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Cynthia Moulton St. George

Insurance Agency Owner, Alpaca Breeder Is part of the Region’s Fabric

Cindy Moulton St. George has always loved handling claims.

“That’s the most personal aspect of the insurance business,” she told BusinessWest. “It’s when they have a claim that people come to fully understand why they’re paying premiums — to protect their assets; it’s very satisfying work.”

Moulton St. George still gets to process the occasional claim, but she has myriad other responsibilities as president of Moulton Insurance Agency Inc., the business started by her father in 1952. Those duties include managing three offices — in Ware, Palmer, and West Brookfield — and the 13 employees staffing those locations. She’s also constantly surveying the insurance landscape, scouting possible acquisitions — the company has made several over the past few decades — and even monitoring the latest projections for the hurricane season due to start in a few weeks.

“It doesn’t look good for the Northeast,” she said, adding that the severity of a season’s storms, and the projections of same, will impact the price and availability of certain policies. “They’re saying that New England is due.”

And then, there’s the business of alpaca breeding.

It’s one of several specialty areas for the agency, and one that Moulton St. George has learned from the inside out; she and her husband, Roy, started breeding this cousin of the camel and the llama, native to South America, several years ago.

“It was a diversion from the insurance business and a good investment,” she said, adding quickly that it is not a hobby. Instead, it’s a sometimes-intense business with duties that range from tending to the animals to marketing to attending regional and national shows.

While insurance and alpaca breeding are in many ways worlds apart as business ventures, they have many important similarities, said Moulton St. George. She noted that both are largely referral-related and customer-service oriented businesses.

“To be successful at either, you have to take care of your clients,” she said, “That’s the bottom line.”

Policy-making Decisions

Moulton St. George started working in the family business as a teenager; her father would bring papers home from work for her to sort, alphabetize, and file. By her junior year in high school, she was working in the Ware office during vacations, doing more filing before eventually moving on to claims.

She told BusinessWest that her father had laid out succession plans that had her playing a lead role work for the company. Her affinity for the insurance business and desire to be her own boss facilitated the transition of the agency to her control in 1994; one of her brothers, Glen, now manages a real estate agency, Century 21 Moulton, also started by her father.

Moulton St. George remains one of the few female insurance agency owners in the region, status that still leads to a few awkward moments.

“When I first became the agent I was very young (mid 30s),” she explained. “I would go to conventions and people would ask, ‘who do you work for?’ I would say, ‘I’m the who.’

“It still happens on occasion,” she continued. “People will ask for the owner, and they’re a little surprised when I say, ‘that’s me.’”

Such episodes are becoming increasingly rare, because Moulton St. George’s name and rank are becoming well known within the insurance community — and within the Quaboag Valley area as well, where she serves in a number civic- and business-related capacities.

She currently serves as chair of the Business and Development Committee for Baystate Mary Lane, a fund-raising arm for the Ware-based health care provider, and is on the board of directors for the Ware Community Chest. In previous years, she has been heavily involved with the Quaboag Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“I’ve always felt a responsibility to get involved,” she said. “If you’re going to do business in a community, you have to find ways to give back — and there are many of them.”

Her primary mission, however, is to continually grow the 54-year-old family business, which is a challenging assignment at a time of change and, for some, turmoil in the insurance business.

Moulton St. George told BusinessWest that the landscape is constantly changing, with new competition, in the form of banks, and new technology, in the form of the Internet, to cope with.

Consolidation of the industry is ongoing, she explained, adding that she regularly receives inquiries about making — or becoming — an acquisition.
To survive and thrive in such an environment, she said, agencies must focus on customer service, develop strong relationships with carriers, and develop specific niches that can create opportunities in this market and, in some cases, well beyond.

Mouton has several such niches, she explained, listing as one example bed and breakfast operations. The agency has developed a solid working relationship with a carrier that writes policies for such businesses, said Moulton St. George, and, through the Internet and other marketing vehicles, she has fielded inquiries from across the country.

“We just got a call from Hawaii,” she said, noting that those searching for insurance online will be directed to the Moulton Web site by entering the key words bed and breakfast. “We’ve had inquiries from the Midwest, all over; it’s a good niche for us.”

Another is farms, and, more specifically, alpaca farms. They are growing in number, she explained, as the animal becomes more popular in this country and business opportunities — in the form of breeding operations — are created.

Moulton St. George and her husband were encouraged to pursue such an opportunity by someone already in the business, and eventually took the plunge, starting with two breeding females. They steadily grew their herd of Huacayas over the years — although they’ve recently downsized to nine — and have sold dozens to a growing legion of alpaca-breeding entrepreneurs.

And they’re insuring some of these ventures as well; the Moulton agency now has more than a dozen alpaca farms, scattered across the Northeast, as clients.

A Breed Apart

Moulton St. George told BusinessWest that alpaca hair is one of the finest fibers in the world, warmer than sheep’s wool and lighter in weight.

These qualities help explain the animal’s growing popularity and the emergence of alpaca breeding as an often sound financial investment.

By making such a move, she has put her name and her stamp on two successful businesses. And hardly anyone still asks who she works for.

George O’Brien can be reached at[email protected]