After months of trying to track down Aussie Man and Van, Steve Jordan finally succeeded – but got more than he expected.
I had been trying to get an interview with Aussie Man and Van for a year or more. I had put in many calls to its offices but was beginning to feel a little unwanted. I was interested to talk to someone there as I knew little about the company except that it had grown from nothing to one of the biggest moving companies in London in a few years. I was interested to know how. I realised a few weeks ago that I had missed the boat. The company had gone bust and I would never then have the chance to satisfy my curiosity. Imagine how pleased I was, therefore, to bump into William Karslake from Anthony Ward Thomas in Park Royal London and to find out that his company had bought Aussie Man and Van and the company was, once again, hale and hearty. An interview was duly booked.
Anthony Ward Thomas, Master Removals, was also a company I confess I knew little about. I was immediately impressed by the array of gleaming red vans in the yard all sporting their individual slogans such as ‘If you want loyalty get a dog’ and ‘Anger is a short madness’. I didn’t quite get the connection to the business but it did, at least, let me know that this was a company that had a personality.
Anthony Ward Thomas was started in Battersea in 1985 with one lorry by Anthony and his brother. William Karslake joined the company a year later. The company has grown organically since then with a very slim marketing budget and most of their new business coming from referrals. That’s probably why I didn’t know the company well. Neither Anthony nor William had great fans of networking either so I had no opportunity to bump into them at BAR conferences or meetings. They preferred to keep themselves to themselves.
The company specialises in good quality moves, largely in the London area. It acquired The Moves Group and Bishopsgate and moved into the old Moves Group building in Park Royal. 2007 was the company’s busiest year with around 100 men employed, but now it finds a workforce of 50 – 60 is manageable with a fairly consistent fleet of 17 – 25 vehicles.
Aussie Man and Van operates in a different side of the market from Anthony Ward Thomas: mainly small moves that do not involve solicitors, with their busiest days being at the weekend. Enquiries are all Internet driven with little repeat business. “It’s all to do with your position on Google,” explained William. “The more you spend, the more enquiries you get.”
Nevertheless the company was taking some market share from Anthony Ward Thomas and, as it spread its wings into larger moves, was holding prices down. “Aussie Man and Van had been overtrading,” explained Anthony. “A number of their vehicles were old, badly maintained, overloaded and a number of the staff were not on PAYE. Something had to give and we were delighted to have been able to take this unfair competition out of the market.” This, coupled with an extensive storage business made the new acquisition an attractive proposition.
“The branding is strong,” explained William, “and has the potential for franchising south of the river and other parts of London.”
Immediately after acquisition, Anthony weeded out all the unsuitable and worn out vehicles, keeping only those in the best condition. He also took on every member of staff that was working legally. Until new vehicles can be bought he has augmented the fleet by hiring. The old Aussie Man and Van had about 100, 35cwt vans on the road, that is now down to around 20 with plans to increase the fleet up to 35 by the end of 2012.
The plan is to continue to run Aussie Man and Van separately from the parent company and complemen each other. The purchase has allowed Anthony to transform what many would have called a rogue trader into a legitimate business and has secured the future of its experienced and hard working staff.
Two wheels better than four
In 1997 William Karslake was a pioneer in the trend that has become common practice for sales people in big cities: two wheels better than four. His chosen steed is a 1050cc Triumph Sprint ST that gets him to his appointments on time. “Time on the road is absolutely wasted, if I spend all day sitting in a traffic jam, I’m not getting on with my other tasks,” he said. The bike enables William to get to appointments and back quickly and gives him a better range. . He even has a waterproofed navigation system and mobile phone, complete with Bluetooth headset on his bike. “It could fall in the Thames and still work,” he said.
Although the 170mph Triumph is a powerful creature for the London traffic compared to the more humble ‘Twist and Go’ bikes used by many – including the Aussie Man and Van chaps – it does give him the extended range necessary for working around the home counties.
Meanwhile, Anthony goes one stage further by choosing a push bike to get around. “It’s a good mode of transport in central London. With short cuts on pavements and cut throughs, it’s often even quicker than William’s motorbike.” Above left photo: teamwork gets a truck loaded, far right; Anthony Ward Thomas; below: William Karslake shows off the bluetooth headset he relies on to stay in touch with the office, and prefers 150hp and two wheels to get around the congested home counties.