It was a warm day as I pointed my trusty Nissan down the M3 to visit Schepens International in Hampshire. I knew nothing about the company but just had a feeling that they had a story to tell. I was right. By Steve Jordan.
I confess that I was on my way somewhere else and need to fill up my day productively. I had looked for a company on my route and had a brief glance at the website. That was all it took.
You see, when choosing a company for a profile in The Mover I have just one criterion: they have to be extraordinary.
Schepens (pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound as in school) impressed me immediately long before I even started my journey. On their website I liked their livery, their photography and their clever SEO. But it was more than that. They had a ‘news’ page; what’s more, it was up to date. For me, as a journalist, that puts them in the top 5% of moving companies worldwide before they’ve even said hello. I called to book the appointment and Janice in the office was helpful, friendly and bright. As soon as I rang off, my email pinged with written confirmation. I was hooked!
As the M3 morphed into the M27 I was preparing for disappointment. I had rather built this company up in my mind and it was going to be tough for any modest mover to meet my expectation. The warehouse and office is, well, out of the way. It’s on the edge of the New Forest on land owned by a stud Farm. Not quite what I’d expected. The gate barred my way but opened smoothly and automatically to Janice’s will when I announced by arrival. What was I to find?
Chris and Paul Schepens started the business in 2006 and followed in a rich seam of movers who went before them. Great Grandfather started Schepens and Wells in Loughborough, then his son took over as the company transformed into Bewley and Schepens. Martin Schepens, their dad, was a partner in Cestrian Removals in Chester. It was inevitable that the boys would follow suit. Wasn’t it?
Well, no, not really. Chris joined the army at aged 16 serving five years with the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers (REME). Both boys harboured a desire to be pilots. But Paul had spent much of his formative years helping out his father (in the time-honoured fashion) and moving had got into their blood like malaria. And, just as stubbornly, it refused to leave. In 2004, Paul called Chris to suggest they set up in business together. “I was in Iraq at the time and anything seemed to be an improvement,” said Chris. There were a few stumbles along the way but the new company started trading two years later.
They bought their first truck second hand for £1250. But right from the start they were determined to do things properly and, as my first impressions had suggested, although the company is small, it breathes quality. “You either gear your business to doing something well or you go for cheapness,” he explained. “I don’t understand why some people use cheap materials, for example. Surely if they have poor materials they have high insurance claims and unhappy customers. It can't be good for business long term.” Paul said he had experiences in the past of how to do things badly, he wasn’t going to make the same mistakes. “We always use picture and TV cartons, for example. If you slide pictures into flat PK2’s you’ll inevitable damage and scuff the larger frames. We also always use carpet protectors whatever the quality or condition of the carpets. It’s one rule for everyone.”
It helps that both Chris and Paul have served their time on the road driving and packing. It makes the selling easier for them. Customers trust them to be straightforward. “Many people say they want the best price, but they don’t: they want the best value,” said Paul. “It’s easy for us to manage their expectations because we have done the job ourselves. If you know how to sell things you can get work whatever size you are. It’s definitely more difficult for sales people who have no experience of being on the road.”
That connection with the crews has another benefit. “We try to make the job fun,” said Chris. “Working until nine or ten at night, even if you are paid by the hour, is not fun no matter who you are. We try to arrange jobs so that doesn’t happen and, because we’ve done it, we know.”
Schepens tries to do all the work themselves, not give it away. They run their own vehicles into Europe and take on the absolute minimum of hired help during the busy summer months. “We never take on too much work,” said Paul “It's easy to oversubscribe in the summer and end up doing a bad job. That's not what we want to do. Our sole aim as a business has always been to do it ourselves. If we take a job on we take ownership of it and it's done properly.” The only exception to this is deep-sea groupage which they ship through John Mason.
The company now has seven vehicles, very smart Scanias and Mercedes, and has built a good reputation locally. Its business comes almost exclusively from the internet. The company joined BAR as soon as it was possible. Chris was, until recently, the chairman of the BAR Southern Area. “It's a good selling tool,” said Chris. “To be in the BAR you have to meet minimum criteria. They go through everything during the annual inspections. That’s got to be good.” One criticism is that Paul and Chris would like to see more emphasis on training from BAR however,
I believe, that is high on the Association’s agenda.
The warehouse and office is small but tidy. Their ambition, sometime soon, is to find a freehold property, to develop more deep-sea work and to continue focusing on doing things right.
I was not disappointed. After 90 minutes in the company of Schepens I thought the reality lived up to the website’s promise. Well done chaps.
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