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Firm's goal is to provide 'safe harbor' for clients.

Safe Harbour Group, Ltd. was formed in the late 1800's, but there is nothing ancient about the way this Rockland County-based insurance firm operates.

"We put together a number of specialty programs. We go into a specialty or niche and create programs offering special discounts in a particular industry," said Sheldon Horowitz, who in 1992 became a partner with Robert Finkelstein in Safe Harbour, specializing in property, casualty, life and health insurance.

Noting that Safe Harbour serves regional and national clients and is licensed in 25 states, Horowitz said the clients he serves encompass a wide array of industries, including real estate; manufacturing; transportation (courier, messenger and trucking companies); archives and record storage centers; medical malpractice; and chiropractic malpractice.

In addition to serving these niche markets, Horowitz said the firm also caters to a wide variety of "traditional" clients such as retailers and offices. "We do personal lines, homeowners, car, umbrella, jewelry, yachts and boats," said Horowitz.

Armed with 15 employees, Horowitz, who received a degree in personal administration and industrial relations from Ithaca College and who minored in marketing, said he took an interest in insurance and worked for different companies until venturing out on his own in 1990.

In 1991, a third party introduced Horowitz to Finkelstein. "We both did business together. We both needed to merge and grow," said Horowitz, indicating that the firm has grown through the purchase of other agents and agencies, and by creating new niches through word of mouth.

How does Safe Harbour ensure good word of mouth? "By treating everyone's business like it's our own - by returning calls," Horowitz said. "A person can open the Yellow Pages and find 10,000 brokers out there. Service is very important. We also re-market accounts to make sure we do have the best deal. We want to have the best price in town. We make sure we look at the accounts on an annual basis. We're shopping the account. We're agents for 15 to 20 major carriers, including Chubb, Travelers, and Merchants. We're behind the scenes. It depends on the account, but within one to three years we re-market everyone's account."

In addition to providing service, Safe Harbour believes that it is crucial to advertise. "Advertising has given us name recognition, which is very important," said Horowitz, who also uses print ads in trade magazines in the niche markets he targets.

Yet another measure Horowitz and Finkelstein employ to ensure a successful business is to serve the community. Horowitz serves on the board of Helen Hayes Hospital, American Heart Association, and the YMHA. Finkelstein serves as president of the board of the Finkelstein Memorial Library and has also served on the board of a number of banks.

When asked what is the greatest challenge of running this type of business, Horowitz said, "It is very difficult through mergers and consolidation of insurance companies and clients. Some insurance companies are here today and gone tomorrow because of mergers. It is important to stay on top of things and to keep in constant touch with the insurance companies, underwriters, executives, and vice presidents of insurance companies and keep on top of where they are headed."

In addition to staying abreast of these changes, the partners also find it necessary to stay current with technology. "We're highly computerized," Horowitz said. "We just spent $50,000 doing an update on our computers. We were using DOS and we've gone to Windows. The system was five years old, but it was obsolete. Many insurance companies require us to upload or download information or data back and forth. We have to be integrated with these insurance companies and linked by computer."

The firm also finds it is important to attend trade shows. Horowitz has been a guest speaker at association meetings including the Real Estate Association, New Jersey Truckers Association and the Archive Association. He was also recently appointed to the Merchant Mutual Insurance Companies Agents Advisory Council.

What does Horowitz like best about his business? "I like the idea that I've given somebody better coverage and that I've helped them to build their business."
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Title Annotation:Safe Harbour Group Ltd.
Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Date:Jan 21, 1998
Previous Article:Pension funds still major real estate buyers.
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