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After Three Years of Winter, Welcome to Spring 3.0 - Can You Feel the Thaw

Spring 3.0, After Three Years of Winter, Welcome Spring 3.0 Can You Feel the Thaw

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Coming off harsh months of snow and ice – and after three long, barren winters in the relocation industry – tufts of new growth are emerging in the landscape. A dormant economy is awakening; signs of recovery and growth promise brighter days for the relocation industry. Consider these recent indicators:

  • Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke now projects the economy will grow up to 4 percent in 2011, a projection even higher than the Fed made at the end of 2010.
  • The unemployment rate, in excess of 9 percent since April 2009, dropped to 8.9 percent in February as the U.S. economy netted 192,000 new jobs.
  • Hiring is firming, and businesses in most regions plan to increase hiring at the same or faster rate this year,the Fed reports.
  • Factories have expanded production, with new energy in the auto business and demand for high-tech equipment.
  • Housing, a bellwether for economic vitality, shows reason for guarded optimism. The National Association of Realtors (NAR) reports sales of existing homes climbed from November through January before dipping in February. Still, the level is 26.4 percent above the cyclical low reported last July.

NAR Chief Economist Lawrence Yun sees the housing market constrained by unnecessarily tight credit and some appraisals not supporting prices. He says: "This tug and pull is causing a gradual but uneven recovery."

The hopeful news of recovery comes after a tough three years that saw the strongest economic retraction since the Great Depression. Are we seeing a harbinger of "Spring 3.0?"

The Big Chill

The housing market's decline followed the collapse of sub-prime lending in 2007. As Senior Financial Analyst Greg McBride (Bankrate.com) said about lending prior to the recession: "If you could fog a mirror, you could get a loan."

When the bubble burst, foreclosures soared and housing sales slowed to a crawl. By January 2008, foreclosure filings nationwide were up 57 percent over the same month the year before. Unemployment hit double digits and consumer confidence nosedived. Those figures heralded a grim new reality. Businesses would have to do more with less... and design products and services for customers feeling the same economic pinch. Atlas weathered the downturn better than most of its peers, and kept job losses to a minimum, while outperforming the industry.

"We grew shipments by 10 percent in 2010," says Atlas President and COO Jack Griffin. "This was primarily the result of a diversification strategy–a conscious decision to protect our core interests in corporate household goods while aggressively pursuing more military and residential business."

New and Existing Home Sales Chart"We grew shipments by 10 percent in 2010," says Atlas President and COO Jack Griffin. "This was primarily the result of a diversification strategy–a conscious decision to protect our core interests in corporate household goods while aggressively pursuing more military and residential business."

Jack says Atlas is making good on a vow to become a major provider to the government's DP3 (defense personal property procurement) program, adding and aligning staff to better answer the military's demands. To grow residential business, an investment in search engine marketing is making Atlas more visible to consumers on the Internet, building traffic on AtlasVanLines.com and feeding quality leads to agents.

Atlas Surveys Show Good News

Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey GlobeSigns of springtime are evident in Atlas' own surveys. The 2010 Migration Study shows an overall increase of four percent in Atlas interstate moves over 2009 (see story page 11). The 44th Annual Corporate Relocation Survey reveals companies are more optimistic this year (see story page 12). Nearly one in three expects volume to grow in 2011; at least one in four sees the likelihood of budgets increasing as well. When asked whether their company's financial performance would likely improve this year, 72 percent said yes, a monumental change from the 27 percent with those expectations two years ago.

All signs point to a substantial volume increase this year," says Jack. "Heightened demand by the military due to BRAC (base realignment and closings), plus several new agreements with major national accounts, have necessitated 25 new hires at Atlas headquarters."

"Our customers are now moving their people again," says Freddy Paxton, Chief Marketing Officer, Paxton Van Lines (1610). "It's nice to see our customers secure in their relocation policies and growing their businesses. Happy customers make the whole process better for everyone."

Respect at the Heart of Business

Atlas has built a business on respecting people and property, with a commitment to integrity, quality, and solutions. Among the newest proofs of that commitment is the launch of "No Stranger in Your Home" in Canada (see story page 26). The system of back-checks on Atlas service providers gives customers an added assurance of security.

"This is a point of differentiation for us," says Atlas Canada President and COO Bob Clark. "Customers now have another reason to feel safe when they see the Atlas van arrive in front of their home."

Atlas leads the provinces as the first van line to provide this benefit; Atlas was also first to introduce this policy in the U.S., where it has since become an industry standard.

Investment in move management offers another substantiation of Atlas' commitment to customers. The success of Avail Resource Management has made it the fastest-growing Atlas subsidiary, now with close to 40 full-time employees. The hallmarks of the Avail brand are contained in two promises: the power of information and the strength of service.

"In simplest terms, Avail helps clients control their transit-related expense and achieve efficiency in their relocation and logistics efforts," says Avail Vice President Phil Wahl. "Avail provides objective, systems-driven solutions that enable clients to become more productive and profitable. Buyers of transportation want quality service, flexibility to meet their requests, and a fair price. Avail makes it happen."

Reaching Out with Social Media and Customer Service

Social networking has dramatically changed the way consumers share information and make buying decisions. So Atlas is using social media to connect with customers at the virtual places they frequent (see story page 17). You can find Atlas building connections on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The company also engages consumers via YouTube, where seven Atlas clips have captured over 5,200 views to date.

Atlas Facebook homepage on iPhone screen. You can find Atlas building connections on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. The company also engages consumers via YouTube, where seven Atlas clips have captured over 5,200 views to date.

In January, Atlas instituted a monthly "PICS" award to recognize HQ employees who "perform incredible customer service." PICS grew out of Customer Service First, an initiative begun in 2009 to keep service top of mind among every employee.

"Service is a major differentiation for Atlas from competitors," says Frank Grunder, Corporate Vice President/Marketing, Alexander's Mobility Services. "With every successful customer experience, we improve our chance to secure a repeat customer. Service is more than just good business – it's absolutely essential."

Customer service is blooming at Atlas International, where a new upgrade for the AtlasNet Survey (Droid and iPhone platforms) enhances the speed and accuracy of move estimates. Users can now submit data directly to Atlas International and receive an international move proposal within one business day.

"Customers know us for a move management process uniquely designed to ensure successful international relocation," says Atlas International Vice President and General Manager Jim Gaw. "We work closely with Atlas agents in the U.S. and Canada, and with Atlas-preferred providers in every country worldwide. For reasons such as these, people look to Atlas for more than 7,000 international relocations each year."

That number may well increase in 2011. According to the Atlas Corporate Relocation Survey, more than one-fourth of firms expect their international volumes to increase this year, and more than half expect levels similar to last year.

Challenges Remain

Last year, 53 percent of companies reported the economy played the biggest role in their decisions to relocate employees, and 31 percent said lack of qualified employees was the biggest factor. These factors tied at 40 percent this year, an indicator of easing economic constraints. As Russel Kinnel, Director of Mutual Fund Research with Morningstar in Chicago, told the New York Times: "It's hard not to notice that the economy is improving and companies are reporting strong earnings."

Consumers, too, sense economic pressures are lifting. They are more confident about the future: after an all-time low two years ago, the Consumer Confidence Index recently hit a three-year high.

Despite signs of renewal, economic concerns are by no means erased. Atlas, like other companies, continues to build on lessons from the downturn. "Spring 3.0" is a good start but, like any opportunity, the outcome depends on the effort. Atlas is prepared to make the most of it.

 

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