Start-Ups Seek to Take Some of the Pain Out of Moving
“We’re the experience layer in between consumer and service provider, so consumers don’t have to spend the time researching and coordinating,” said Mr. Pittenger, 27, the chief operating officer of Moved, which is based in New York. “When they are busy at work and going about their day, moving tasks are getting done in the background.”
Mr. Pittenger is part of a younger generation who are renting and living with roommates rather than purchasing homes; they move more often as a result. Adults ages 18 to 34 have the highest rate of migration, according to the United States Census Bureau. While they made up about 34 percent of the total population of the United States from 2007 to 2012, they accounted for over 43 percent of people who moved.
After a slump during the recession, the industry as a whole has returned to growth, and revenue is expected to continue to grow for the next five years, according to IBISWorld, a research company.
“I think people are less stuck in the homeowner mentality,” said Cameron Doody, a founder of Bellhops, a company in Chattanooga, Tenn., that provides moving services. People are “valuing mobility more than ever before. We’re seeing a big shift in people that are holding out longer to buy homes for the flexibility of being able to rent.”
Mr. Doody, 30, who has moved five times in the last four years, focuses on a type of mover he thinks the larger companies have left behind.
“Traditionally, customers have been bucketed into two categories,” he said. “You’re either the do-it-yourselfer, where you’re renting a truck and begging your friends to help you, or you go to professional moving companies,” frequently for a large home move.
As Mr. Doody sees it, the frequent do-it-yourself mover would hire a professional if it weren’t so costly. Bellhops uses algorithms to make small-scale moves — typically involving local moves of apartments and small homes — more affordable, he said. A typical two-bedroom apartment move with Bellhops costs under $400, according to the company.
Bellhops’ moving services are available in Kansas City, Mo.; Chapel Hill, N.C.; Athens, Ga.; and about 50 other towns and cities with major universities.
Mr. Doody’s company works with school organizations to find students to work as movers. The company performs background checks on them through a third party. Customers receive a biography of their “bellhop” when they schedule a move. Once the move is complete, customers rate the movers much as a passenger would rate a driver after an Uber ride.
Companies like Moved are what Lesli Bertoli, vice president and general manager of Allied Van Lines, calls lead generators. These companies “need someone else to go to the house and do the work,” she said.
Customers of Allied work directly with one of the company’s members, who consist of 350 independent moving companies.
Deciding whether to use a start-up “really depends on what you’re moving and where you’re moving,” Ms. Bertoli said. “If you were moving your entire house and leaving the state, I’m not sure I want to leave that to someone from an app.”
Scott Michael, president and chief operating officer of the American Moving & Storage Association, a trade association with 3,500 members, urges customers to do a thorough background check on any moving company they work with.
“Just because someone says something on the app or website doesn’t ensure that its true,” he said. “It might be better to select a mover yourself so that you can do the research” on that company.
Other companies are working with traditional movers but use their own technology to streamline the process. Unpakt, based in New York, lets customers compare bids and reviews from numerous companies. The hope is to make moving easier for consumers while helping traditional companies grow.
Ghostruck, a Seattle start-up, works with licensed, professional moving companies that pick up work during downtime. Its name is the term for a truck that comes back empty from a delivery.
Customers plug in their moving details and snap a few photos of their possessions, and Ghostruck offers a rate.
Many of Ghostruck’s customers are using professional movers for the first time, but they don’t want to haggle. They definitely don’t want to make a phone call. The company allows customers to price and book a move completely online with no human interaction.
“We frequently have people booking at midnight or 2 in the morning,” said Nathanael Nienaber, the chief executive. He said the company was best suited for small apartment moves. Customers often book about three days before they intend to move, and the average cost is $250 to $450.
Jack Griffin, the chief executive of Atlas Van Lines, which has nearly 500 movers in the United States and Canada, has been approached by start-ups and says he applauds their thinking. But he cautioned that the moving industry was complicated.
“Our business is highly regulated and getting more so,” Mr. Griffin said. There are regulatory measures, including safety and cargo protection, that companies must comply with. Companies moving single items or traveling intrastate may have more luck breaking in, he said.
Atlas, like many other traditional moving companies, is not ignoring new technologies, though. Atlas agents apply bar codes, scan and itemize customers’ goods to prevent loss; use an online system to calculate weight and estimate a moving price immediately; and have automated their claims process.
“We spend a lot on technology to try to smooth out a stressful life experience,” Mr. Griffin said, adding that these investments may help the moving industry avoid the fate of other disrupted industries. After all, he said, “I’m sure taxi drivers thought they weren’t threatened by Uber.”