Don’t be surprised to hear Jim Coleman’s voice when you call his State Farm insurance office on Camino del Mar.
His staff handles most of the day-to-day particulars — one of the perks of being in business 46 years — but Coleman still relishes the chance to imprint his personal touch, even if it means some occasional razzing from long-time clientele.
“I’ll hear stuff like, ‘Oh my god, what the heck are you doing answering the phone? I didn’t know you were even still alive,’” he says.
Those are the types of relationships — personal, familiar — Coleman has been building since he started in the insurance industry four decades ago. After serving in the Air Force — stationed in North Dakota as part of the Minuteman missile program — he returned to his native California in the early 1970s and settled in San Gabriel Valley, launching into his career with State Farm. A dozen years there culminated in one fortuitous day when word went around the company that the agent down in
He’ll never forget the fine October morning he drove down Interstate 5, a trip meant to be nothing more than a quick visit to check out the soon-to-be-vacant agency.
“I remember it as clear as it was yesterday,” he recalled. “It was a crystal clear day. I came down off Del Mar Heights Road, I saw the water, all the houses, the community. I took one look and said, ‘This is where I’m going to spend the rest of my life.’”
The photos in his office tell the story of the lifetime since. Nearly every inch of the wall around his desk is covered by the collage of his decades in Del Mar and his devotion to the community he’s served. Padres baseball memorabilia, his love of flying, his grandkids. Friendships he forged through the Del Mar Village Association, of which he was a co-founder and 10-year board member. One photo is particularly hard to miss: a picture of Jim, his hair dyed bright pink for those three days in November when Camino Del Mar blossoms into the annual extravaganza of the nation’s largest Susan G.
“That’s my baby,” he says, beaming with pride.
His activism dates back to his days on the Del Mar Chamber of Commerce. It was the boom-time ’80s, a time when the chamber hosted one event after another at the Plaza and L’auberge, and even brought a Grand Prix race to the fairgrounds. But it’s the Del Mar Village Association that he holds as his greatest civic accomplishment, borne out of that fractious era when Del Mar was so sharply divided into the preservationist Greens and the pro-growth Grays. Seeking a solution, he and a handful of civic leaders came together to create a group that would bring a wide swath of the community to the table.
“What we knew was that we all loved this community,” he said. “We started from that idea, and made sure everybody had a voice.”
He still volunteers at DMVA functions and never misses his shift as a greeter at Summer Solstice. He also serves on the city’s business advisory committee and the advisory board for Scripps Memorial Hospital La Jolla. Add to that his role flying patients in the Angel Flight West program and Veterans Airlift Command.
For four decades, that’s how it’s been: Jim Coleman the insurance agent nearly indistinguishable from Jim Coleman the civic leader, his agency growing along with his community roots. The agency now serves 5,000 policies, from all across North County and well beyond.
The insurance industry has certainly changed over that span. In his heyday, he built his clientele by knocking one door at a time. Now, his four-person staff chases down leads via social media. The internet has brought an onslaught of competition and turned customer service into a 24-hour operation. But one thing technology hasn’t changed is the importance of attention to the details, no matter how trivial it might seem.
“We never lose sight that there’s no such thing as a little accident or a simple loss,” he said. “Our clients are people who understand that the best value is rarely the cheapest price. When they’ve got a question, they don’t want a call center; they don’t want to hear ‘Press 1.’ They want to hear a live person who knows them and who understands what they need.”
That mantra of customer service is central to his other great passion: mentoring the agents on his staff.
“One of my main roles now is to empower these four wonderful people to step into their own brilliance and greatness,” he said.
And yes, answering phones—for years to come.
“My five-year plan is that I’ll be celebrating my 51st anniversary,” he said. “I’m not going anywhere. That’s the beautiful part about this business is that because of this community and because of my staff, I have no intention to ever retire.”
Jim Coleman’s State Farm Insurance office is located at 1011 Camino del Mar, Suite 116, Del Mar, 92014, 858-755-6794, www.jim-coleman.com.
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