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Merchants Hosts 2023 Producer Training School


From October 8, 2023 through October 13, 2023, Merchants Insurance Group welcomed 20 producers to Buffalo, New York for its annual Producer Training School!




“Completely exceeded my expectations. This experience is a must, it fully made me re-think the customer sales process.”

—Jeff Perkins, The Richards Group

Pictured: Attendees get acquainted on Sunday, October 8, 2023 at Aloft Buffalo Downtown hotel.

What is Producer Training School?

Producer Training School (PTS) is an intensive five-day program designed for insurance professionals with a minimum of six months in the industry to hone their selling skills and grow in the insurance field.

Organized and hosted by Bob Perno, Corporate Sales Manager at Merchants Insurance Group, PTS provides an invaluable professional development experience for all attendees, whether they are new producers looking to develop their sales skills or seasoned salespeople hoping to enhance their existing sales strategies. Regardless of their experience level before the program, this sales-intensive training opportunity brings together a determined group of professionals eager to learn and grow in the industry!

In addition to professional training, Producer Training School provides attendees with opportunities to build and develop strong relationships with Merchants’ staff and other producers. They also have the ability to earn CE credits as the Dynamics of Selling is recognized by many states as an approved CE program.


“Best training I’ve ever attended. I’m looking forward to telling my team about it.”

—Tim Berends, The Feltner Group Inc.


Producer Training School 2023

This year, 20 producers journeyed to Aloft Buffalo Downtown hotel, located one mile from Merchants’ corporate headquarters, for Producer Training School 2023.


“It was great – it provided training and insight I otherwise might not have ever developed or received. Truly a great opportunity that I will take with me and implement what I’ve learned. No doubts that I’ll be so much more successful.”

—Katie Charland, The Patrick Maguire Agency Inc./Sid G. Spear Insurance Services


Here’s what their week looked like:

Speaker Sessions

Each year, PTS welcomes a series of distinguished speakers to share their expertise with attendees. Sessions feature a wide breadth of topics, tailored to enhance producers’ sales approach and ability.

Sessions included:

The Dynamics of Selling

Griff Griffith, Merchants Insurance Group, Producer Training School


The Dynamics of Selling is a program highlight, spanning several days on the week’s agenda. Led by industry leaders Griff Griffith and Joe Coccimiglio, this educational session teaches an insurance-specific sales process.



Joe Coccimiglio, Merchants Insurance Group, Producer Training School


Participants find tremendous value in this training, which is focused on “super-qualifying prospects, demonstrating value and avoiding the price-driving sales, and knowing when to move towards a close or walk away,” according to Bob Perno.



YESCALATE® – Get to Yes Faster

Dean Minuto, Merchants Insurance Group, Producer Training School


Dean Minuto is an award-winning speaker, sales coach, author, and more. His innovative YESCALATE® – Get to Yes Faster program is designed to “educate, entertain, and engage an audience, changing the way they think about influence and teaching them how to GET TO YES FASTER®


Digital Marketing

Erica Dalton, Merchants Insurance Group, Producer Training School

Erica Dalton, Marketing Supervisor at Merchants Insurance Group


Erica Dalton, Marketing Supervisor at Merchants Insurance Group, spoke of the value of integrating digital marketing tactics into the sales funnel and the importance of personal branding to better engage with producers’ online audience and prospective targets.




Merchants Commercial Lines Products

Frank Simpson, Territory Manager for Merchants’ Central New York and Capital District


Frank Simpson, Territory Manager for Merchants’ Central New York and Capital District, provided an overview of Merchants’ commercial lines products and coverage differentiators to help producers sell more effectively.




“Merchants Producer Training School is brilliant. It’s going to be hard to get across [to others] how valuable this week was, especially because of how unique this sales process is. [My colleagues] can attest to the number of trainings, seminars, etc. we’ve attended in our past professional careers. My approach is always to walk in with a positive, receptive attitude, but often walked away with little gain and/or had a lackluster experience. I can truthfully say that this program was wildly educational, engaging, and worth every second. The speakers and the content were impressive to say the least.”

—Alec Toth, The Financial Guys Home & Auto


Getting to Know Merchants

Producer Training School also focuses on strengthening the relationships between Merchants and its independent agent partners in attendance.

