Features
HHG movers
Moving people - a unique trucking job
As household goods movers, we really are ambassadors. We are trusted to work for families in their homes and among their children and transport their personal belongings. We carry the truckdriver image into the homes of regular citizens, those who run big businesses, and even those who legislate regulations. We are Bill and Cindy Klemm, and are owner-operators from Richfield Springs, NY.

It's a different kind of work and we spend a lot of time working in the trailer and inside people's homes. It's also an interesting job. We get to meet all kinds of people and find out what they do. It's fun to learn what they like about their area and why they are moving.

With HHG there are no regular hours or routes, and we enjoy that. Our dispatcher keeps the truck full and the miles between stops minimal. Pre-move estimates and timely updates are his tools, as he looks ahead for us.

We drive less than half the miles of a freight hauler, because it takes from two days to a week to fill the trailer, and nearly as long to unload it, in another part of the country. Sometimes we rent a shuttle truck to access small streets up on hilltops and where city and road planners forgot that everyone needs wide roads for trucks, school buses and emergency vehicles. Curbs and islands make access hard for trucks, snowplows and wheelchairs. A shuttle is costly and takes a lot longer, since every piece must be double handled. The extra handling also increases the risk of damage and claims, which no one wants.

Customers ask us, "Why not use a smaller truck for the whole move?" A large household may fill the whole trailer or more, but we usually haul three or more shipments at once. It would take a lot more trucks and more truckdrivers to carry it all on smaller trucks. It can be done, but it's much more costly and would not pay enough. One couple bought two smaller trailers (pups built for household goods) but each one cost about $40,000, and they are more difficult to back up. They also have to find a safe place to drop one and the extra cost is wasted on the majority of loads because we usually can get close to the house.

As a rule, we get a higher rate of pay per mile than freight haulers for a whole truckload, but a truckload might take three weeks or more to load, haul and unload coast to coast. So we look at costs per day as much as costs per mile, since many days have very few miles at all.

Moving vans cost about twice as much as freight trailers. Our 1999 Kentucky moving van has a four-foot, pull-out tail gate, air ride, anti-lock brakes, skylights, finished hardwood floors, a drop deck and belly boxes close to the road for 16-foot walk boards and equipment. The sides have logistics slots, extra strength for load bars, and plastic wall liners. Bill once had to put a car up on load bars because there were already two on the floor. This year there are more car carriers, and we haven't taken any cars as yet. We carry 260 heavy moving blankets and 150 skins to pad wrap everything else. Even with aluminum wheels, our empty weight is about 43,000 pounds.

We never worry about being overweight because plastic toys, lampshades, sofas and patio furniture take up a lot of room, but don't weigh much. The military requires that all the furniture be completely empty, so their loads use extra boxes, and reduce the overall truckload weight. Even when we use our pull-out tailgate, the truckload is still under our registered weight limit.

We have a great dispatching and office team at Lynn M&S, who work within our requirements for rest and home time. We explained our needs before signing on, and let them know a few weeks ahead of time if we have an important family event at home. We drive mostly during the day, taking turns during the long miles. Like any other drivers, we avoid rush hours in the cities as much as possible. Bill does most of the driving in the loading/delivery area.

We pickup and deliver to warehouses for dozens of different companies. One shipment may involve half a dozen companies, from a corporation or government to a relocation company, booker, origin agent, packing, agency pickup, origin storage, transporting (us), destination storage, a separate destination, delivery and unpacking. We loaded one in Indiana that started with another carrier in Washington, and took it to the East Coast. I am amazed at the accounting systems our motor carrier must untangle in order to get us paid, but they know how to do it.

Communication is the key

Our motor carrier does not use satellite tracking on the trucks. We depend heavily on our cell phone and faxes when we can get them. With so many offices involved in a move, the customer really likes to hear from the people who will be entering their home. They like to know that we are coming along with the big truck and that big trucks have real people inside them. They want to know us before we take everything they own. The transportation process takes some special explaining to get the children's favorite toys into the truck, and shut the doors.

