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Adam Palmer, working his way up

Feb 11, 2017
Steve Jordan goes on safari to darkest Hampshire to visit one of the industry’s rising stars.



It was a beautifully crisp January morning as I made my way through the uncharacteristically light traffic to Winchester, in Hampshire to visit White and Company.  Winchester has a long and extraordinary history in England: it was one of the largest Roman towns in the country, is home to one of its most magnificent 11th century cathedrals and has the distinction of being the birthplace of Arthur Tudor, Prince of Wales and elder brother to Henry VIII. He died aged just 15 but, had he lived, the history of the British Isles would have been very different and its culture virtually unrecognisable today.  

That said, I was not on a history tour.  I wasn’t even there to write about White and Company.  My mission was to interview Adam Palmer, the assistant manager. Why? Well, Whites is one of the largest independent moving companies in the UK and, although I had known Ian Palmer, the company’s CEO, for many years, I’d never met his son and I thought it was time I did, especially as a number of people had suggested he might be one of the rising stars of our industry.    

The depot was neat and tidy and I was welcomed by a cheery staff and Adam himself, looking dapper in a crisp suit which, I suspect, was standard attire, fitting perfectly with the company brand.  The depot is managed by Malcolm Carter who’s been with the company for around 15 years and plans on retiring later this year.  It’s fairly obvious who’s being groomed to take his place. 

Adam is 26, single and very keen. Despite his youth he’s already notched up over 10 years working with the company. Aged just 15 he was given a bundle of post cards and rode around on his bike putting them through the doors of houses with ‘for sale’ boards outside. His reward: £50 and an introduction to a career for life.  

At 16 he started working for Ian Nicholson, who was then the manager of the Botley (Southampton) branch. A year later he was working as a porter and started to travel around Europe with the road crews.  “Ian Nicholson put a lot of trust in me,” said Adam.  “He gave me a small van and made me responsible for looking after it.”  

It was an exciting life for such a young man.  He worked in Osnabrook, Germany and, at 19 travelled the world working with moving companies wherever he went: New Zealand Van Lines, The Moving Company (New Zealand), Tippet Richardson in Canada and Movements International in Australia.  “I lived in hostels and, when I wanted to move on, I just hitched a lift on a truck,” he said.  What a brilliant way to learn about the business!  

“It was the travelling that interested me,” said Adam.  “It was fascinating.  I was always put with good drivers who were willing to teach me as long as I showed an interest. I was keen to learn because I wanted to make my mum and dad proud.  But I really enjoyed being away for six weeks at a time.”   

The moving industry is often branded as being ‘non sexy’.  Companies often say that’s why it’s hard to get good people to work with them.  Adam’s introduction to the industry seems pretty interesting to me.  I would have thought that any youngster, faced with the opportunity of a fair wage, on-the-job training and global travel would be tempted.  Of course, being part of a national brand with international connections helped, but plenty of moving companies around the world can offer similar opportunities to those youngsters who show some application.  Surely, in a global 21st century industry, we can now shake off the cloth cap and Woodbine image, can’t we?  

Adam thinks that some of the problem is caused by the university culture where many young people stay in education until they are 20+ then expect to be able to walk into a job.  They are, however, probably bright enough to know that in the moving industry, a piece of paper isn’t likely to help much and they don’t want to start at the bottom in the way he did.  So they probably don’t apply.  

In fact Adam has introduced many of his friends to the industry through Whites.  “Most of my mates have worked with me,” he said.  “We call it ‘The Pathway of life’, a sort of initiation into the world of work.”  Many of those friends have gone on to productive careers with their time at Whites providing the experience and the opportunity. “It was something they could use to get ahead of the rest, rather than having a university degree.” Adam explained that he particularly enjoys nurturing the young talent in the business.    

Whites offers a lot of incentives for young people to help retain them in the company and offers career progression.  This includes generous holidays, a good company car for those who need one, and the encouragement to go on courses and learn new skills. “When you pass you get a letter from the CEO and a bonus,” said Adam.  But for him, there is something far more important that made his company a good place to work.  “Young people are treated like adults here,” he said. “There’s no clocking on or clocking off.  We work long, hard hours but if you need a bit of time off, that’s OK.  You have to be flexible with people.  There has to be some give and take.  That’s what does it for me.”    

But there is also a challenge.  Most of the people in the business have been there much longer than Adam, are older and more experienced, yet he has to perform in a management role.  How does he manage the age and experience gap?  

“I am always willing to listen and to accept ideas from everyone here, especially those who probably know better than I do,” he said. “If I implement their ideas I always give them credit.  If I don’t, I make sure they understand why.  It’s a two-way street.” Adam explained that they had recently started using plastic wardrobe cartons as a direct result of a suggestion from a number of people in the warehouse.  “It’s saved us a lot of money on materials.”  

Of course, Adam holds a management trump card.  He’s had the experience of working on the road, he understands the job and knows the people very well.  “Because I have been on the road I know when I am asking them to do too much,” he explained. “It makes it much easier for everyone.” But sometimes, as a manager, you have to push through your own ideas and opinions even if they don’t have universal agreement.  “I think they accept that it’s my responsibility and those years on the road have earned me enough respect so they’ll back me up on the difficult decisions.”    

Adam also understands that the international moving industry is largely about the people you know.  His travels have introduced him to agents around the world and he continues the process as part of Young Movers which he sees as a very valuable organisation to help people develop and maintain contacts.  “I have already been to Amsterdam, Budapest and Madrid,” he said.  “Some say it’s just a booze up, but it’s the people we meet at these events that help us to run our companies in the future.  It’s my job to represent my company, create a good impression, generate new business and then handle it when it comes in.”  

I spoke to Adam about technology.  As a young man the technology that puts the fear of God into me excites him.  He’s already using Moveware to administer the business and like many other companies, gave up the paper and pencil method of doing surveys a very long time ago.  He’s also started to do video surveys.  He also uses the technology to work out prices for customers during the visit – something that has been frowned on in the past by some (not me) as high pressure selling.  “Customers want things instantly,” said Adam.  “You have to be able to give them the schedule and quote there and then, in the house.  Gone are the days when you could send the quote later. Forget it! By then you have lost the sale. I think that has changed in the last 5 years.”  

He doesn’t see that as high pressure at all. “The customer has invited you round to find out what it will cost for them to move house. They want to know now.  And even if you can’t give them an exact figure, because there are details that need checking, you can give them a close estimate and confirm it later.  It’s not high pressure selling, you are just doing what they have asked you to do. What’s the point of being a salesman if you can’t work out the price?”  

The moving industry is changing now more quickly than it has ever done in the past and the rate of change is increasing. To succeed you have to be flexible, intuitive, professional and brave.  Its future is in the hands of the new generation, many of whom I have met and most have impressed me enormously. I happily add Adam Palmer to the list.  

Photo: Adam (right) with Malcolm Carter, his manager.


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