There are many reasons why small businesses don’t always successfully pass down through the generations. Sometimes, no family member wants to manage the business or not everyone is capable of running a business.
This is not the case with Castello Agency Inc. in Zachary.
For James Castello, the decision to sell his insurance company to his daughter-in-law, Danette Castello, was a no-brainer.
Having a perpetuation plan in place was the first step in the successful transfer of ownership, he said.
“We wanted to do this on our own timetable and not have to make a decision in an emergency type of situation,” Danette Castello said.
“That’s not the time to think about your children taking on your company. We didn’t want that to happen to us,” James Castello said. “Before it became an emergency or something we had to do, we took the proper steps in planning and consulting professionals for advice.” In July, Danette Castello, who is married to James’ son, Andy, bought the agency from her father-in-law.
“We wanted to avoid those pitfalls so many family-owned and operated businesses face,” Danette Castello said. “It’s been challenging but very rewarding and also stressful, but less so if we had to make the decision in the event of death or disability. In the end, we’re family, and that comes first.”
Castello Agency is a 100 percent referral-based property and casualty insurance agency that was started by James Castello, an Ethel native, and his wife, Kinta, in 1982.
After taking an elective at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, James Castello said he enjoyed the way insurance seemed to solve problems for some people during a time of need.
“I enjoy being with a client and helping someone who has loss to a home or a business. That’s the purpose of all this,” he said.
After selling life insurance for three years, the opportunity presented itself to manage a small company in St. Francisville, which doubled in size under his watch. The success of that experience prompted him to start his own company, and from early on, the Castellos and their three children — Andy, Jason and Emily — were always at the agency.
“Many clients would come in and the babies would be sitting on Kinta’s lap or mine while we were typing policies, which we had to do in those days,” James said.
Andy Castello married Danette in 1992. After trying her hand at law enforcement, Danette helped out at the agency one day and loved it.
“She was the only one who ever showed a sincere interest in the business. She has a real empathy toward people and it’s why she’s so good at this,” James Castello said. “But all of our children have helped out here at some point.”
Danette Castello earned her Certified Insurance Counselor designation in 2012 and became commissioned as a notary public in 2014.
“We wanted to pass on the business while I was still healthy and could retire, so we had a family meeting and just laid everything out for everyone. No secrets, no surprises,” James Castello said. “It’s the best thing for everyone, and the entire family is on board.”
For the employee-turned-business owner, Danette Castello says she still learns from her father-in-law every day.
“For us, working with family has never been an issue. We still go to their house for dinner every weekend and during the holidays,” she said. “James has been a great mentor and teacher.”
For many in Zachary who know both James and Danette Castello, the change in ownership comes as no surprise. Both are members of the Rotary Club of Zachary and past presidents of the service organization. Danette Castello is on the Zachary Chamber’s board of directors and in line to be the next board president. James Castello is a past board member and president.
“We run our business like a family and have a great little team that works here,” he said.
That team includes longtime employees Debbie Smith and Shawn Bickham, as well as Kinta Castello, who is now retired but did the agency’s books for many years.
“If it had not been for Kinta’s support in the early years, the business never would have made it,” James Castello said about his wife and Danette’s mother-in-law.
The owner-turned-employee says he hates asking Danette questions concerning technology. “I just want to know which button to press, not why I have to press it,” he said, laughing. “She definitely teaches me things, too. I wish writing a policy was like it used to be, sealed with a handshake, but that’s not possible anymore, and Danette is more than equipped to handle all those kinds of changes and much more.”
Castello Agency has grown with the Zachary community and its residents. Both James and Danette Castello say that when they pass their clients in a store, they’re able to look them in the eyes, something James says is important to him and the legacy he’s leaving to Danette. “Sure, there’s pressure knowing you must remain successful and carry on what he built, but if you do everything ethically and up to the same professional and personal standards, it’s not that difficult,” Danette Castello said.
“I’m still here and will remain so until we find the right person to help Danette. But I feel comfortable knowing Castello Agency is in Danette’s hands. She has its best interests at heart,” James Castello said.