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The original Maxi Mover - low floor 3.5T Luton van sales

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The customer factor

May 13, 2014
Hendley Removals & Storage is a new company, started by brothers Darren and Matthew Hendley, in Paddock Wood Kent. Steve Jordan stopped by to talk about the business and to find out the answer to two fundamental questions: What makes them different and why would two guys, with no experience in the industry, start a moving business in the middle of a recession?

It does seem a puzzle.  In 2009, Darren Hendley was working happily and earning a good living in financial services in the City of London.  His brother, Matt, was a successful sales executive for a distribution company.  Then came a ‘change of life’ moment.  Their dad died.

Dad had been a self-employed carpet fitter.  He was just 57 when he died.  He was a cautious man and had only recently branched into self-employment, but had made it a success.

“It was a bit of an eye opener for us both,” said Matt. “We realised that if we carried on in our jobs we would always be working for someone else.  We wanted to build a family business: something we could be proud of and might even give opportunities to our children.”

So far so good.  We now know why they started a business. But removals?  It was a bit of a change from what they had done before. At the time Darren was living in Brighton but wanted to move closer to the family home in Paddock Wood to be able to give his mum some support. The idea was sound, but moving day turned out to be a disaster.  “At first the company seemed to be OK but they were terrible.  I had 1600 cu ft but they only had Luton vans.  Things were damaged.  Walls in both properties were gauged.  One guy stank of last night’s booze; another was on the phone all day.  It just wasn’t an enjoyable process.  I said to Matt, half joking, that if we had the right vehicles we could have done a better job ourselves.”  And so it turned out.  “I don’t know what dad would have said.  He’d probably have thought we were crazy.”

Matt and Darren spent most of 2010 doing research.  They attended the Movers & Storers Show at Telford to learn about the business and meet suppliers; did some training with Business Link to pick up some tips on starting and running a business; and Darren did his CPC.  “We also spent some time working with a company in Rainham,” said Matt. “We worked with them for nothing so we could learn how to do things.”

“We were determined to do it right from day one,” said Darren. “We didn’t want to be a man and a van operator.”    There was no working from home and doing the accounts on the kitchen table.  Right from the start Hendley Removals & Storage registered for VAT, took a small trading unit and paid its staff PAYE.  “Mum helped with the finance,” said Darren.  “She was always more of a risk taker than dad and it gave her a focus too.”

Starting a new business in a new market was always going to be a challenge, even with careful planning.  The guys admit that there were some difficult days when they wondered if they had made a mistake.  “We knew what we needed to earn each day to cover our overheads, but we found that we were sometimes up to 30% more expensive than the competition.  We were sometimes very cheap too, but that was probably because we’d misunderstood something. We know the business and the competition much better now.  We also operate out of an area where people are willing to pay for what they want.”

And there’s the trick.  How does a new company, with little track record, build customer confidence? Well, although neither Darren or Matt had any experience in the moving business, they had both been customer facing in their previous jobs.  They knew how to talk to people, how to engage them and how to look after them.  That was the key.

“It helped that we would survey the jobs and do the move too,” said Matt.  “People knew that we would do what we promised because it was us doing the work.  They warmed to that straight away.”

Over three years after the official kick off on 4 December 2010 the company is doing fine.  Sara, Matt’s wife, does the surveys and the company has three full-time, on-road staff backed up by a supply of regular part-timers. “None of the staff had any experience of moving either,” said Darren. “We have taught them in our methods right from the start.”

And their methods have had more to do with customer service than the practical side.  Darren and Matt work on the principle that you can teach someone to pack and handle furniture, but it’s building a relationship with the customer that is a real talent and that’s much harder to learn.  You’ve either got it or you haven’t.  Finding the right people, those with the right attitude, has always been tricky.   

The company has now arrived at the point where it is considering its future.  In February 2013 it moved to a bigger warehouse so it could expand the storage business.  It already has a fleet of five vehicles including a very smart 18-tonner that it has just bought from Mac's Trucks.  It’s now considering joining a trade association so that the guys can expand their network of contacts nationwide and beyond. 

Darren added that he doesn’t feel that he is losing business by not being in BAR.  “But we don’t know what we are not getting.  I have always warmed to BAR but we have never had any dealings with them. We would like to think that we would be welcomed in.  I do see value in being in BAR but it’s still an area we are not sure of.”

The company has done well in its first years, but still wants to expand further to build it into a real family business. To that end, everything is possible: commercial, self storage, European, international. But for now the Hendleys are happy to build on the domestic moving side and let that build the storage.   “It’s a fine balance between keeping what we have now, the family approach, while still developing the business and getting everyone else to buy into what we are doing,” said Darren.

Having seen a few businesses grow in the past, I feel confident in making a prediction: they’ll get that balance right and, if they can find the right people with the same attitude to looking after customers that they have, the success they desire will be with them much sooner than they suspect.

Photos: Top to bottom: Matthew and Darren Hendley; The Hendley Removals Team; Matt and Darren.

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