On a recent Monday morning, lifelong Mattituck resident Peter Swahn got in his car and began driving toward Riverhead. His intended destination was his eponymous insurance agency, which had called 310 East Main St. home since 1962.
It wasn’t until he reached Laurel that he realized he was headed in the wrong direction. The Swahn Insurance Agency closed its doors last month — a reality its longtime owner had briefly forgotten.
“I could see doing that,” said John Brisotti, former co-owner of Brisotti & Silkworth Insurance in Mattituck, when Mr. Swahn told him the story of his first day at his new job.
In the past year, the two veteran insurance salesmen both sold businesses that had been in their respective families for more than a half-century to the Roy H. Reeve Agency in Mattituck.
Mr. Brisotti announced to his clients in September that the agency his father, Al, had joined in 1964 — which first opened as the Silkworth Agency in 1913 — was merging with Reeve. Mr. Brisotti and his brother, Glenn, made the move, along with their clients and many of their employees.
Mr. Swahn joined them at Reeve this month, helping his clients transition to the new agency, which acquired his business in March. The move brings Swahn Insurance full circle to Mattituck, where it first opened in 1955 at the current site of Love Lane Kitchen.
“The insurance game has changed so much since then,” said Mr. Swahn, who joined his father in the family business when the Riverhead office opened in 1962 and took over the operation in the early 1970s. “In order to work with the big carriers you have to have companies. You have to produce X amount of dollars. Little guys like myself are getting gobbled up.”
Mr. Swahn, who has no children, said the prospect of selling his family business has been a few years in the making. But the idea was cemented when a 30-year employee announced earlier this year that she was leaving to take a job with the state. Going it alone just wasn’t in the cards for Mr. Swahn.
“I said, ‘To hell with it, I’m merging,’ ” he recalled.
On Monday, Mr. Swahn and Mr. Brisotti sat for an interview along with Roy H. Reeve president Tom Dickerson and vice presidents Jim Murphy, Jon Shearin and Tom Gatz. Collectively, the six men have more than 200 years of experience in the insurance industry. Aside from Mr. Gatz, who entered the business 13 years ago, all of them have spent at least three decades in the field.
“We’ve been friendly competitors for years,” said Mr. Dickerson. “The conditions became right recently for us to join forces.”
While the Roy H. Reeve Agency has been actively pursuing mergers with other companies when it makes sense, Mr. Gatz said doing so hasn’t been its “main thrust.”
The consolidations have positioned Roy H. Reeve to add more large carriers. When niche markets, wholesalers and specialty outfits are factored in, they actually deal with close to 100 companies.
“This has led to expanded opportunities for all of our clients,” Mr. Murphy said.
“We’re in the insurance business and we intend to stay in it,” added Mr. Gatz.
The Roy H. Reeve Agency, which opened its doors in 1926, now has more than 40 employees and additional offices in Sag Harbor and Shelter Island. It’s one of around 10 independent agencies operating on the North Fork today.
All six colleagues agreed that in today’s global economy, which allows people to get insurance in just minutes on the phone or online, Roy H. Reeve Agency must rely on the loyalty of customers who prefer to do business with experienced local professionals who they trust to look out for their best interests.
“We’re an independent agency working for the client,” Mr. Murphy said.
That is particularly important on the North Fork, Mr. Dickerson said, for home and business owners seeking specialty insurance, like those with coastal properties.
“We offer many solutions they might not find elsewhere,” he said. “There’s more to it than home, auto, commercial, life and health.”
Mr. Swahn said he grew his agency in the 1970s by becoming the first local company to write motorcycle policies, a niche business he’s maintained over the years. Mobile home coverage is a tricky type of coverage he’s also dabbled in over the years — and he sees it as a growth area in Riverhead today.
Aside from the pressure to grow their businesses to meet the needs of carriers who provide less compensation to agencies than in the past, local insurance agencies must also invest in new technology to create efficiencies that enable them to survive, Mr. Shearin said.
Today, the Reeve agency has a full-time information technology manager on staff and a cloud-based agency management system, which enables employees to communicate electronically with large carriers.
For veterans like Mr. Swahn and Mr. Brisotti, this is the latest in a series of accommodations they’ve had to make over the years.
“There was a time when you never even had to have a [driver’s] license from someone,” Mr.
Brisotti recalled. “You just got a name and issued them an ID card.”
Mr. Swahn admitted that moving to a cloud-based system is a major adjustment for him.
“They’re paperless,” he said of the Reeve agency. “I’ve always been all paper.”
In the weeks before Mr. Swahn closed his Riverhead office, Reeve employees removed a dozen file cabinets from the building and began the process of transferring his clients’ records.
And while he and Mr. Brisotti said moving on from the businesses that carried their family names has been an emotional journey, they agree with Mr. Dickerson when he says it’s been a “win-win” for all three companies and their clients.
“My father always felt we should not all be competitors,” Mr. Brisotti said. “We should be
Photo: The Roy H. Reeve Agency team (from left): Tom Dickerson, Tom Gatz, Jim Murphy, Jon Shearin, John Brisotti and Peter Swahn. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)