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How to start up: a home removals business

  1. Start a home removals business
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    Christian Annesley

    Christian Annesley Contributor Full Member

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    On UKBF’s threads, there are lots of excellent ideas swapped about simple business ideas – and one of the simplest and most popular business types is home removals. Here we look at some of the variables to consider – and the pitfalls to avoid – when setting up. We also share some insights from someone who has done it before.

    Last year, the UKBF team wrote about how to set up a man-and-van business (women are just as qualified, of course, but that’s the popular lingo).

    A step up from a man-and-van service, though in a more ‘professionalised’ and evolved market space, is home (and commercial) removals.

    What do you need to get started? In brief, a suitable vehicle, diligence, care, good health and insurance will get you started. It’s a low bar, so standing out and picking up a flow of work will be the early challenge.

    Could this be for you, either on a self-employed basis or within a limited company structure? Let’s start with some questions you need to ask yourself:

    1. Are you comfortable driving at least a 3.5 tonne lorry? That would be the minimum you would need to offer a service and most house moves would need at least two such vehicles
    2. Have you got the finances to keep two 3.5 tonne lorries on the road and serviceable? You could partner with someone otherwise
    3. Do you own a van already or do you have a budget and a strategy for securing one in decent condition that will be an asset rather than a burden? Your vehicle needs to be clean, taxed, MOT’d and insured. You’ll need good-in-transit insurance too and public liability cover is worth considering too
    4. Are you licensed to drive a 3.5 tonner? If you passed your driving test before 1997 you can drive up to a 7.5 tonne truck and pull a trailer; if you passed after January 1997 you can drive a 3.5 tonner – but remember the payload is 875 kg
    5. Are you happy to drive long distances? You’ll need to be if you plan on taking on national deliveries
    6. Are you ready for the physicality of the job? It will be gruelling at times
    7. Moving house is a big deal. Have you got the people skills to support and engage with your customers during what is a stressful time for most?
    8. Have you got a realistic marketing strategy to drum up business? It’s an industry where word of mouth counts for a lot, so you’ll need a plan to get underway and get some momentum in the early years of trading in particular

    Marketing tips for home removal businesses

    OK. Those are some basic questions that have surely got you thinking. Let’s move on to exploring the best of the ideas from the threads. Here, quite understandably, a lot of the focus is on the best strategies for drumming up business.

    Lucas Di Carlo, who is based in London, says the golden rule with any marketing is to work out the ideal profile of customer first, before spending money on leaflets or online advertising and profile-raising.

    “If you ideal customers are young people, you may want to start with Gumtree ads and post around 11 am. Or you can start free with Facebook groups and directories. If you want to target students, you may want to contact student unions in your area.”

    Another member, Alan, picks up on the importance of the Facebook page and social generally, and of online testimonials to build trust.

    “Testimonials are key, so always try to collect one. Post them (or better yet get your clients to post them) on both your Facebook page and websites. Keep your Facebook page active too, with regular photos of your work. Social proof is important for local businesses.”

    In fact, many of the responses could be said to beg the question of whether, in this social media era, an old-fashioned marketing push like leafleting will repay the effort, given that cannot come with the same sort of social proof.

    MBE1 says: “I think leaflets are a waste of time. The web should and can provide you with all the business you need. There are loads of free directories, websites etc. plus cheap-to-advertise sites like monthly eBay listings, classifieds etc. which should see a quick or immediate return.”

    He adds too, that testimonials are the thing for building trust that translates into bookings.

    “What really counts is to obtain honest testimonials from clients and put them on your website. Once you get, say, 50-odd then people stop ringing you to ask how much you charge; instead they ring to enquire if you are available.

    “[When I did removals] I never advertised rates personally. I just quoted each individually and worked on utter reliability. I specialised in small removals, such as students and single people, and many used my service several times a year for many years.

    “But work out your costs, depreciation on vehicles, fuel insurances etc. too. There are plenty of busy fools who have little intention of working for the quoted figure.”

    The experienced home removals business

    To add to the good, grounded advice from the threads, one man with 20 years of experience in home removals is Richard Davey, who founded KwikMove in Bristol with a single vehicle in the mid-90s but these days has an operation with eight 7.5 tonne vehicles, and a full complement of office and on-the-ground staff.

    “The basics of doing removals haven’t changed in my time, I don’t think,” says Davey. “There is a lot of logistics to getting every job delivered every day and in particular responding to late changes from customers who may have underestimated their needs, for example.”

    Davey says what gave KwikMove impetus from early on was his willingness to take on the difficult jobs that others avoided and it’s still a big part of the offer.

    “We have a reputation locally for doing difficult moves – residential or commercial – involving heavy items and difficult access. We are specialists in piano removals too. In the difficult removals space we have little competition, so it’s a good place to occupy. If someone needs a stone bath craned into a second-floor bathroom say, it’s something we can take on. We’ve got the contacts and the experience – and there are a surprising number of jobs that come through with those kinds of challenges.”

    KwikMove gets most of its business from word-of-mouth and social-media recommendation, meaning conventional marketing approaches aren’t needed, says Davey. But he adds that keeping the company’s hard-won reputation is still the daily challenge.

    “Reputations are easily lost. We never forget that. Most of what we do is simple, with the right tools and the right attitude, so it comes down to consistency. That’s what we strive for every day.”

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