We have good luck with most warehouses. They are very understanding and do all they can to finish with us so we can move along. Sometimes we are sent to a different warehouse they have, and a call saves us some miles and time. Sometimes they cannot receive the shipment at all, and Lynn M&S quickly finds another place for it. Communication is key.

We have never loaded or delivered to the same house twice. Our computer-mapping program helps us tremendously. More often we go into a new neighborhood and cannot even find the address on the computer, so we always ask for some directions and match them to the map. The people we move are usually new to the destination area and cannot help much with the directions. With the computer on, one of us can follow the map streets while the other drives. This really helps when we need to turn the truck around in a crowded area. We are getting more worried about going into New Jersey, where most of the roads are illegal for big rigs. Also, in New York and New Jersey, all truckers want to plan as few bridge crossings as possible due to the ever-increasing bridge tolls. Our computer map (only about $40/ upgrade from DeLorme) does not show low bridges and we use the traditional map book for that and for most of our miles, since most miles are still on the interstates with other trucks and travelers. The "National Truck Stop Directory" also helps us plan for fuel, meals, and sleep, by the mile marker. In California, if you get lost, you waste time and fuel because this state does not use statewide mile markers.

Special considerations

We hire casual labor, or lumpers (usually for cash) to help us at a residence. They get instructions before the job and sign a one-page contract for our income tax expense. Some are surprisingly professional and can carry heavy things without touching the walls, and some actually teach us some new tricks for safe carrying. Bill has let a select few help load it into the trailer, wrapping and stacking it like a giant 3-D puzzle.

One special consideration for HHG is insurance on the furniture, insurance commissions, insurance services, claims deductible per shipment or per truckload. Find out in which states your workers' compensation insurance covers lumpers. Our insurance covers them in most states. Insurance is always in writing. Find out if lumpers are covered when you transport them to/from the customer's house. You need to know how all of this works, apart from the usual trucking insurance and bobtail. If you have a $1,000 deductible on each shipment, it might be better to haul one or two large households than to haul seven very small apartments. Or perhaps you are very careful and don't get any claims. We try for both - zero claims and larger shipments.

No one wants the responsibility for damages they didn't commit. I believe this is the reason a household does not move as containerized freight. No one is going to sign off on furniture they haven't seen, so each piece is handled and inspected at each step. We have to do inventory at the "origin" residence, or complete a rider to someone else's inventory if we pick up at a warehouse. Another reason we don't like to have anyone shuttle a load for us is because they usually do not accept any of the responsibility for their shuttle workers' handling of the furniture, even though they take the pay for the shuttle.

We are paid for accessorials, extra services particular to each customer, depending on the rating tariffs and your contract with your motor carrier. If you are supposed to get 95 percent or 100 percent of a particular extra service, make sure you get it. We have to pre-authorize these, fill out the extra forms and have the customer sign everything. A load can pay more in extra services than your cut of the line haul, but not likely. Remember, any service the customer wants may qualify, so check it out. It may qualify for one account and not another. The customer may ask you to do it anyway, with or without personal payment. It is your business decision to try to make the customer happy, or not.

When we load at a warehouse, an agency pickup may be charged back against us, but we can still get paid for bulky items and other extras. This could be items like a hot tub, kayak or big screen TV; packing extra cartons and mattresses; stretch wrapping soft furniture; rug wrapping, or dealing with inside steps or an elevator to an apartment. It is normally the truckdriver's decision whether he can get close enough to the house or hire a shuttle truck and driver. That's a big one, so be sure to get proper authorization. An extra pickup, say at a mini-storage, is nice if it's nearby and accessible. Sometimes we are paid extra for stacking time at a mini-storage unit. Some customers will demand and pay for a lot more service and we are happy to accommodate their wishes.

