Clarence Heuer had to build his new business, an insurance agency, while people were struggling and business declining. Today, Larry is facing many of the same obstacles.
Fortunately for future generations Heuers, Clarence’s efforts opened a path for the family, who have proved their staying power through the years.
The Heuer Insurance Agency celebrates its 80th anniversary on Jan. 15, making it one of the oldest businesses in Sparks. The current president, Larry, says he intends to keep it going with his son, Adam, who works by his side.
“It’s almost a mindset to get up every day and do a good job for the people that have trusted you with their insurance,” Larry said.
Four generations of Heuers have helped residents and business owners protect their assets and in just a few years, one of the youngest Heuers will take charge of the business of selling commercial and personal lines of insurance.
Larry and Adam are fixing up their current space in a building on Vista Boulevard with some minor remodeling. As they began by trimming a desk to save on money, Larry explained part of the project is to prepare office space for Adam as an executive.
“It’s a lot of hard work with extra hours and dedication but in the end it’s yourself you’re progressing,” Adam said.
Adam, who previously worked as a metal fabricator, said he has watched his father advance the business over the years and learned the ins and outs of insurance and customer service.
The family history of the company is especially meaningful to Larry and Adam. Times may be tough today in the recession, but back in 1929, a man was considered fortunate if he could find a skill and start a business.
Clarence Heuer had the good fortune to open his own insurance agency. His son, Marshall, took over the business in 1956. Larry then became part-owner in 1974 alongside Marshall, his father, until his death in 1984. Larry currently has full control of the agency.
But the economic challenges are taking their toll on the independent insurance company.
“It’s very, very difficult. We have seen a tremendous decline in the amount of new business,” Larry said. “People are not buying rentals, they’re not buying motor homes or boats. And those who have them are trying to sell them. They’re not insuring them. The economy absolutely affects us. There’s a direct correlation.”
Larry said about 95 percent of his commercial clients are small-business owners.
“We have hundreds, maybe thousands, of mom-and-pop businesses,” he said.
Viper Steel, a structural steel contractor in McCarran, Nev., has been a client of Heuer for four years.
“They were able to provide the kind of customer service that we were looking for,” said Viper office manager Deborah Alamilla. “They’re great people, easy to deal with. We call them up and there’s no hassle. They go above and beyond.”
Alamilla said she wasn’t aware that Heuer would be celebrating its 80th anniversary soon but said that the family aspect would explain their friendly service.
For personal lines, Larry said, most clients have auto or homeowners insurance but fewer people are purchasing life insurance. And, of course, even those with homeowner’s insurance are becoming rare.
“A lot of people are losing their homes, which means we lose them as clients,” he said.
Looking to the new year, Larry doesn’t feel very optimistic about what 2009 might bring.
“I don’t know if it’ll get easier,” he said. “I feel good about what we offer, but I don’t think it’ll improve much at all, at least for a while.”
The company has many loyal employees, none of whom have been let go. However, there are two positions, one full-time and one part-time, that will have to be left open in the interim, Larry said.
“When the economy improves, I’ll give 1.5 people more jobs,” he said.
Larry jokes about handing the business over to one of his sons, Adam, trading in the challenges of running a business for more leisurely activities like fishing or hunting. In truth, he wants to finish his tenure with the company strong so that Adam is well-prepared to take it over.
Adam, the company’s life insurance department manager, is the fourth generation to head the business and said he enjoys what he does. Being part of the family business, he said, is special.
“I enjoy it very much,” he said. “There are trials and tribulations, but it’s nice surrounding yourself with the people you love every day.”