Look through the Atlas® archives at the company’s history and you’ll see a rare kind of “organizational DNA.” It takes shape as solidarity, as consensus, and as cooperation. All have been traits of the brand since 1948 when 33 hopeful entrepreneurs formed a cooperative with a pledge to the golden rule and their mutual success. Today, the cooperative is made up of over 400 independently-owned and -operated moving companies throughout North America. Members still commit to one another for the common good. At a time when the industry wrestles with unprecedented challenges, that commitment has never been more vital.
“Atlas, like the entire moving industry, is going through an important period of change,” says Jack Griffin, Chairman & CEO, Atlas® World Group. “What we think of as traditional moving is evolving rapidly. We’re dealing with a demographic shift, smaller households, a tight market for labor—not to mention escalating costs for materials and for compliance with federal and state regulatory demands.”
As highlighted in the previous issue of the Amplifier® (Winter 2017), Atlas is speaking to clients and customers with a clear message about the necessary transition to a new business model. Called Reset, it answers current realities with greater cost accountability and more flexible service options. Reset was introduced to private clients in 2017; it begins rolling out to corporate clients this spring.
“We’re communicating with clients in the clearest possible terms,” says Mary Beth Johnson, Vice President, Corporate Marketing. “We’re using data and analytics to show how Atlas provides the kind of service and value clients expect. We’re also asking: What do you need from us to get buy-in with your client? The feedback we’re getting is extremely positive.”
Doubling Down on Strategy
As Jack announced last year, Atlas has upped the ante on its strategic plan, Vision 2020. The intensified focus came with the creation of a dedicated office for Strategic Planning headed by Ryan McConnell, Vice President.
“Everyone in the organization is mindful of where Atlas has been and how we’ve succeeded in the past,” says Ryan. “But we also know it’s a new day and, above all, we are in the business of solving our customers’ problems. We will secure our place in the future by leading as an innovator, one who provides the solutions that customers need.”
Ryan says consumer preferences shape demand, and that demand has shifted dramatically in the years since the last recession.
“The Professional Van Operator and trailer, packing, and loading crew are not going away,” says Ryan. “But we also see a profound and growing need for new modes of service, particularly to answer smaller moves more quickly.”
The strategic team tasked to synthesize a service offering for smaller households has learned much about what does or doesn’t work. Refinement requires time for careful testing and evaluation.
“The right-sized vessel is key, particularly,” says Ryan. “It may be a traditional lift van, a palletized receptacle, or some other specialized kind of container. We’re looking at everything.”
“We have to walk before we can run,” says Joe Stackhouse, President & COO, Atlas® Van Lines. “We’re not in a hurry to get it, but to get it right. We’re putting ourselves in our customers’ shoes, and nothing is off the table.”
Vision 2020 is all about good growth, and Atlas leaders know the targets require more than an organic focus.
“Acquisition is a strategic priority,” says Jack. “We’re looking at companies that add value to Atlas World Group as an enterprise and are adjacent to the van line.” He adds that AWG executives on the acquisitions team bring experience in due diligence and deal-making. “We expect to make one or more good announcements in the coming 12 to 18 months.”
In a similar vein, the Atlas Agent opportunity is showing new luster. During the first quarter of 2018, Atlas welcomed five best-in-class moving companies to the agency family: Palmer Moving Services (1641) in Warren, Michigan; Freddy Duncan & Sons Moving & Storage (0898) in Cookeville, Tennessee; Mills Van Lines (1470) in Strongsville, Ohio; Centurion Moving & Storage (0842) in Kansas City, Missouri; and Park Transfer & Storage (1632) in Birmingham, Alabama.
“We feel that Atlas, with its agent family's culture and values, is the right fit for us,” says Jeff Palmer, President, Palmer Moving Services (1641). “We expect that everyone who represents Palmer Moving does their part on each shipment to satisfy the customer. By joining Atlas, we believe we are in the best possible position to ensure our customers will choose to use us again.”
