Independent, creative, and daring.
Entrepreneurs aren’t made, they’re born. For some, it runs in the family – they have that entrepreneurial spirit coursing through their veins.
Patrick Freer hails from a long line of entrepreneurs. Although he ended up getting a healthy taste of both, there was a time in his life when he had a choice between starting his own business or taking over the family business.
Freer and his brother in-law founded Snitz Creek Brewery in 2013 and operated it for six years, before selling the business in 2019. During that same period of time, he was also managing and running the family business, Strickler Insurance.
“That showed me what it’s like to start a business from scratch,” said Freer. “It’s a very intense moment when you make that decision. But it really made me appreciate insurance, its importance in life and business. Ultimately, everyone needs it. But it’s not sexy.
“Growing up, I would sell apples from our orchard, at a stand in front of our house,” continued Freer. “So that drive in me, that entrepreneurial spirit, has always been there. I’ve always worked, since I was young. When I stepped into the family business, there were great shoes to fill. I am competitive, and if you’re competitive in a competitive business, it tends to produce good things. But the Strickler brand allowed me to be successful early.”
Some 17 years earlier, Freer had taken over Strickler Insurance from his father, Pat Freer. At that time, he was living in Montana working as a fly-fishing guide.
But growing up, it was never a foregone conclusion that someday Freer would just automatically assume the reigns.
“Yes, it was a difficult decision,” said Freer, a 42-year-old resident of West Cornwall. “I went from the coolest job in the world to the un-coolest job in the world. I was young and I was a fly-fishing guy. Early on, there were days when I wanted to jump off a bridge, like ‘What am I doing here?’ Maybe I was taking myself too seriously. It was set up nicely for me, but it was never the plan. Not in my wildest dreams did I think I would be managing the family business.
“When I got out of college, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree,” Freer continued. “My parents said, ‘Why don’t you go out West and figure it out?’ My parents supported me 100 percent in what I wanted to do. We had talked about the possibility when I was younger, but there was no pressure. The opportunity came up, and it was great. I was fortunate to have a supportive family in that respect. My dad and I were best friends through all of this.”
Today, Strickler Insurance, which is located at 161 North Eighth Street in Lebanon, employs 18 people, services nearly 4,500 customers – the bulk of which are local residents – and maintains insurance licenses in five states. One of the oldest businesses in Lebanon County, Strickler Insurance offers life, health, automobile, property, personal, and group insurances.
“We try to provide a level of service that our customers want,” said Freer. “We do understand, that with today’s consumers, there is an element of immediate gratification. Insurance has been turned into more of a commodity. People may come for the price, but they should look for value. We’re known as a coverage agency.
“The idea of insurance and value is a struggle for us to prove and show,” added Freer. “We’re taking your premium and applying it to someone else’s claim. You’re constantly hearing, ‘your premiums should be lower’. We have to prove value. We have to show our clients that this is real stuff and real money. Our job is to help show value, to provide quick service and to let our customers know about potential situations and scenarios.”
Patrick represents the fourth generation of the Freer-Strickler family to operate the Strickler Insurance agency.
His great-grandfather Paul Strickler is generally acknowledged as the buisness’ founder, but the roots of it may date back to as early as the 1860s. In 1982, Patrick’s grandfather Pete Strickler relocated the agency from Eighth and Chestnut Streets in the city to its current location within the refurbished former Cornwall & Lebanon railroad station on North Eighth Street.
“The first day when I walked in here as an actual employee, it was a very proud feeling,” said Freer. “It represents the contributions our family has made to the community. This building really has a ‘wow’ factor, whether it’s a client or a carrier representative. It really ups the professionalism a notch. We mean what we say. We talk the talk and we walk the walk. The building is a reminder that we’re going to do the right thing, that we’re going to treat people with respect.
“Historically, insurance has been like your local bank,” Freer added. “You went into that place because that’s where your family went. As the population has grown, you have more of the national companies like State Farm. Then the internet comes and people can do things on their own, and it changed the personal insurance industry. It made it a bit of a challenge to compete. Insurance is absolutely something that you get what you pay for. As time goes on, people understand that less.”
At the end of the day, the local insurance industry is both competitive and a people-business. To stand out from the rest, agencies like Strickler Insurance rely on personal service, gaining trust and loyalty.
“We care about our community, we care about our family, we care about our customers,” said Freer. “When you have that mentality, you’re selling insurance to protect people, and when you do that, it doesn’t always come at the cheapest price. We’re in it for the right reasons. We’re trying to provide value everyday and trust is earned. There’s a reason we’re still here.”
With Freer’s young family growing at home, it may be that Strickler Insurance continues to come full circle. If there is a future entrepreneur among his children, the opportunity to pursue that spirit will certainly exist.
“There are a lot of different ways we could take this thing,” said Freer. “We’re going to continue to grow this thing and provide our kids an opportunity to be a part of it. At this point, we have a 12-year plan to grow the business. This building has tons of space in it. There’s nothing I’d like to see more than filling it with great people doing great things.
“I have wonderful parents,” concluded Freer. “They’ve always been supportive of anything that we’ve wanted to do. I think we’ve taken that approach with our kids as well. We want to give them an opportunity to know it’s here. If one of them chooses to participate, that’s wonderful. But we know they’re going to be doing great things.”
Because no matter how it’s manifested, that spirit is almost impossible to extinguish.
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