Giving good measure

We did well with some pack-and-loads this year. All of these customers really liked having only one couple handle their belongings from start to finish, and we got the full payment for the packing and materials. This is the best for the HHG, too. Knowing how it will be handled at each step helps you pack better, and having packed it yourself, you know which boxes are most fragile and important. In addition, the people unloading are the same ones at risk for the packing - and that's us. Any insurance deductible comes from our settlement.

For military shipments it seems we are required to unpack whatever the member wants us to unpack, without any extra pay. No one ever asked us to do much of it, only enough to have us take away some of the boxes and packing material before we leave (also a free service).

People skills - it's everything

Some days are more difficult. If there are several children, pets and friends, it can be tricky. One day I simply gave up and played with the children to keep them out of harm's way, while Bill and our helpers did all the work. (Just think of the possible claim for dropping a dresser on a child.)

Is HHG a niche for you?

If you love driving a truck, working hard, continuously learning, and enjoy meeting and pleasing people, you can do this. We recommend you start with some other type of freight, and perhaps as an employee at first. Bill hauled milk into New York City for a while, then chemicals for Air Products. Always keep asking other truckers, as the best opportunities do not need big advertising, and none will advertise their problems. If it doesn't work out you will have lots of other ideas from all the people you meet.

Of course you have start-up costs and possible sign-on bonuses in choosing a motor carrier. You can even get your own authority, but we don't recommend it for just one truck. Are you going to drive a truck or grow a company?

If you keep your truck and equipment neat and clean, many agencies will ask you to drive for them where ever you go. Many customers also look for the uniforms and cleaner trucks, to decide if they should let you into their home for the job, or how they will rate your work at the end. Weigh stations are less likely to delay a truck that is obviously well-maintained. Various company drivers tell us they would like to keep it all as nice as we do, but they have to exchange trucks regularly with other employees who don't care. So they walk on the moving blankets and we have to remind them not to walk on ours.

You can drive directly for the company, or lease onto one of their agencies booking the loads. Most have company drivers and owner-operators. Talk to their drivers as well as their recruiters before you join any of them. As an owner-operator, you will pay them 25 to 45 percent or more of each line haul for booking, dispatching, billing, fuel tax reporting, insurance processing, finding labor and various other functions. The contract will say you get 55 percent to 75 percent of line haul, but you should also think about what they get. There are other factors, like permits to account for differences. They may charge extra for certain services. Some companies wanted us to paint our truck and advertise for them at our expense. We have a beautiful red-raspberry pearl tractor and our customers like this color. Consider this factor more strongly if you plan to get a new tractor every three or four years. Compare the contracts, and find out how closely they honor those contracts by talking to other drivers (more than one).

Berger-Allied in Chicago had us go through a good course on moving HHG. Bill's class featured a book called, "Tiers without Tears," on properly loading furniture. Read it, follow it, and you will have fewer claims.

That course also covered the one thing most particular to moving families. And that is getting along well with every customer, and their spouse, the kids, the cats and dogs, and the neighbors. Once, we loaded while the customer was somewhere else (on vacation), but don't expect it to be that way. We still had to make some calls from the site to find the neighbor who had a key to get in. Pay close attention to any training you can get because you can always do better.

Trucker magazines are very helpful, especially Land Line from OOIDA. Find out who pays for any magazine so you understand why they print what they print. Check out www.ooida.com. They are the only large organization of truckdrivers, besides unions. We really haven't talked with many union drivers. I don't think unions do HHG because we do all kinds of work, almost anything to make the customer happy.

Equipment Profile
Tractor
1997 Freightliner Century
Engine

Detroit Diesel 500

Transmission

13 speed

Fuel Usage

6.5 mpg

Add'l. Equipment

1999 Kentucky moving van made in Louisville, KY

Revenue
$1.50-$6 per mile (includes packing revenue)
Costs
$190 per day
Aug/Sept Digital Edition