Commercial, residential moving biz focuses on customer service

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As the manager of a commercial or residential moving business, what sort of job would rev your jets?

According to Ron Pond, general manager of Graebel Movers of Colorado Springs and his national and local account managers, John Katsumoto and Mark Thiem, the relocation in 2000 of two separate offices to a single consolidated site, on-time and with perfect execution generated a real adrenaline rush. Such was the case when Graebel was hired three years ago to move two of Oracle’s local operations into a single headquarters. “Every aspect of that job was completed over a weekend, with no mishaps and to the customer’s specifications – we were really proud of that one,” says Pond.

Evidently, so was Oracle. Pat Murphy, manager of building services for Oracle, confirms that Graebel serves as his company’s official corporate moving firm – and does at least one major move a year for the high-tech developer. “We have four floors and are constantly relocating job groups and departments within our building. Graebel actually assigns a move supervisor to our jobs. Ron Pond, for example, worked with our director of facilities, Evelyn Hara, to map out a move plan; to label boxes; to put up signs on all the affected quads and cubicles to be included; and made sure all walls and cubicle corners are protected prior to removing and replacing boxes and equipment. It’s really a complete team effort between Oracle and Graebel,” he said.

Murphy says his criteria for a good moving company include three areas. “They need to make sure that all materials and equipment get to the right offices, they create minimal inconvenience before and after the move, the movers avoid any building damage.” To that point, Murphy says, “Our new headquarters has natural stone floors. Graebel even put boards down to keep from damaging them with heavy carts.”

The nine-year-old Colorado Springs office of the Denver-based Graebel Companies, Inc. does at least fifty percent of its business each year in office moves – both local and “interstate,” which refers to transcontinental corporate relocations. Like many other moving companies, Pond says his bottom line has been impacted by a slowdown in the economy. “Our best year was in 1999 when we did between $2.5 million and $3 million in sales.”

Graebel Movers of Colorado Springs, unlike many of its local counterparts, is comprised of more than 50 van line operations, service centers and forwarding offices around the country. As Pond points out, most local movers are agents who represent a big national company in a local market – but have no ties to other independent agents doing the same thing in Van Nuys, Milwaukee, or Orlando, for example. “We have a one-of-a-kind structure in the industry,” says Pond. “In addition to each operation’s participation in the overall system, we have service centers set up with each primary area serving the surrounding 250 miles.”

John Katsumoto, national account manager, agrees. “At Graebel, when you set up an interstate move for a corporate customer,” Katsumoto notes, “our consistency and inter-office communication can make a real difference. A lot of people don’t realize that they won’t get that with most national companies.” Katsumoto has worked for at least two other large national van line companies in his career and recently left to join the Graebel team. “We’re the guys that everybody else wants to beat,” he says. “If I had been offered a job with Graebel, I was ready to leave the business; there are just too many companies that don’t care about good customer service.”

Another Graebel strength, says Katsumoto, lies in its accountability and performance. “It’s tough to control all the aspects of a move when one company isn’t orchestrating the whole operation. So many of the large nationals have merged and are constantly changing management. When small local operator contracts to haul for them, he handles just one leg of the move, shows up, unloads and then may pick up a completely different payload somewhere else. There’s no portal-to-portal control.”

That’s strong testimony, but not unexpected says Pond. “When we do a bid, we know that we’re not always the cheapest,” he explained. “Our price will always be competitive, but Graebel Van Lines is known throughout the industry as a top player. The company ranks just behind United and Bekin, for example, in size. But as far as quality, we’re number one.”

One distinction Graebel makes is in the way it hires its movers. “We do a ten-year background check on each serious candidate,” Pond explains. “Lots of our employees are college graduates – and they make a higher wage than most of the other drivers.” Company policy, says Pond, requires that each employee go through the complete screening process. “We have to turn away about 85 percent of our applicants,” he explains.

Another feature that sets the company apart from its competitors involves the powerful technology backbone integrating all aspects of the firm’s local, national and international commercial and residential business. David Graebel, company founder in 1982, realized the importance of the Internet in offering better service, consistency and reliability. He had done his homework over the years in Wausau, Wisconsin, working as a local agent for some of the country’s largest van lines. Today, based on David Graebel’s desire to develop a “best practices” model, the company incorporates Web-based real-time technology into all aspects of the business – allowing the company to administer everything from order entry to claims management; from invoicing to real estate and rental transactions. Graebel’s programs even allow customers who utilize multiple carriers to manage a corporate move efficiently by tracking shipment status, making job assignments and monitoring service quality.

Pond, Thiem, and Katsumoto focus their energies on developing new business in the Pikes Peak region. “We really are ‘the mover of choice’ for some of the biggest names in corporate America – but we see a growing opportunity in household moving and military relocation as well,” Pond says. One thing is certain: in a good or bad economy, Graebel Van Lines knows that somebody somewhere will always be moving.