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A Moving Story

Dec 03, 2017

There was once a mover who won three million pounds on the National Lottery. During a subsequent interview, he was asked what he intended doing with the money and he replied that he would continue to invest it in his company until it ran out!

What brought this article about was the fact that whilst taking part in one of the lady wife’s recent and habitual de-cluttering exercises, I had come across an article I had written nearly twenty years ago on the subject of the moving industry. I can honestly say that, if I was to submit this piece today, there would be very little that I would need to change.

Don’t get me wrong, I am not implying in any way that the industry is either stuck in the past or is not investing in the future. In fact, on the contrary, what I see today – and the observer sees more than the player – is an industry that gives every impression of being both modern and dynamic.

The very nature of our economy determines that companies are constantly being formed and then, if they don’t keep abreast with the changes that occur within their market place, they finally drop off the end of the conveyor belt. Look at how the nature of personal banking has changed as a result of computerisation and the changing nature of people’s shopping habits. High street suppliers have been superseded by out of town supermarkets who, in turn, have come under a variety of external pressures and as a result are now opening smaller convenience stores … in the high street.

One of the very few exceptions to this process is the removal industry which still seems to operate in the same way – and I don’t mean the same ‘old’ way. In the main, removal warehouses have followed the supermarkets to out of town locations but one cannot really foresee any change to its labour-intensive nature. A vehicle is still the main item of equipment and this is not going to alter as long as people go on living in houses which they move out of and in to. Of course many innovations in equipment and packing materials have taken place over the years and although naturally there will be further changes, it is not possible to imagine anything too dramatic taking place.

I must say that a major improvement is in the nature of marketing and this is particularly evinced in vehicle liveries. It is quite obvious that movers see their vehicles as being the best means of company promotion together with well turned out and trained staff. The industry’s adaptation to the threat from self storage has also been most impressive with various alternatives now being offered.

Of course, unlike a lot of suppliers, the moving industry cannot really generate a demand for its product. The market increases or decreases according to myriad

factors which are outside the movers’ control and which are, more often than not, also subject to government whim. So marketing tends to be directed towards promoting the company rather than the product. Of course a major objective is always to seek to increase the share of the total market held by professional movers.

So in essence, what we have is an industry that has all of the ingredients of an industrial company – equipment, vehicles and so on – but which really operates in a retail environment. This has always been the case and in many ways movers defy most of the usual business conventions. Normally, companies must expand in order to survive because the opposite of expansion is stagnation. Even Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook fame said that the only strategy guaranteed to fail is that of not taking risks.

I expect that every industrial sector thinks that it is unique; my early background was in packaging, and we thought that that was pretty unique as well. But there is definitely something rather distinctive about the moving industry which has an inherently timeless quality to it and is very much rooted in its local environment. For example, when on holiday and talking to somebody for the first time and asking where they come from, people always seem to know their local remover.

Of course in the very nature of things, companies do expand and they do attempt to exploit alternative markets: corporate, commercial self storage and so on. But companies that expand into areas outside of their core business can often stumble and sometimes fall; so caution is probably the watch word.

I suppose, finally, it is fair to say that moving is perhaps the ultimate cyclical industry, being influenced by so many recurring factors from climate to school holidays. But removers somehow find ways of dealing with this, and the vast majority seem to prosper. Of course prices will always vary according to prevailing market conditions but as somebody once said ‘nobody’s yet repealed the law of supply and demand!’

I think I might keep a copy of this article to review in twenty years’ time.

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