FT Undercover checks out three moving brands
Now the snow is only a memory, but in March the quest to find shoveling services in Minnesota was impossible—which seems like a franchise opportunity.
Putting your house on the market and moving to Chicago is fun, except for the putting your house on the market and moving parts. Our first challenge was showing the house during the snowpocalypse in Minneapolis, which we had personally brought on by selling our commercial-grade snow blower in late December. The gods of winter laughed and went to work. By March, the shoveled path on our sidewalk had dwindled to 3 icy inches wide and the drifts after the plows roared by were 6 feet high. I did a round of calls: The Grounds Guys franchises in my area were no longer in operation. The independent services didn’t shovel public sidewalks in Minneapolis. (Huh?) Other companies had too much business and weren’t taking on new clients. Finally, an app called Lawn Love offered a phone number in North Carolina, and early Saturday morning two guys drove up in a beat-up car and got out with two shovels, clearing it quickly for $118 plus tip.
The upshot: Hiring a snow-shoveling service in March in Minnesota is harder than buying a swimsuit in July, which seems like a perfect opportunity for an enterprising franchisee in the colder climates. —BE
Next up in moving adventures: mold, asbestos and ice dams, the trifecta! AdvantaClean had a sophisticated call center with prompt responses, which I found is NOT the norm for many franchises. But when the technician came to estimate my job, he was overly alarmist and under-certified. He suspected mold under the basement paneling and asbestos in the ceiling tile adhesive in my 1936-built home—but recommended I hire a certified mold specialist for $400 to verify his $2,500 base bid. Wait, what? Wasn’t he qualified to stand behind his bid? He also required I hire a certified asbestos inspector for an unspecified price. No thanks. I found ShelterTech, which promptly sent a technician to estimate and bid the whole job for $3,900, and brought in a big crew to get everything done in one day. To complete my joyous experience, one day it started raining in my dining room; so I called a half-dozen companies at 6:30 a.m. including The Ice Dam Guys. That owner called me back in 20 minutes (the others never called at all), had a technician to my house by 9 a.m. and got the $3,800 job.
The upshot: Emergency home services franchises should beef up their response times and their certifications so customers can get all related problems addressed in one shot. —BE
Everyone warned me to avoid brokers in the moving company business, but when a friendly, knowledgeable and actual human being from Cross Country Movers called me immediately after an online query to calculate costs, I ignored the advice. Note to everyone else: Robo-calls or muffled messages from obvious call centers do not work, so please invest more into this crucial step. Two long phone calls later, including writing up and then revising detailed packing lists, and I had what seemed like an attractively low bid so I signed, then heard nothing until the day before my scheduled move. By the time the “quality assurance” call was done and the actual driver from Xpress Professional Movers showed up, the price had soared by a cool 125 percent. Don’t even get me started on what happened to the $700 cash I paid to have my two oversized couches hauled up 14 flights of stairs. Egads!
The upshot: Dear Two Men and a Truck, the local franchise that is not a broker but handles multi-state moves directly: I sincerely regret not hiring you. I will the next time I move, which based on this experience will be never. —BE