Independent Insurance is a Perfect Fit for Pine River – Pine and Lakes Echo Journal


PINE RIVER — In a world full of big insurance companies with seemingly endless advertising budgets, the town of Pine River is home to three independent brokers, one of whom thinks it’s no coincidence.

“Not everyone in this type of community likes big business,” said Tim Christianson, owner of Pine River Insurance. “They like to have options. When I bought this agency in 2006, of course we lost clients, but I still have a lot of clients from 2006, and then new business too, from grandfather to grandfather. son.

“You can see all parts of some families and get to know them a bit, including what grandfather is doing and what his grandsons and granddaughters are doing at school,” he said. .

Christianson thinks a small town like Pine River is the perfect atmosphere for independent businesses to thrive.


Pine River Insurance on Barclay Avenue in Pine River moved to its present location under second owner Pat Smith, of Brainerd Insurance Company. As of January 6, 2023, its location is still where Pat Smith moved it in the early 2000s.

Travis Grimler / Echo Diary

“Being independent, we have a few different options more than a captive carrier like the big players you see on TV,” Christianson said. “All I can say is don’t always believe what you see on TV or what you hear. It’s not always what it seems. With us having more an option, hopefully we can find a solution for most people.”

It’s been the pattern since the original owners of Pine River Insurance, formerly Bean’s Ameriguard Insurance. Robert Bean founded the company on the kinds of relationships only possible in a very personal and independent insurance company.

“My dad was a people person,” Robert’s son Richie Bean said. “He did as much business outside of the cafe and coffee shop, the golf course, or the high school event as he did in his office. He was truly a small-town operator.”

These relationships always allow agents to make the most personalized recommendations to their customers.

“Rates don’t seem to be coming down, so we like having options and like being able to help people save money, and if they have a fire or wind claim – and the hail has been huge – being able to walk helping them through the claims process and helping them to that end,” Christianson said. “If you like people, it’s a good industry.”

Robert Bean had many years of insurance experience, even before he and his family moved to northern Minnesota, almost retiring from the industry at one point.

“My dad worked for MSI, Mutual Service Insurance, which is now Country Financial,” Richie Bean said. “He worked for them for 20 years. He was Regional Vice President of Sales for the Upper Midwest. He did that for years before he had a heart attack and was semi-retired. They decided to move here, I think, in 1981.”

Robert Bean spent four years under Dick Sessing in Walker and Bemidji before deciding to become his own boss. At first, he ran the business from his home.

They then rented a space just south of the corner of Barclay and First Avenues between the Cenex and the old Family Dollar building in a building that Richie Bean said is no longer standing.

Tragedy struck in 2000 with the death of Robert Bean. Wife Mona kept the business going while looking for a buyer. That’s where Pat Smith of Brainerd Insurance Company came in.

“Pat came and bought it and moved it to the current location and renamed it Pine River Insurance,” Bean said.

In Brainerd, Smith was very active. He owned a mix of businesses and got involved in community affairs when possible.

“He did a lot of things and had a lot of businesses in Brainerd,” Christianson said. “He had a UPS store, a pizza place and the agency which I think had about eight employees when I worked there. He sold (Brainerd Insurance) around 2011 maybe.”

Mona stayed under Smith for a while.

Carol Windorski, an agent who has worked at the Pine River Insurance office since the Beans owned it, said Smith was a “crackerjack”, referring to his skills in the industry.

“My employee, Carol, was here for the owners before Pat and then worked for Pat,” Christianson said. “I’ve been lucky to have her with me since the start of 2006. A lot of people know her better than me.”

Windorski said the building was previously a Coast to Coast store. Smith split it in two, with a door on the right leading to a different business and the door on the left leading to Pine River Insurance.

While Smith owned the building, he met Christianson, the next future owner.

“My dad was a marketing representative for one of the insurance agencies we write with,” Christianson said. “He was good friends with Pat and I was able to work for Pat for a while. I would have liked to work with him for a little longer.”

Christianson and his family had emigrated to Breezy Point because of his wife’s connection to Longville.

Christianson wanted to make the same transition as Robert Bean, from employee to owner. On November 1, 2006, he purchased Pine River Insurance from Smith.

The personality of the community was a big draw.

“When the option comes up for someone to own a business with the ability to help people and be an employer in the town of Pine River, that just makes sense to me,” Christianson said. “The timing wasn’t perfect, but that’s how it is. I’m super lucky to have the employee I have. It worked really well.

“Pine River is a great community,” he said. “I like it a lot. The school is good here. There’s a lot going on in the summer. Winter is a good time. There’s a parade and the Christmas season and the people are friendly.”

Over the years, insurance has gone through a lot of changes and many customers operate without having a personal agent in charge of their accounts. Bean and Christianson said there are some inherent drawbacks to doing business this way.

“Part of it is because your agent will bat for you,” Bean said. “Some big companies, if you have an accident, you’re kind of on your own, especially in online ones where no agent is involved. You kind of have to fight on your own with some insurance.

“With an agent, a good agent will stand by your side, push back and work with you against the company and the pundits,” he said.

The personal, face-to-face service of an independent insurance company remains a big part of what makes Pine River Insurance a good choice for the community. Pine River is home to three such agencies (Hanneken Insurance Agency, Cass Company Insurance, and Pine River Insurance), which Christianson considers a positive thing.

“I think it’s a better fit for a small town,” Christianson said. “There are three independent agencies in Pine River. We’re not necessarily fighting for the same clients, but the competition is good. It gives people more freedom and more options too. To make sure their agent does what’s best for them.”

Reflecting, Bean congratulated the city’s three independent businesses.

“It was one of those little city stores that really disappeared,” Bean said. “I’m not taking anything away from the three there, they’re still doing a really good job and sticking to it, but the insurance has changed so much it’s hard to do that.

“In my opinion, they do a great job of keeping in touch with the community,” he said.

Travis Grimler is a weekly editor for the Pineandlakes Echo Journal in Pequot Lakes/Pine River. He can be reached at 218-855-5853 or [email protected]

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