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JONI STOVROFF AND JACQUE TAYLOR HAVE RETURNED TO THEIR FIRST LOVE

Joni Stovroff and Jacque Taylor left the real estate business in the 1980s, but it seems no one -- including themselves -- believed they wouldn't return to the industry some day.

Stovroff continued to devour home sales information, even though she wasn't selling houses. And since the Stovroff name remained on a real estate firm for years after she left, many people mistakenly assumed she was still involved.

Now the two industry veterans can put the speculation to rest: They have opened a new firm, Stovroff & Taylor Realtors. They will also keep operating Stovroff & Taylor Travel, the travel agency they founded in 1988, in adjacent office space on Wehrle Drive in Amherst.

Why start selling homes again after all these years?

"I can only tell you that real estate is my passion," said Stovroff, who is 72. "I think the whole time, I thought I was still in the real estate business."

Taylor, 60, recently showed a home "for the first time in 20 years" and made the sale. "It felt like I had never been away," she said.

Both say they plan to be active, hands-on managers, with Stovroff as president and Taylor as executive vice president.

They are re-entering a local real estate market whose most prominent player is RealtyUSA, a firm which traces part of its history to Stovroff's former firm.

Stovroff and her husband, Morton, founded Stovroff & Herman in 1959. In the mid-1980s, her husband retired and sold the business to three people employed at the firm. Joni Stovroff remained a partner.

Joni Stovroff and Taylor, who was general manager, stayed with the company for three years to help with the transition. After leaving, Stovroff had a five-year non-compete agreement with the firm's owners, a deal that was renewed for five more years.

Stovroff and Taylor sought a new business opportunity outside of selling homes and chose the travel industry. They saw similarities in the industry's focus on sales and service.

Meanwhile, the real estate firm they had left, underwent a transition of its own. Stovroff & Herman was merged with H. Potter Realtors, creating Stovroff & Potter, the state's largest independent real estate firm.

Merle Whitehead, who was a Potter Realtors executive, in 2000 became the sole owner of the real estate firm that was then known as Stovroff.com. The firm's name was changed to RealtyUSA outside of the Buffalo Niagara region; the same name change followed locally in 2002.

"Joni is a very nice person," Whitehead said of his new competitor. "She's been out of the business for a number of years, so I don't know if she's going to find the business has changed that much since then or not."

After the noncompete deal expired, Stovroff and Taylor tossed around the idea of returning to real estate before finally acting on it. They say some Realtors who used to work with them are returning, along with the former receptionist.

"The veterans are coming back," Stovroff said.

Stovroff and Taylor say they aren't worried about losing focus on the travel industry, which has grown to a roster of 200 corporate clients as well as leisure-travel business. They see opportunities for the two businesses to bolster each other.

For employees who are relocating to the area, the two companies can offer services including travel and lodging while they are in town, and help them to search for a new home, Stovroff said.

Travel agents at the company can also pursue a Realtor's license and expand their sales opportunities, Taylor said. A few of the agents are already going that route.

Whitehead said a "cross-training" approach to home sales might prove difficult. "It's harder and harder to do this business part-time," he said.

On the other hand, he said, the firm might be able to build on the "trust relationships" it has built with people through the travel industry.

Aside from the travel agency employees who are "cross-training," Stovroff & Taylor Realtors has lined up about a dozen Realtors to work with the new firm. Stovroff declined to identify them, since they were still in transition.

The real estate firm will try to tap into familiarity with the Stovroff name. The two women particularly like an upcoming ad featuring their faces and the words, "A Blast From the Past."

But Stovroff and Taylor acknowledge they also need to reach people who are unfamiliar with the Stovroff name in real estate. "We have to do image advertising," Taylor said. "That is going to be our thrust for months to come."

As for the new firm joining the fray, Whitehead said there is "always room for talented people."

Stovroff & Taylor has already made two sales and has two listings, and Stovroff said she is looking forward to competing for more.

"There's enough business for everyone," she said. "All you have to do is be good."

e-mail: mglynn@buffnews.com

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