he met Jerry Hymes, who sold him an insurance policy. The two became friends, spending time together socially. When Barry began looking for job opportunities, he heard that Saleme was hiring. Others spoke highly of Jerry and his business acumen, so Barry took the interview and began working for Saleme as a door-to-door insurance agent in 1993. Through work, Barry met Jennifer, Jerry’s daughter, and the two were wed in 1995.
“I like to solve people’s problems. Since insurance is essentially selling a piece of paper, I made it my goal to meet with clients in person to see what they do and learn about their lives to solve whatever problems I could for them,” Barry said of working directly with clients. “I love it. If I can do that better than others, helping our clients save money while growing a profitable business for our staff in the process, all the better.”
After the birth of their second son in 1999, Jennifer longed to leave her pharmaceutical sales job, which required a lot of travel. Jerry saw an opportunity to help his daughter by offering her a part-time job so she could spend more time with her young family.
“I continue to do much of the same financial and administrative work for the business,” Jennifer said. “I don’t have my license to sell insurance, so my role supports the work of others who work directly with clients, ensuring they have what they need to be successful.”
Barry and Jennifer continued to work for Jerry, growing the small business that started in a funeral home to the Saleme Insurance that is known and loved by many in the community.
Barry summed it up this way, “Saleme Insurance is a triple threat: people, product, and price. We have the best people, and we sell a premium product at a fair price.”
This commitment to excellence enabled Saleme to reach another important milestone in 2002, when they established a presence in State College by opening an office there. Liz Albert, Jerry’s youngest daughter, oversees this office, sharing in the family's vision of solidifying the business as the insurance leader in the community.
In 2004, Barry and Jennifer’s shared passion to grow the business led them to purchase Saleme. “Our dream is to leave Saleme in a much better state than when we acquired it. We would love to pass it along to a fourth generation and feel responsible for keeping it on a path to profitable growth for our families, our team, and the insurance carriers we sell. In 20 years, we see Saleme being a leader in the industry others aspire to.”
Clients aren’t the only ones who recognize Saleme’s commitment to excellence. As an Erie Insurance specialist, Saleme received the Sam Black Award for being in the top 10 of Erie agents for sales and profitability in 2004. In 2012, Erie awarded Saleme Quality Agent of the Year, a major accomplishment for a small-town agency. Saleme has also consistently won awards for growth, year after year.
Saleme’s growth has only continued; in 2017, Saleme had doubled their revenues in 10 years, and enjoys a 94% client retention rate. Barry and Jennifer attribute this success to their secret sauce: their people.
“Our clients rely on our people to do things that other agencies don’t, such as helping them file a claim rather than passing them off to the insurance carrier's claims adjustor. We have a low turnover and our team has developed long-term, trusted relationships with the people they serve, going over and above what their job description says. Some of our clients have been with us for decades and will only speak to ‘their person’ because they have developed a bond.”
“Our team rallies around families who experience loss, such as a house fire, collecting personal donations and helping connect them to other resources to rebuild their lives. We can teach people insurance, but we can’t teach them compassion.”
The most prestigious award came in 2019 when Saleme Insurance ranked 4th out of over 3,000 Erie agencies in the company for sales growth. The driver? People in the community are increasingly turning to Saleme Insurance for their insurance needs, recognizing the quality of the products, the fantastic customer service, and the savings they receive over other local competitors.
Defining success in the future means more than just profitability. Barry and Jennifer’s vision for the future includes building a happy team of employees who love their jobs and helping others. They want to create a thriving community for current and future offices, stewarding well what they have been given.
With a story that began in 1954 to meet a family need, Saleme’s story evolved into a successful business venture built upon the simplicity of the founder’s legacy: provide care and compassion to clients, treat them ethically, and exceed their expectations. While much has changed since James opened Saleme in the office of his funeral home, the Saleme of today and the future will continue to focus on these timeless principles.
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