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Family values

Feb 12, 2014
The Mover Magazine’s Steve Jordan talks to Kieran and Michelle Whitehead from Manchester’s Osbornes Removals: a traditional company that is becoming increasingly 21st century.

Like many moving men of old, Alan Whitehead started handling furniture when working for a furniture store.  In his case it was Shaws of Oxford Street, Manchester, a rather up-market retailer with a demanding clientele.  Alan was quick to work out that handling furniture and removals required the same skills and so encouraged the company to take on removal work.  The venture was sufficiently successful and in 1979 Alan persuaded John and James Shaw to buy the trading name of an established Manchester mover, Osbornes.  When Shaw and Alexander stopped trading in the 1980s, Alan was laid off, but by using his redundancy money and savings, he and his wife Anne raised enough money to buy the trading name ‘Osbornes’.  “Shaws were very good to Dad,” explained Michelle Whitehead, Alan’s daughter and the company’s Operations Director.  “They let him stay in the premises virtually rent free.” Alan traded as Osbornes Removals and Storage and repainted the vehicles in a different livery, which they still use today.


Whilst Alan and Anne were busy building Osbornes’ local business, they made friends with other Manchester removals firms including Hooleys, Turners, Acorn and Glaziers through BAR meetings. When the owners of these businesses subsequently decided to sell, Alan was perfectly placed to buy them.  “They had all become firm friends and seen their businesses thrive through sharing resources, equipment, knowledge and helping each other out in good neighbourly fashion,” said Michelle.


The first acquisition came when one of Alan’s friends in the industry Gordon Hooley came to him in his office with some terrible news, he had terminal cancer and needed to sell his business. He was desperate not to let his storage customers down and honour the removals he had already booked. Alan made an immediate decision to take on the company and the very next day the first Hooleys job was completed. Mrs Mavis Hooley, Gordon’s wife still works for the company taking calls and looking after the Wilmslow office.


The other similar acquisitions followed and Michelle and her brother Mark helped run company.  Mark is still warehouse manager for the group of companies. The companies are all run independently.  Michelle explained that these other companies had not been absorbed by Osbornes because her father wanted to continue his friends’ legacies and also to extend their well-established brands. Good reputations had been built and Alan didn’t want to throw his friends’ good work away, so he continued the companies to respect their heritage. “My father is very loyal to his friends and also very traditional, it makes sense for him to keep their names alive in the industry – also people trust long established brand names,” Michelle explained.


With a strong emphasis on championing local businesses, Alan is well known for his loyalty and respect for tradition. Osbornes Removals prides itself on being a well-established family run business that operates on a basis of trust. It supports local businesses and in return seals its place as a pillar of the local business community, as do each of its affiliate brands.


The Whiteheads have split their association memberships between both BAR and The Guild.  Michelle finds that being members of both trading bodies continues to be very useful because they enjoy the seminars organised by The Guild and have found BAR very useful over the years for making good contacts.  Indeed with a membership number of 0016, Osbornes must be one of BAR’s oldest members.   


In keeping with family traditions, the next generation of the Whitehead family are now stepping into new roles.  In the last few years Mark’s son, Kieran (aged 24) has come aboard, full-time at Osbornes Removals. Ever since he was 15, he has been helping out by working in the office and warehouse and on the vans when he was on study leave from Liverpool University where he took a degree in Business Management.  Kieran’s also been tasked with bringing Osbornes Removals into the 21st Century by computerising its office procedures. Kieran explained that the transition from paper to digital is now in full-swing having implemented Moveman software. He feels that it was a natural progression to get involved in the family business. “I did my CPC and a week’s surveying course at BAR in Watford. I was really nervous on my first day as a surveyor but the customer booked the first job I saw, so that gave me loads of confidence.”  All going well, Kieran will join Michelle, Mark, Alan and Anne as a company director later in 2014. Kieran’s sixteen-year-old brother, Shaun, is at college now but also works at the company during holidays – so the flow of family talent continues.


When asked where they see the Osborne Removals group of companies headed in the future, Kieran and Michelle speculated that they may expand into overseas removals.  Michelle confessed that past bad experiences with overseas partners on their rare overseas jobs had put her off. “I prefer domestic removals because we can take responsibility for the job from door-to-door. With overseas, once it crosses the English Channel it’s out of our hands and I don’t like being held accountable for something that I cannot control,” Michelle said.  Kieran said that he’d made some important contacts from around the world at various meetings and that he thought it would be a great area to get involved with at some stage in the near future, despite rocky beginnings.


With one eye on maintaining respect and duty to the past and the other firmly on the road to the future, Osbornes Removals, and all the other brands that form the collective, look set to take full advantage of the newly arrived buoyant moving market.  Alan and Anne although both retired now still provide an overseeing role; Michelle and Mark offer the hands on experience; and Kieran and even perhaps Shaun are poised to provide the continuity for the future.  It’s a family business, run to family values with an impressive past and an exciting future.


Photos: Top - Keiran Whitehead at the company's office in Manchester; Middle - Just one of the historic pictures in the Osbornes boardroom telling the company's story; Bottom - A selection of vehicles and brands from Osbornes' past and present.

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