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Porters on demand

Jan 10, 2013
It was four years ago that Jonathan Wignell started his company Porter Assist. Steve Jordan caught up with him in the depths of Northampton, to find out how the business was doing.

Jonathan Wignell, had been involved in the moving industry all his working life.  In fact his introduction to the industry started when as a child he would accompany his dad, David, to work as transport manager for Pink and Jones in Kettering.  David spent 45 years in the moving industry and was a winner of the Michael Gerson Medal, so he was the ideal role model for Jonathan and gave him a secure grounding in the workings of the industry.

On leaving school Jonathan worked as a porter for a number of moving companies in his local area before getting the urge to start something for himself in 2008.  He doesn’t hide that his dream was to have a moving company of his own but, at the time, finances wouldn’t allow, so he started Porter Assist instead.  It has proved to be a great success.

The concept is simple.  Jonathan noticed that porters were only available from other moving companies at rates of around £150/day.  “If you tried Googling ‘Porters’ all you could get was ‘Portaloos’,” he said.  “There didn’t seem to be companies specialising in supplying porters.”

He started by contacting as many moving companies as he could find by email, post and on the telephone.  He got in touch with about 200 companies, then the business started to flow in.  “It was like letting off a firework,” he said. “For the first six months I worked seven days a week.

”When the down-turn arrived in 2009 it affected Porter Assist but not significantly.  Work from moving companies slowed down a little but Jonathan was able to replace it with work for home delivery companies.  “The moving business has come back now and I’m as busy as I was at the start.”

Rather than employ his own staff, Jonathan prefers to use fellow self-employed, experienced porters to serve his customers.  He currently has five people working with him and many more waiting in the wings.  “There are plenty of experienced porters around that I can call upon as we become busier.”

Customers like to work with Jonathan because they see the benefit of employing porters on demand rather than having staff hanging around during the quiet times. In fact the recession has probably helped Jonathan as companies were forced to let staff go and, as the business has returned, have increasingly used experienced contract labour to fill the gap.  The costs are lower, with Jonathan charging a daily labour rate and transport at cost, because there’s only the need to employ staff when they are needed.

Many companies, including some of the UK’s household name brands, have chosen this approach. As the moving industry becomes more polarised into the companies that handle the work and those that do it (see Anthony Robinson interview, The Mover June 2012) the likelihood is that the trend for fewer employed staff in favour of a staff-on-demand, is set to increase.


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