It was just lunch, or so he thought. When Zachary Campbell sat down to have lunch at a café inside the local gym when the gym owner approached. The owner asked Campbell how things were going and where he was working. “Then he said ‘Would you be interested in a job in insurance?’”

That gym owner was also the owner of RMD Patti Insurance Agency, where Campbell is now a producer. It wasn’t an immediate sell, says Campbell. “I said I didn’t know anything about it and never worked in it before. I thought about it for a while, then I got back to him. We had a couple of meetings and then they offered me a job.”

That was nearly two years ago. Now the 28-year-old agent is delivering results for his agency, located in Richmond, Indiana. In fact, his results are consistent enough for Campbell to have been awarded Agent of the Month five times in 2015 and Agent of the Year that same year.

Despite such success, Campbell says he and other young agents face a pretty hefty challenge. Campbell, who himself is the youngest agent in his office, says his generation has to overcome some common stereotypes — one of which he says it has earned. “I’ll be the first to admit it; my generation is lazy. They want handouts and don’t want to work for anything.”

He uses a local fast-food restaurant as an example. He says the owner was having difficulty keeping employees, losing three or four per week. Campbell says that’s his generation’s laziness. While he says the insurance industry tends to attract people who are self-motivating like he is, he says of his own agency: “I think they were kind of glad to find me.”

A generation’s laziness, perceived or real, is a tough image to counter when you’re one of many young agents who are poised to replace older agents approaching retirement. He says because he is young, many of his customers, particularly those in his commercial line of business, don’t trust that he knows what to do. “They want to see how long I’m going to stay in the business,” Campbell says. “’Well, he’s been here two years — let’s see if he’s still in it in 10 years.’ Being young can be tough sometimes, especially with the older generation.” 

Hometown challenges

Another challenge Campbell faced was his geography. Richmond, he says, has a population of approximately 35,000 people, which he says makes it tough to find new clients. It’s a town that has seen its share of loss — the population that once was nearly 70,000 residents dwindled after Campbell says manufacturing went overseas.

Business has grown exceptionally well so far, he says. He credits that to the time he puts in and out of the office. His clients, he says, won’t come to him, and he knows that he, like most agents, needs to come out from behind the desk and build name recognition. “You have to get face-to-face with them.” He attends local events regularly and introduces himself.

It must be working. So far in 2016, Campbell is on track to exceed his annual office goal. He says that’s due in part to the fact that he added a commercial producer’s license.

Industry challenges

Even so, Campbell says there are industry challenges that all agents tend to face, once of which is a surprisingly frequent turnover in underwriters. “We’re getting a lot of different underwriters and that can be a real challenge. One underwriter might go strictly by the book, while another might be a bit more lenient. You start to know your different company underwriters and then boom — a different underwriter shows up.”

That’s difficult, he says, because now he as a producer has to establish and nurture another relationship and get to know another underwriter’s style and preferences. The insurers don’t mention where the last underwriter went, which is unsettling, he says. Unsettling as well are the number of times Campbell has seen new underwriters in the two years he’s been in the business.

Yet Campbell says it’s part of the job to build relationships no matter what the situation is. He says for his commercial clients, it’s even more critical to have that relationship so that should they shop around, they’d reconsider switching coverage based solely on price. The same goes for personal lines, he says, though he believes the challenge is even tougher as many individuals do make decisions based on price alone.

Campbell says those relationships will make the difference in the tough times when premiums rise and coverage softens. Young agents just starting out should focus primarily on building those relationships. “Have a relationship with your customer,” he says. “Get out there in the community and go to any kind of event you can. If you just sit in an office all day and you’re behind a computer, nobody knows who you are. You’re not going to write any accounts that way. Your customers want to know you’re going to be there.”

They also want to know they’re dealing with a professional, Campbell adds. “You have to know what you’re talking about,” he says. That means agents should know their products before ever talking with a customer. When customers ask questions, he says, they want to know that the answer their young agent gives them is one they can have confidence in. That’s something only knowledge in the products and coverage options will convey, he adds.

Maybe the larger part of why his agency is happy to have Campbell is his attitude toward the job. “I wanted to be an agent because I like helping people. There are a lot of agents who don’t truly care about protecting their clients. My simple motto is this: I save lives, help prevent injury and illness, and help my clients avoid financial hardship. At the end of the day when I can help a client, it makes me feel good knowing I did my job.”

Know a great young advisor who is making a difference in the industry? Nominate them to be featured in The Succession Initative or LifeHealthPro’s 30 under 30 feature by emailing kbeckman@alm.com.

Related: 30 under 30: Meet the millennials who are transforming the insurance industry