The company’s Agent Value Proposition states:

As a carrier dedicated exclusively to independent agencies, Merchants is committed to helping you achieve your goals. Our regional presence enables us to develop personal relationships based on earning your trust.

Throughout the week of Producer Training School, attendees had the opportunity to foster that relationship, meeting and networking with Merchants’ leadership and colleagues.

Producer Training School attendees took a tour of Merchants Insurance Group’s corporate headquarters and Western Strategic Business Center, both located in downtown Buffalo, New York. Merchants President Charles Makey even joined the tour as they viewed the executive offices of the corporate headquarters!

Producer Training School attendees take group photo with Bob Perno and Charles Makey

Producer Training School attendees with Charles Makey, President of Merchants Insurance Group, and Bob Perno, Corporate Sales Manager, on a tour of the company’s corporate office.


“Merchants Producer Training School was very helpful – borderline life-changing. I really enjoyed my time. I had a lot of fun and met a bunch of great people. Overall was an awesome experience. I found the course very helpful and have already instructed our management on the fact that every new producer in our agency needs to spend a week with Merchants.”

—Josh Berg, Stahlka Agency Inc.


Several Merchants colleagues and members of leadership join the group for dinner throughout the week. Special guests at this year’s group dinners included (in order of appearance):

  • Erica Dalton, Marketing Supervisor
  • Kyra-Jade Lewis, Associate Video Developer
  • Charles Makey, President of Merchants Insurance Group
  • Joe Meyer, Senior Vice President of Underwriting, Product Management, and Corporate Programs
  • Lisa Grajeda, Executive & Regional Support Specialist

Attendees at orientation dinner with host Bob Perno and Merchants special guests Erica Dalton and Kyra-Jade Lewis at Vice Restaurant on Sunday, October 8, 2023

Attendees at dinner with Merchants Insurance Group President, Charles Makey:

Attendees at dinner with Merchants special guest Joseph Meyer, Senior Vice President of Underwriting, Product Management, and Corporate Programs


“This experience is invaluable.”

—Liam Murphy, The Barclay Group


Making Connections & Experiencing Buffalo

Attendees may have been strangers at registration on Sunday, but that certainly wasn’t the case by Friday afternoon!

After five days of educational speaker sessions, networking opportunities, team building, dinners, and outings around Buffalo, the group made lasting professional and personal connections with one another.

“It was great to hear of the strong relationships many of the attendees formed with their classmates and will be taking home with them. That’s one of the most valuable benefits of our Producer Training School,” said Bob Perno.

Here are some photos attendees sent us from their time together in Buffalo:



“[Others will] never understand how for this experience exceeded my expectations. If I could come every year…  I would. Well worth the investment.”

—Nicole Kristen Lee, Hamptons Risk Management


Closing Ceremony

The week concluded with one final event: the Closing Ceremony!

At the Closing Ceremony, the group reflected on the five-day journey they’d been on together. Bob Perno congratulated the class and presented each participant with a certificate of completion.

Each year, one outstanding member of the class receives the Producer Training School MVP award recognizing their achievements and contributions to the week’s program. This year’s recipient was Omar Elmahrouky from Kaplan Insurance Agency.

Congratulations, Omar!

Gallery | Producer Training School 2023

View more photos from Producer Training School 2023 below.


“Wonderful experience that I will profit from for the rest of my career.”

—Robert Lane, Paris-Kirwan Associates, Inc.


Class of 2023

Congratulations to this year’s attendees on completing Producer Training School!

Thank you for your contributions, willingness to learn, and enthusiasm.

“It was a pleasure meeting and getting to know all of the attendees in this year’s Producer Training School,” said Bob Perno. “The group was engaged throughout the week, and their collaboration made for a productive, successful program!”

Each PTS participant gets a new professional headshot, courtesy of Merchants’ Associate Video Developer Kyra-Jade Lewis! See this year’s attendees below.

Stay tuned for information on Producer Training School 2024!
Katherine Trautwein

Merchants Insurance Group

Merchants Insurance Group sells its products through a network of more than 1,000 independent insurance agents in Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Vermont. We sell our products through independent insurance agents because we believe they provide value to policyholders through their broad range of products and their insurance expertise.