An interview with Andy Wells of Premier Relocation as his company shrugs off misfortune and carves its space in a competitive world, by Steve Jordan.
It’s strange how sometimes you need to travel half way around the world to meet someone interesting who lives just down the road. But that’s the nature of international business in general and the moving industry in particular.
It was at IMA in Bangkok that I bumped into Andy Wells from Premier Relocation in Surrey, UK. I had just stepped off a 777 and was feeling a little shaky, as you do. It was during a quiet dinner with a small group, intriguingly in a restaurant called ‘No idea’, that Andy walked in. A larger-than-life character with a big personality and an even bigger story to tell.
When the planes hit the World Trade Center in 2001, Andy was in charge of the American Airlines’ first-class check-in desk from Heathrow to Victoria. The service ended soon after. He then returned to his first profession, that of graphic designer, and took on some lucrative contracts including designing vehicle livery. It was then that he met Atlantic Relocation.
It was about this time that Andy became seriously ill, just escaping with his life. His business, however, didn’t survive. During this time Atlantic were good to him and, when he was again well enough, offered him a job as a contractor. He bought a van, learned to pack and within 12 months he was handling many of their VIP moves with customers specifically requesting his services. Obviously the first-class, VIP treatment he’d learned and taught at the airline had stayed with him.
But the good times didn’t last. Atlantic Relocation stopped trading leaving creditors, including Andy to whom the company owed around €100,000. It was a bad debt no small business could survive. For the second time, Andy was in trouble.
“I really didn’t know what to do,” said Andy. “I had staff to pay and the tax man still wanted his money even though I didn’t have it. As a last resort I contacted the customers. One had three shipments on the way to the UK that Andy offered to deliver for nothing. They were very grateful. Before long he was on their tender list: Andy, with his one Luton van, alongside companies such as Sterling, TEAM and Crown. “I got a lot of work!” He also approached Vlad Piskla, who had been an Atlantic employee, and offered him a share of the company. “It was a big risk for him too,” said Andy, “but we made it work.”
The first 18 months were very tough. Andy said he couldn’t get credit from anyone. “Not even for a roll of tape.” He bought materials for each job as it came along and did what he could to get by. Through an old contact he was fortunate in securing the moves for three premiership footballers: Thierry Henry, Fernando Torres and Cesc Fabregas. “They paid straight away,” said Andy. Then the tax rebate came through!
It’s only been in the last 18 months that Premier Relocation has shrugged off its difficulties. Now it has a fleet of vehicles including five Luton vans, an 18-tonner and an artic and trailer. It’s grown so much that it is looking for new premises so it can leave the self storage company’s yard that it now dominates. It’s doing well. It’s also just moved another footballer, John Terry.
But the shadow of Atlantic still hangs a little heavy. “Because we have done so well in such a short time people often think that we must have been supported by the people from Atlantic,” said Andy. “Because so many people lost money to them, they won’t work with us. But we have never been anything to do with Atlantic and we suffered at least as much as anyone else. We have done it all ourselves and it’s been very hard work.”
Andy is not from a moving background but has still made a success of his business, against the odds. He believes that it was his training at American Airlines that helped him focus on customer service which, he says, is paramount. But he doesn’t take all the credit: far from it. He knows that it is his staff who make the company and is full of admiration for them. “I wouldn’t be anywhere without my boys,” he said,” and I make sure they know it.”
It’s still work in progress at Premier and Andy is not short of ideas for value added services. He already provides a service that allows customers to keep their cars until the last minute, allowing them even to drive to the airport, with Andy buying the car from them and selling it on to make additional revenue. He’s currently negotiating with financiers to do the same for their houses too.
It’s been less than four years since Andy started. It’s been an extraordinary journey. But, then again, Andy is an extraordinary chap.
Photos: Top: Andy Wells; top right, left to right: Lee Bignell, Dan Lynham, Vlad Piskla, Dan Keogh, Ron Bentink and Daniel Norton; middle left: former Premier League footballer John Terry numbers among Premier’s customers.
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