"We expected the agency-owned mindset within Atlas to enhance the long-term goals of Mills, as it does all Atlas Agents," says Mike McGill, Senior Vice President, Sales & Customer Service, Mills Van Lines (1470). "We are thankful and excited to be a part of the Atlas family. We are just wondering why we didn’t make this move years ago.”
Regional Meetings Support Success
Atlas Agency professionals from all areas of the business met with members of the Atlas leadership team in Evansville, Ind., in February and in Baltimore, Md., during April. The theme of these meetings, “Grow Together,” built on the popularity of the 2017 Convention theme,
“When we work together, we grow together,” says Mary Beth. “Clients are expecting more—and cooperation across the Atlas network is key. “
Learning sessions were tailored to equip agency personnel for success in an evolving industry. Among the topics covered: Tariff Restructure, Tax Reform, and developments in Atlas’ small shipments program. Principal, Jay Fuson, Guardian Relocation, was among the attendees in Evansville.
Jay, what did you take away from the regional meeting?
Anytime those of us who represent Atlas Van Lines gather and collaborate about our brand, the worth is immeasurable. That Atlas is the industry leader has never been clearer than today. I think Joe Stackhouse (President & COO, Atlas Van Lines) sums up the takeaway for me: “We must change the way we think and understand the strategic and calculated risk we must all take.”
How does what you learned at the meeting affect your business?
A lot of us have a tendency, even if we won't admit it, to migrate to our comfort zones in this business. We survey, sell, develop relationships, dispatch, and provide customer service. But it’s the customer service we put forth that differentiates us from competitors. Atlas is providing customers a service portal (Atlas Customer Portal), championing a campaign to educate consumers (No Stranger in Your Home®), creating a viable small shipment program that will exceed any customer’s expectations, and even contemplating an after-hours call center. Those are just some of the customer-first programs that are happening now or in development.
They are making business better today—and will in the future.
What is your impression of current challenges in the moving industry?
The new tax plan and pricing reset could have an impact on who the customer of the future is. Shipment sizes are reducing, and van operators are not flocking to our industry. We must not live in the past and assume business will flourish. We who represent Atlas must be open to revenue sources that may not be typical of our current business model. For some of us, that means seeing private client, lump-sum, military, distribution, and international moving as new revenue buckets we must attempt to fill.
How is Atlas helping you meet the challenges?
The infrastructure and Atlas’ commitment to develop the AtlasNet® Platform for agents to conduct not only interstate but local business is a tremendous benefit. Given the progressiveness of the Atlas IT staff and senior management’s drive for greater efficiency, I anticipate continuing developments of this platform will bring more benefits to our agent network.
A Good Time to Be Atlas
You could say the moving industry is not for those who are easily discouraged. But you would have to add that Atlas is undaunted with its vision for success.
“We have a plan for each subsidiary to be the best at what they do,” says Jack. “We have tremendous buy-in from our board and our agents. And I know for certain we have the best leadership team in the industry. The enthusiasm throughout the Atlas organization is palpable.”
Leading with Technology
In the internet-fueled era of smart devices, customers are used to point-and-click ease—from researching a purchase decision to paying for services. There’s good news for them when they relocate: Atlas’ embrace of technology is unequaled in the moving industry.
Atlas was the first major van line to engage customers on the web, an innovative spirit reflected by all Atlas World Group companies. Its sister company, Avail Move Management®, is also seen as a leader in data-backed move management for companies (Avail Order Management) as well as in move management technology for consumers.
“One of the reasons we chose to join Atlas was its technological advances,” says new Atlas Agent Freddy Duncan, Jr., Freddy Duncan & Sons Moving & Storage (0898). “We are now able to support our customers on a higher level and provide almost immediate turnaround on pricing and booking. Atlas has helped us exceed customer expectations through the use of the Atlas Customer Portal.”
“Atlas is seen in the industry as a tech leader—we have to be,” says Jack. “Developing and continuously improving systems takes a significant investment, but it’s a strategic priority. We’re making it easier for people to move—and for Atlas Agents and partners to service those moves.”