The last three years have been the, “most volatile, impactful, and stressful,” for Christopher Togawa in the insurance industry, something he says stems from the rapid growth in the greater Seattle area.

It’s a perspective shaped by decades of experience, with February marking 30 years in business for his agency.

“I’m proud that we’re a first generation agency,” Togawa said. “Many agencies are not, and so building from the ground up one policyholder at a time, I’m really proud of.”

Though it’s been 30 years of independence, the past 13 have provided a completely different experience, he said, after he “hung his own shingle,” hired staff, added carriers, and moved to his current location at 222 Etruria St. in 2005.  

That said, he considers it blessing that he had the chance to learn the industry while exclusively with PEMCO, where he said he was given the opportunity to experience every aspect of the business.

“I was in a pretty safe place to succeed, and I feel like that program was a blessing because it really groomed you for all elements without the anxiety of having to sink or swim within a short period of time,” he said.

One of his key takeaways has been to surround himself with those that share his values, as opposed to people that merely have industry experience.

“I believed that hiring people of value — of core foundation value — was the better approach, because my belief is that learning an industry is a lot easier than learning core values that are critical to me and what I stand for,” he said.

In recent years, he said, it’s become clear that the agency is best served staying small. He compares it to going to a favorite restaurant; that being bigger isn’t a prerequisite to the best experience.

“I believe that staying there is ideal, because then we can keep a higher level of consistency with our branding, and what we stand for in our messaging,” he said.

Meanwhile, the biggest competition comes from what Togawa calls the, “1-800 experience,” and the way insurance is marketed, with a focus on saving money and the best price, as opposed to having the most well built policy. Rates also present a challenge, with larger shifts than in years past even for those without tickets and accidents on their driving records. That jump can lead to people willing to compromise on their coverage.

“The negative to that is that if your statistical risk is greater, and you’re likely to potentially make a compromise, that equation doesn’t work,” he said.

His ideal clients, he said, are those seeking a long-term partnership with an agency, and are willing to ask questions that help determine what plan is best for them. It may be a bit more old school, but that’s what Togawa believes many are looking for.

“It’s more of, ‘I have a partnership with an agency that has like-minded financial planning and risk management, just like my family, how we think about it,’” he said.

And after 30 years, can he envision 30 more in the business? It’s certainly not out of the question.

“This type of industry is conducive to working in it and at it for a long time,” he said.

To comment on this story, write to