By: J. Chevont’e Alexander
Meet Mr. James B. Coleman, Jr. He is a native of Ruther Glen, Virginia in Caroline County, a good “country boy” as some would call him. He is also a young African American entrepreneur, a father, a family man, and an owner of Nationwide Insurance agency located on Hull Street in the Manchester District. As the city of Richmond continues to attract new small businesses to the area with a focus on minority-owned businesses, Urban Views Weekly wanted to catch up with James Coleman to learn more about him, his growing business, successes and downfalls.
James lived in Caroline County until 1985, then moved to Henrico County. He attended Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Business pursuing a bachelor’s and concentration in small business owner track.
Why did you come to Richmond?
I always considered Richmond somewhere to get away. It was far away from home for me, but still close enough where I could come home if I wanted to.
What has prepared you for what you are professionally doing now?
All I have ever done is sell stuff. I used to be a salesperson for Cavalier Men’s Store, Morton’s Jewelers, and Finks Jewelers. In college, I remember selling door-to-door encyclopedias and Kirby vacuums. Sales has always been in my blood.
How did you venture into the insurance business?
While working at Finks Jewelers, my clients at the store always commented on my great personality. Some would call it the ‘gift of gab’. One of my clients approached me in 1998 that Nationwide was looking for minorities and they wanted to market more to urban areas.
I knew this was the right move for me because I was the person in high school and college that pulled a lot of people together. I always wanted people to laugh and enjoy themselves.
When did you decide that you wanted to own your own agency?
I decided I wanted to own my own agency when my second daughter was born. The life of retail was not appealing any more because it would take me away from major family events. I would have to leave my kids to go to work the day after Thanksgiving because Black Friday is one of the busiest retail days of the year. I would have to forego long family trips because of the hours of the job.
How did you come to own your own agency?
Oddly enough, I failed at running the business at first. I was not making enough money to run an agency. The Urban League of Greater Richmond approached me to operate the insurance agency and partner with them. Nationwide puts you on a 6 year plan with different goals for you to achieve. I was put on a 6 year plan back in 2007, and coming up in April 2013, I will hopefully be eligible to be an independent contractor.
So, it definitely sounds like the business has some ups and downs. What are some of the challenges and rewards of the business you are in?
The challenges of the business is educating the public about the importance of insurance especially life insurance. We have to protect what matters the most to us. People do not understand that when you pass away, your loved ones are still responsible for your bills, so you have to leave some type of money behind to ease that burden. Also, in this economy when funds are tight, affordability is an issue. So, people are willing to drive around with no insurance which is not smart at all.
The rewards definitely outweigh the challenges. I am the person that is there when an unfortunate incident happens and able to provide people with some type of security to put people back where they started or back where they belong. With insurance, it helps you to live comfortably and provides relief.
What is so great about the insurance business?
No day is ever the same. Everyone has their own story, and their own problems. As their agent, I have to understand those problems and issues to make sure they have the right services.
The business I have now is great because we have a small staff (3 employees) and we get the job done. My office includes Connie Laury, Associate Agent, Angela Powell, Associate Agent, and Terry Norman, Life Specialist.
What are some words of advice you can offer someone thinking about going into business for themselves?
Have a plan. Like the phrase goes; fail to plan, plan to fail. You cannot fly by the seat of your pants with being in business for yourself. Everything down to postage stamps, you have to know how much you will spend. You have to know where the revenue is coming in. Be prepared for emergencies, because they will happen. Also, know your return on investment. If you are putting money into something, know what you are getting out of it. And, finally no one is going to give you money without a business plan.
What is the importance of diversity in business?
Diversity is great because it leads to having a team with varied approaches, opinions, and skills. The results will be fresh and innovative to meet the needs of the public. In this industry, diversity is even more important because the children in the community are able to see someone that looks like them. African American males are not the majority in the insurance field, so it is a big deal for children to say they know someone that is up on a billboard or in a commercial. The community feels connected.
“I think by having diversity in business you are serving the mission of educating and providing everyone with the importance of insurance, which will help them see THEIR need for insurance coverages,” comments Connie G. Laury, Associate Agent.
What is your greatest asset?
This is a hard question, because you never think about it until someone asks you. So, I had to ask my wife what is my greatest asset. And, she said, my personality. I help people to see the positive in negative situations. On the business side, I am not a micro manager. As long as you do the task assigned, then you are good to go.
Who encouraged you?
This goes back to my early college years. Mrs. McCall was my Upward Bound instructor, and she encouraged me to go to college, and stressed the importance of education. She told me that I cannot go out in life without a plan.
Tell me a little about your personal family life.
I have been married to my lovely wife, Elsie for 20 years. We met at VCU 25 year ago… it’s a long story, but if you ever meet her, just ask her the significance of April Fool’s Day. I have two daughters, Jessica (15) and Jennifer (14).
What is your favorite food?
I eat everything but liver. But, my favorite food would be good ribs and barbeque.
What is your favorite hobby?
My schedule is so busy during the week and on the weekends, that my favorite hobby is relaxing at home, just good quiet time. I coach AAU basketball during my free time, so I love being around youth. But, quiet time at home with nothing to do is priceless for me.
What do you love about Richmond?
I love the diversity in Richmond. When I left Caroline County, all I knew was Black and White. The City gives you the features of a big and small city. It is big enough for entertainment attractions to come here and people to visit here, but it is still small enough where it gives you that hometown feel, where you know everyone.
To contact Mr. James Coleman, Jr. about your insurance needs, please visit his office located at 1420 Hull Street or give the Nationwide office a call at 804-231-2886.