Name: Wes Wenk
Hometown: Lake Bluff
Name of business: Wenk Insurance Agency
Describe what you do: We're an 82-year old family business and personal insurance agency founded by my grandfather in 1932. We try to keep people out of trouble by shopping for the best coverage solutions to any insurance problem they're most concerned about. Right now, long-term care insurance is a crucial part of what we do, and it is the kindest thing a parent can do for their kids (provide a way for the kids to afford taking care of them if they live a long life). I handle personal and business coverages and my sister Wendy handles the aviation insurance side. We're into our fourth generation now, as my son, Sam, and Wendy's son, Tucker, have brought us some youth and technical savvy! We all try to follow a really tough act, my dad, who has done it all.
What sets you apart from similar businesses? I think we're much better hand-holders than we are salespeople, because we have some third- and even fourth-generation clients who have remained very loyal to us.
What made you want to open this type of business? My grandfather lost everything in the stock market crash of 1929, and signed on with the Prudential as an agent. At that time, people were struggling so hard, but they would set aside 30 cents or so for their weekly life insurance premium so their family would have some security.
Why did you decide to open your business in Highland Park? We were in downtown Chicago until 1984 before we moved up to Highland Park, which was where the family lived since the 1950s. It was close to home and downtown Highland Park was undergoing a complete renovation.
Why did you pick this specific location? Port Clinton Square was brand new in the 1980s and emerging as the center of downtown Highland Park. It remains a hub for the city to this day. It's next to the train heading downtown.
What obstacles did you find when you started? Well, personally, my dad Chuck Wenk had sold life, home, and auto insurance to practically everybody we knew, so I was left with cold-calling enemies and strangers! Seriously, it was a big headstart for me growing up in an insurance family, and I am grateful for that foundation.
Did you make use of any programs or incentives offered by an organization or local government? As soon as we opened in Highland Park, I got involved with the Chamber of Commerce and served on the board and continue contributing to its magazine "60035."
If you could offer local officials one piece of advice to make their town more attractive to entrepreneurs, what would it be? Highlight the successful businesses that are already in town, and show how much fun everybody has doing business there, from the golf outings to the holiday events, because there are so many choices new businesses can make as to where they want to move.
What mistakes did you make? I tried to sell major medical insurance to a Christian Scientist. (It was a tough sell!)
What did you do right? I focused on finding solutions instead of working on sales pitches.
What advice would you give to someone else looking to open a business in Highland Park? Look how great your employees will have it being able to walk to almost any imaginable business, from shops and restaurants to great medical and dental care, and wonderful insurance people.
What are your hours/address/phone number/website: We're open 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. weekdays, 9 a.m.-3 p.m. on Saturdays and other times by appointment. We can be reached at 847-433-8370, or by visiting our website at wenkinsurance.com.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun