Tom Volpe's Melcher & Prescott Insurance Agnecy continues to grow & prosper at ripe old age of 150

  • Published in Local News

LACONIA — The city and the country were at a much different place 150 years ago, when Woodbury L. Melcher founded the firm that would become known as the Melcher & Prescott Insurance Agency. Tom Volpe, who has been an owner of the company for a third of its existence, thinks that the old-fashioned culture of customer service is something that modern consumers continue to value.

To celebrate the century-and-a-half milestone, Melcher & Prescott is planning to sponsor one ...

LACONIA — The city and the country were at a much different place 150 years ago, when Woodbury L. Melcher founded the firm that would become known as the Melcher & Prescott Insurance Agency. Tom Volpe, who has been an owner of the company for a third of its existence, thinks that the old-fashioned culture of customer service is something that modern consumers continue to value.

To celebrate the century-and-a-half milestone, Melcher & Prescott is planning to sponsor one of the Laconia Muskrats games this summer, and to host a Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce "Business After Hours" event in September.

Melcher, a city native, founded his insurance company six years after graduating from Bowdoin College. He was a civic leader as well as a businessman, serving as mayor of the city and as president of Laconia Savings Bank — his tenure at which began when the institution was known as Meredith Bridge Savings Bank.

In 1884, True E. Prescott merged with Melcher, forming the corporate identity of Melcher & Prescott which endures today. Oscar George, who had been a teller at a local bank, was brought on to help with the growing business. George would eventually partner with Edgar Prescott, True's son, to run the company in the early half of the 20th Century.

By 1959, Edgar Prescott had passed away and George was looking to sell the business. He found willing buyers in the pair of employees with the New Hampshire Insurance Company, industry veteran Edward Miller and the young Thomas Volpe, who was beginning a career in insurance after serving with the U.S. Army from 1955 to 1957.

Volpe became the sole owner when Miller died in 1966.

Volpe is a Plymouth native who was a political science student at the University of New Hampshire. "My family wanted me to become a lawyer," he said. Instead, his curiosity was caught by insurance. "I enjoyed the product for what it did – protect people," he said.

Today, Volpe, now 78, works part-time as president of the company. Like Woodbury Melcher, Volpe has sought to serve his community as well as his company. He served as a director of the Lakes Region United Way for more than three decades and his company has been a financial supporter of the Boys & Girls Club of the Lakes Region.

Under Volpe's leadership, Melcher & Prescott has seen steady growth. When he and Miller bought the business, it had six employees and a premium volume of $252,000. Now, according to him, it handles a premium volume of $40-million and employes more than 50 people.

That growth has been achieved, in part, through the purchase of about a dozen agencies throughout the central part of the state. The Melcher & Prescott footprint covers from Loudon to North Conway and from Bristol to Lincoln.

Melcher & Prescott, from its inception, has operated as an independent agency that works with clients to select the best-suited policies from among many insurance companies. This business model hasn't changed, though the city and world Volpe views from his office window hardly resembles the view from 50 years ago.

"Obviously, the shopping centers have grown up around the perimeter of the city, which has depopulated the center," he said. What has been lost in that change, he observes, is that neighbors, workers and shopkeepers don't have the familiar interactions as they tread their daily path across the city. "We don't have the personal relationships today that we had then," he said.

Instead of following suit and eschewing the personal, familiar touch, Volpe thinks their old-fashioned service model will be just as successful in the 21st Century as it was in the 19th. "We certainly have the ties to the old way, we might be a conduit," he said.

Volpe has found that, in the Internet age, his company can no longer wait for the customers to call or stop by, "We've had to reach out to them." Although he's found that clients may have done prior research, he said, "When it comes time to buy the product, they want to talk to a person. Someone they know and they know is going to be there tomorrow." He noted that many local families have been trusting Melcher & Prescott for generations.

"I would like to think that our people are very professional," Volpe said when asked to explain his company's longevity. "You're basically hiring an advocate. That is the corporate culture here, the client comes first. I like to think that's why Melcher & Prescott has been successful."

Still, some concessions are being made to the current age. The company is updating its website and agents are exploring how best to use social media to interface with clients.

Flipping through old documents in his modestly-appointed office, Volpe found artifacts that reflect the city's history. Hand-written ledgers, compiled for the fire department, that detailed property losses for a given year. A fire policy for a machine shop that likely served long-gone manufacturing facilities. Volpe recalled the need for a certain amount of francophone employees to serve the French-Canadian immigrants who worked in those mills. As well as the agency's first auto policy, written in 1919, to protect a farmer's prized vehicle.

Volpe was semi-retired for a period, during which his son Stewart ran the company as president. However, when Stewart died in 2000, as a result of the crash of a plane he was piloting, Volpe resumed the top job. Today, his other son, Christopher, serves as chief operating officer and Shaun Farley is the company's chief executive officer.

Although the day-to-day operations are left to others, Volpe said he has no intentions to retire. "I have a fantastic bunch of people," he said. "I enjoy them and I enjoy the clients."

CAPTION for TOM VOLPE in AA:

Thomas Volpe, owner of Melcher & Prescott Insurance Agency, is shown here between photographs of the company's founders, Woodbury Melcher and True Prescott. The company is celebrating 150 years in business. (Laconia Daily Sun photo/Adam Drapcho)