We recently contacted six major corporate moving companies to hear first-hand about their journey through 2020/21, as well as how they see their operations evolving in the wake of the pandemic. The survey’s purpose was to gain knowledge to assist both corporations and movers in planning for future relocation needs. As promised in our last blog, the following is a summary of the responses received to the four survey questions, after which we offer our thoughts on what we heard.
1. How has COVID impacted the moving industry?
– The majority cited difficulties in acquiring and retaining human resources (drivers, packers, warehouse workers, etc.), which in their opinion was exacerbated by the federal government’s relief program (CERB).
– Most highlighted their struggles with increased expenses due to the labour shortage, the higher cost of equipment (trucks, trailers, carboard, and fuel), as well as the reduced availability of other required supplies.
– After an initial drop in corporate moves, the demand for all types of moves rebounded dramatically this summer, far exceeding capacity. This, not surprisingly, caused some customer services difficulties.
– The use of technology in the planning process gained greater acceptance, particularly for virtual estimates, creating some efficiency amid the imposed restrictions and health and safety requirements.
2. Volume was unprecedented this year. How did you manage it?
– Many were thankful to be servicing relocations with their own resources (drivers, fleet, etc.) as there was little support from industry alliances. Those that relied on partner van lines had to work around blackouts periods and long delays.
– Available resources had to be carefully managed to mitigate exorbitant costs and maintain ties with corporate and repeat customers. Some were very selective in the moves accepted, e.g., if it could not be done with internal resources, it was not taken on.
– A few focussed on the higher demand for non-corporate moves to help generate revenue while ensuring their valued corporate clients were given priority.
– A few turned to alternative transportation methods such as sea containers and other non-traditional moving practices to help their clients.
3. What have you learned?
– Many stated that they learned to work more efficiently with the resources they have.
– Along with the efficiency gained, they were reminded of the importance of ensuring employees are well cared for.
– Most recognized the need to be flexible with their service delivery models and to consider alternatives.
– Responses were split with respect who took “ownership” for the problems stemming from the current crisis. Some embraced the challenge and adopted a solution-based approach to meet demand and manage costs, while others simply focussed on the revenue loss and struggled to maintain operational stability. The latter group expressed frustration toward industry advocates and other relocation players for a lack of support.
4. How will this change the industry?
– The scarcity of drivers has been a long-standing problem, which worsened during the pandemic. Most companies agree that, going forward, drivers need to be treated as a key part of the business and will require better working conditions and pay. This will have to be factored in the price of moving goods.
– Companies that are strictly booking agents with little or no in-house operational strength must expand their services and offer alternatives to the traditional truck and driver approach if they are to succeed.
– There were clear differences in how the future was viewed. While all participants feel the industry needs to treat drivers with more respect, others suggest that the industry should focus less on the traditional branded truck and driver combination and invest in other methods available within the truck transportation framework, such as freight carriers.
Ward O’Farrell Comments
The fact that 2020/21 has been a difficult period for movers came through loud and clear during our discussions with company representatives. Some operations rallied and faced the challenge head on, and others struggled with the changing environment and reduced support from alliances built over the years. All recognized that the pandemic amplified pre-existing industry problems, bringing them to the forefront (e.g., driver shortage). The result is a moving industry in transition, and the pendulum is in full swing.
Our advice to client corporations:
– Communicate regularly with your movers, informing them as early as possible of upcoming or anticipated moves.
– Keep an open mind to alternative approaches or push your supplier to offer some.
– Make sure your transferees understand the current moving environment.
– Expect some disruptions.
Tracking and assessing your supplier remains critical to maintaining a good partnership. There is a difference between suppliers making a real effort to readjust, but at times failing, and those just working to get by. Highly professional movers will:
– Keep the client informed of volume fluctuations and resourcing issues.
– Consistently plan moves respecting the client’s relocation requirements and financial constraints.
– Look for solutions to problems and alternative approaches when needed.
– Show compassion and understanding of the anxious transferee’s needs.
– Regularly inform and update the client on service issues or anticipated problems.
Going forward, some strained movers will shift their focus to what they see as more profitable lines of business (e.g., non-corporate moves), some will minimally modify their operations to adapt to the changing requirements, and, hopefully, a good number will rebuild, innovate, and become leaders in the industry. A word of caution though; this transition will not be fast, and the current difficulties will likely persist for the next while, even as the rest of the business world stabilizes.
We are following the industry closely and will provide updates in future blogs.