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Only insurance agents' first steps were hard


© St. Petersburg Times, published February 16, 2000

After working 19 years in the insurance business, Sandy Gareau decided it was time to put her knowledge and experience to work for herself.

"Before we moved here 5 1/2 years ago from Long Island, my boss said, "Sandy, when you go down there, open your own agency,' " she said. "My husband had been pushing me, too, but I was afraid of the financial ramifications. I kept thinking, oh my God, how long will I be without a paycheck?"

But finally, last fall, she decided it was time to make the leap.

"It was a confidence thing, basically having the self-confidence to go forward," she said. "My accountant introduced me to a banker who helped me with the financing, and that was it. Once I knew I could get the funds to do what I needed to do, I said, "Okay, I can do this.' "

She found a 600-square-foot office in a building where she had worked a few years for George Fordham's insurance company until he sold the business and retired. Fordham still owns the property and buildings where his insurance agency had been for some 30 years.

"It's a great location for me," Mrs. Gareau said. "I live around the corner, so it's convenient and people know that Fordham Insurance was here for many years."

Mrs. Gareau said that with an investment of $13,000, she was able to equip her office with furniture and equipment.

She opened four months ago and said she made her first profit last month. She handles home, auto and mobile home insurance, health and life insurance and small business and commercial insurance.

"I've done very little advertising," she said. "I get a lot of business from Realtors and I've joined a referral service" and she has received a few jobs from her previous boss, Brown & Brown in St. Petersburg, the business that purchased Fordham Insurance.

"My goal is to build this to be the kind of neighborhood agency Fordham was, one where everyone knew everyone on a personal level," she said. "And if I need to go to a customer's house, I will do that."

Hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday-Friday, nights and weekends by appointment. The phone number is 394-9339.

Freedom Square has new executive director

Allen Bingen has been named executive director of Freedom Square, a health care community with a current roster of 765 residents.

Bingen, now in his 31st year in the health care industry, has been with the Freedom Square operation since 1992 when he became corporate controller for Florida Southern Management, one of the original partners in the development of the facility.

Three years later, Florida Southern Management was out of the partnership and Bingen was transferred to the other partner, Freedom Group, to run its corporate accounting office.

Then, when the development was sold to American Retirement Corp. of Brentwood, Tenn., Bingen said, "I stayed on to become regional director of financial operations," a job that covered a dozen facilities from Pennsylvania to Florida.

Bingen, 53, said some changes can be expected.

"I think that Freedom Square has been a premier health care community within the county for the last 18 years," he said. "We have to re-engineer ourselves because of all the new competition coming in the area. We have to go in and look at ourselves and make ourselves better.

"It means getting back to basics, trying to figure out what our customers really want and re-educating some of our long-term employees." The community has 650 full and part-time employees.

Bingen is married and has a son and daughter, both of whom live in Milwaukee.

Real estate veteran joins Century 21

Mitzie DeAngelis has joined Century 21 Real Estate Champions, 4350 Duhme Road, as a sales professional. She started her real estate career 22 years ago in Northville, Mich., where she worked in direct sales and then became a licensed broker specializing in corporate relocation and home buyouts.

She later went to work for AAA Michigan to handle its in-house relocation program and in 1992 was promoted to manager of the company's property acquisition and administration.

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