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Northwoods signs management agreements with Southern Tier insurance agencies

By Traci DeLore (tdelore@cnybj.com)

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The Northwoods Corporation, based in Williamsville, is expanding in the Southern Tier with new management agreements with two agencies — one looking to grow and expand and another seeking to pass the reins in the future.

 The company entered into a management agreement in January with Michael Santore Insurance in Owego. Michael Santore, Sr. founded the agency 31 years ago, and his son Michael Santore II took over the business upon his passing in 2019.

“Joining Northwoods allows me the opportunity to expand the offers available to my customers in Owego and Tioga County without jeopardizing the personal relationship that has been key to Santore Insurance since my father started the agency in 1992,” Santore II said in a news release. 

Tony Vecchiotti, executive VP at Northwoods, says the independent insurance agency’s size and scope allows the smaller agencies it manages to offer more products and services to their customers. 

“It’s been a one-person operation, which is really hard to do these days,” Vecchiotti says of the Santore agency. It’s also hard for small agencies to find carriers they can represent, he adds. Many of the carriers have sales expectations that may prove challenging for small operations. But Northwoods already has the numbers to represent those carriers, he adds.

With those new offerings, Santore is staying on board and looking forward to focusing on growing the agency while Northwoods takes care of things in the office.

“While he’s visiting with clients and working with prospective clients, his phone is getting answered,” Vecchiotti says.

In the case of D.A. Wheeler Insurance in Bath, Northwoods has a vital role in the succession planning of the agency. With hopes of retiring at some point, and no successor to pass the business to, Wheeler reached out to Northwoods to see if they could work together, Vecchiotti says.

Northwoods already manages the John W. Taggart Agency, located just across the village square from Wheeler. In fact, Vecchiotti says, Wheeler reached out to the Taggert agency to ask about Northwoods, which started the process in motion for the 50-year-old agency. The two agencies signed the management agreement on Feb. 1.

Now, with Northwoods, Wheeler has the support he needs to take a step back from the business, but still be available to clients.

“Being able to serve the community with a hands-on approach, while also having the technology of a regional organization, is a win-win,” Wheeler said in the news release.

And with the Taggart office so close, “we can provide service at either location,” Vecchiotti adds.

Northwoods is now looking to expand employment with the two new offices. The agency already hired one person for the Wheeler office, and is looking to add another, Vecchiotti says. To help with Santore’s office, the company hired two people in nearby Binghamton, where Northwoods has an existing location, and plans for one more employee.

“In general, we’re always looking to add,” Vecchiotti says. The company currently employs just over 100 people across its 14 offices, which are located in Broome, Monroe, Erie, Wayne, Ontario, Steuben, and Cayuga counties.

Northwoods is also actively looking for other agencies to join forces with, Vecchiotti says. “We’re in a position where we are still growing organically, too,” he adds.

Founded in the mid-1990s, the Northwoods Corporation is a full-service management firm for a group of independent insurance agencies. It specializes in agency startups, working with owners looking to grow their agency, and those in need of perpetuation planning.