When partners are in step, relocation is a seamless experience.
“Relocation is like a dance,” says Jack Griffin, Atlas® World Group Chairman & CEO. “When partners are in step with one another they can create a seamless move experience for the customer.”
Customers take it for granted that the people who move them—in particular those with the trucks and the know-how—will answer their expectations. But what are those expectations?
“Expectations vary—they depend on the client,” says Jack. “Resellers, which account for the largest part of our volume, demand performance that satisfies their customers. They expect accurate invoicing, systems that are compatible with their business, and service during peak season as well as year-round.”
“Customers want certainty, as much as possible,” says Atlas® Van Lines President & COO Joe Stackhouse. “They’d like it packed today and delivered tomorrow. They realize that isn’t practical for an entire household. Still, they want to know with certainty when the movers will be there, how long it will take them, and when their things will be delivered.”
“We look at every step in our service from the customer’s viewpoint,” says Ryan McConnell, Vice President of Strategic Planning. “Ultimately, what we do comes down to the expectations of the person who is moving—and how we make the moving experience the best it can be for them.”
“We think Atlas® has the ‘best orchestra in the business.’ Our people make the music for a delightful dance, worthy of a standing ovation.”
The Slowing of Tradition
As the end of WWII segued into the baby boom and a burgeoning industrial economy, interstate moving answered the growing need for workforce mobility. Over the next 70 years, traditional van service was the industry’s stalwart workhorse—an essential accessory to the rising middle class and the American dream of home ownership.
But that dream, one could say, has downsized. And the ramifications for the moving industry are ominous.
“Bottom line, in a few short years, Atlas® Van Lines has gone from a minor role player, to multiple major award winners, in quality, partner collaboration, and customer of choice. This year Atlas emerged as our top volume provider, far and away.”
Steve Smith – Graebel Move Management
Four years ago, Atlas took a hard look at the writing on the wall. Would the van line possess the ability to answer customers’ expectations ten, or even five, years into the future? The answer came as a thorny truth: the traditional business model, as it existed, was unsustainable.
Company leaders met the challenge head-on, adopting a disciplined process to create a strategic plan. Board members, agents, and management envisioned what they wanted the company to look like in five years, in ten years. They set ambitious goals. They dedicated teams to achieve the goals. And they held themselves accountable to the process.
As teams began to work the plan, two big initiatives soon surfaced. One, addressing the underlying business model, became known as Reset. The other, branded as SimpliCity™, brought new thinking to operations.
“It’s obvious we needed to adapt to a changing market, to smaller households and smaller shipments,” says Ryan. “But we couldn’t do that without also addressing the underlying business model and the way our service was valued in the market. The two are inseparable.”
Countering “Cost Creep”
Atlas had to first deconstruct its pricing mechanism, piece by piece, to fully understand the “cost creep” that had stifled the ability to deliver on the brand promise, go new places.® Kathy Thompson, Senior Director, Corporate & Pricing Product Manager, had the clearest view of the squeeze.
“Part of my job is to tell customers what goes into pricing our services,” says Kathy. “Which invariably involves explaining how industry disruptions have affected us.”
“Pricing can be a stressful part of moving. We’re working to make pricing less stressful and easier for people to relate to their expectations. A good pricing tool supports the service experience customers expect.”
Kathy Thompson – Senior Director, Corporate & Pricing Product Manager
Kathy cites the all-too-familiar factors: demographics and shipment sizes; a dearth of skilled labor and Professional Van Operators (PVOs); ever-more-stringent regulations; rising costs for materials.
“Van operators in particular have been hit hard,” says Kathy. “Costs for cartons and paper goods have skyrocketed. Tolls for bridges and highways continue to rise . . . truck stops have even started charging fees to park overnight.”
The tariff formula Atlas had been using to determine pricing dated back to 2002—and was totally out of touch with reality.
“The price reset stabilized the loss of revenue our origin and destination service providers were experiencing on shipments," says Kathy. “It provides the revenue Atlas needs to meet service expectations and it has a mechanism to stay in step if underlying costs change. We know cost disruptions have probably not gone away, nor are they likely to.”
| Atlas® introduced the new pricing to private clients in the spring of 2017 and to resellers in 2018.
The rollout will be completed by the end of this year with the inclusion of corporate clients
that have contracts directly with Atlas.
“Smaller” Gets Better.
With Reset in place, Atlas has a platform for operations to go further into the fast-growing frontier of smaller shipments. The market has been thirsty for a solution. SimpliCity™, Atlas has found, is a welcome refreshment.
“We have been impressed with the leadership that Atlas has shown in the past year to look at their market, determine a path forward and have the fortitude and guts to stick to the plan so that everyone at Atlas can prosper from a true team effort.”
