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May 02, 2012
An interview with Alfabet Removals & Storage, by Steve Jordan

While wandering around the Movers & Storers Show, I bumped into an old friend, Angie Boreham. After the usual ‘you haven’t changed a bit banter’ (she really hadn’t but I undoubtedly had), I resolved to make a trek down the M1 to the depths of NW10 to find out a little more about her new company, Alfabet Removals & Storage.

I knew Angie when we both worked at Trans Euro in the 1980s and 1990s.  Since then she’d left to have a family and come back into the industry.  Her new company Alfabet was formed in September 2010 when she joined forces with Leonard and his business partner Fred.  The new company name is, of course, not a spelling mistake but a contraction of the names: Angie, Leonard and Fred.  Quite clever really!

The company now operates from a purpose-built warehouse unit in Park Royal –Angie said “if you can’t beat ‘em, you might as well join in” referring to the numerous other removal companies in this area. 

Alfabet fills a very specific role: that of local partner to some of the UK’s best known international and domestic moving companies. Most of the work is international corporate, both import and export.   “We provide all the services our partners provide for their own customers,” she explained. “Some companies use us to cover work when they are busy; others that are not based here use us as their London agent to handle surveys, packing, storage, container loading, and so on.  It’s just as if they were here themselves.” The company even provides facilities for loading cars and motorbikes, including crating and building bulkheads. The ‘softer’ services are important too, such as end of tenancy cleaning or maid services for people who need a hand to unpack and get set up in their new homes.

The world of a sub-contractor is not the way it was a few years ago when all that was needed was a strong back and a willing heart.  Today a contractor has to understand the way the client company operates, know its customers and their demands, understand its paperwork and working preferences, and it has to perform all the necessary risk assessments and comply with the required health and safety regulations in exactly the same way as its client company. “It is what we have come to specialise in doing,” said Angie, “we have to be prepared for anything. We have a large stock of uniforms and the chaps come in first thing to get dressed appropriately for each client.  You wouldn’t believe how many different business cards I have for doing surveys.” Working in London also means that Alfabet has to handle the congestion charge for companies and organise parking permits (even pay the fines when they come along).

The key for Alfabet is that it does little work of its own.  It is, therefore, not a competitor to any of its clients. “Occasionally a client will give us a job that it doesn’t want to handle itself but, apart from that, we work purely for the trade,” said Angie.

The company has done very well in the last 18 months and that was during a time when the industry was far from buoyant. Angie puts much of her early success down to the contacts she has made over many years in the industry. “I couldn’t have done it without the contacts and the experience I had gained. But now it’s just down to recommendation. We have to give the clients what they want and keep the quality high.”

So what’s the next step?  “I want to do more of the same,” said Angie.  “I will always strive to do more, if not I might as well pack up shop and go home now. You need something to get up for in the morning.  I like the cut and thrust of chasing for the next job.”  Her immediate ambition is to work as a London partner for companies all over the UK.  For example, she already has clients who drop off consignments when they are in the area for delivery later.  If they are using vehicles that are not LEZ compliant she can arrange to meet the vehicle outside the M25 and transfer the load there. “In fact we are considering setting up a receiving depot outside the M25 for exactly that purpose,” she said.

Alfabet has done well in its short life and, as Angie already admitted, that success is largely owing to contacts and experience.  But what advice would she have to anyone starting a new moving company in today’s climate? “Industry is very hard and when it dies, it dies completely.  So diversify as much as you can, keep your options open and get fingers in lots of pies,” she said, adding that the adage ‘it’s not what you know it’s who you know’ is true even if you don’t know people in the industry.  She said that new starters could do worse than join a networking group and to look through their own contacts to see who might be able to help them. The concept of LinkedIn, for example, works on the principle of six degrees of separation: everyone you ever could wish to meet is linked to you by no more than six other people.

For the same reason Angie has now started dabbling with Facebook. “We have lots of people coming to us from all over the world on Facebook. In the future, if I had a shipment to go to these places I will have a list of contacts without having to join a group such as BAR or FIDI. It’s nice to have the presence out there and have people know that we exist.”

The trick in any business is to find a niche – something different that is profitable and that others can’t or don’t want to do.  Angie, Leonard and Fred seem to have found theirs.


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