Jeff Wangler – Aires
“We entered the market with SimpliCity as our flagship service, providing date-certain packing and delivery to all points interstate,” says Joe. “Owing to the technology behind it, date-certainty is an important differentiator for Atlas.”
“When a customer inquires, the Atlas sales person can immediately determine the availability of labor,” says Ryan. “Based on zip codes at origin and destination, our system shows all the dates Atlas can provide services for that shipment.”
“We depend on your crews to be the face of Cartus® when interacting with our transferees, instilling confidence that Cartus works with only the best, which is why Atlas is our largest partner.”
Mike Brannan – Cartus®
The advances promise to get even better. Atlas is now testing a service between major metro markets using a new style of container with the potential for reuse. At the same time, work is proceeding on a “regional express” concept—providing pack-today-deliver-tomorrow assurance within a 300-mile radius. Both concepts present logistical challenges—but Atlas strategists are determined to work through them.
“We see SimpliCity as a starting point for new thinking about how people move,” says Ryan. “It’s a doorway to innovation. It’s making us better logistics experts, making our processes more efficient, and expanding our supply chain. We’re seeing moving in ways we could not have imagined before.”
“Our strategy team is functioning at a high level with great input by Agents. Our speed to market is getting faster, and clients are proving receptive to new ideas. It’s exciting to see.”
Ryan Mcconnell – Vice President of Strategic Planning
Moving Ahead with Technology
Once upon a time, before email and mobile devices and text messages, moving involved lots of paperwork and phone calls. In the 1990s, as the internet age dawned across the corporate world, Atlas was among the first to see new possibilities for using and sharing information.
“If not the first, Atlas was among the industry’s earliest serious adopters of internet technology,” says Jack. “We saw the potential of smart systems for our business, and we made investing in them a priority.”
“Our investments make for a better customer experience and reduce our friction costs for doing business. We’re essentially a network manager for agents, and we are committed to providing a technology connection that is the best in the industry.”
Jack Griffin – Atlas® Chairman & CEO
“People’s expectations for convenience have never been greater than they are today,” says Joe. “We are answering those expectations with tools that make it easier—and more likely—for people to do business with Atlas.” A continuous, steady commitment to systems advances has built Atlas an enviable lead in technology. Recent examples illustrate this.
Budgetary Estimate. “In a typical scenario, a hiring manager needs a rough estimate for planning and budgeting,” says Joab Schultheis, Vice President & Chief Information Officer. “They can go to the Atlas National Account (NAC) portal and get a price according to the terms of their contract, that will be a close approximation of the actual move cost.”
Intelligent Video. “We’re conducting a pilot test with a cloud-based application that converts images to text and translates them to weight and volume,” says Ryan. “It has the potential to slash the time required for a video survey by half. If all goes well, it will be available to Agents later this year.”
“Our tools make estimating more self-serve, with added speed and efficiency for the process,” says Joe. “As good as they are, however, an Atlas Agent will always be essential to the final determination of the price based on the shipment’s actual weight and volume.”
“Millenials and Gen Z consumers have the highest expectations of how the Internet can answer their needs. Atlas is staying in step with them, offering solutions with speed and affordability.”
Jack Griffin – Atlas® Chairman & CEO
Shining a Light on Capacity
Imagine an unobstructed view of the Atlas network. You can see exactly where the trucks are. What they are carrying. Where they are going. You can even see loads waiting to be hauled.
Thanks to a trio of tools, such a view is a reality for Atlas Agents. Smart Tonnage provides a map view of shipments in need of hauling. Smart Resources provides a map that shows where trucks are available. Planning Manager shows what’s on trucks now and into the future, to the extent their capacity is committed.
“Atlas has become our most trusted partner and we are grateful for our relationship. As we continue to set an example for others to follow we depend on you for ideas and new solutions to address the issues you are facing as an industry.”
Mike Brannan – Cartus®
“Agents enter their information in Planning Manager to share it across the Atlas Network,” says Joab. “As more Agents become acclimated, visibility will improve and our service strength will grow with it. We’ll have the information to make better, faster decisions for customers, and better use of our resources to serve them. This is especially important during peak times, when hauling capacity is stretched.”
Renewing the Touchstone
As the terminus of the five-year plan approaches, it is clear: the company’s long-term success—its assurance to customers that it can “move in sync” with them—is unreachable without a guiding star.
“Vision 2020 has seen huge success,” says Jack. “Now we’re doubling down on our plan, embarking on Vision 2025. In the 59 years since Atlas World Group was founded, the view toward the future has never been clearer.”