We Must Police Our Industry to Protect Our Market Share
by Gloria Pugh
AMWAT Moving Warehousing Storage
Published: Going Places, The Newsletter for and about Florida’s Movers and Warehousemen September 2013
The 2013 peak moving season was an improvement for many in our industry in comparison to years past. Many of us were too preoccupied servicing clients to pay too much attention to and/or vocalize concern over criminal activity in our industry. Now that the dust is about to settle and we transition into the fall and winter seasons, we encourage all of you to be aware of and to report criminal activity within our industry.
Criminal activities include unlicensed operators who are not in compliance with state and federal laws, as well as operators who knowingly cheat unsuspecting consumers by deceptively providing lowball estimates only to increase the cost of the move once in possession of the household goods. The criminal activity has become so severe in our industry that last year the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation conducted an investigation on fraud in the household goods moving industry. The investigation revealed that online internet moving brokers are primarily behind many of the moving industry consumer complaints. Many of the brokers work with unscrupulous movers who collectively devise ways to cheat unsuspecting customers.
Members within the moving industry are very aware of the many deceptive tactics unscrupulous movers will use to lure consumers away from reputable moving companies. The consumer is not the only victim of these illegal practices; so are reputable moving companies. Given the slow economic recovery and the increase in criminal activity in the moving industry, reputable moving companies are experiencing financial and operational challenges. We are all working with less. The consumer is demanding more, and we are competing with rogue operators who are consistently deceiving consumers to lure business away from us. We are extremely happy the federal and state governments are taking action against these criminals, but the issue is so overwhelming that we must work collectively to identify illegal operators within our immediate markets. In short, we must police our industry to protect our market share.
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDOACS) via Chapter 507, Florida Statutes, regulates the moving industry in our state. Florida law is clear; you must be licensed as a mover if you accept payment for the movement of household goods. Unlicensed activity is prevalent throughout Florida and in our community. So, why should you care? Unlicensed operators have much lower overhead because they do not comply with the laws regulating our industry. Most significantly, illegal operators do not pay for all the various insurance policies the law requires us to maintain, and they do not pay taxes (imagine how much money you could retain if you did not have to pay insurance premiums and taxes).
If you suspect a company is not licensed, check the FDOACS licensee database at https://csapp.800helpfla.com/cspublicapp/businesssearch/businesssearch.aspx.
We do not mind competition as long as the playing field is leveled. We encourage all of you to report unlicensed activity to FDOACS investigator Paul Pagano at 850/245-1394. Please provide Mr. Pagano with the name of the suspect company and any verifiable details you can. We also encourage you to educate consumers about Florida’s licensing requirements. Moreover, encourage consumers who have been victimized to contact Mr. Pagano. Also, become familiar with the statute governing our industry to ensure you are complying with state laws. Obtaining the license to operate your moving company is just the beginning of your responsibilities as an operator. You must also comply with all the specifics of the law pertaining to estimates, bills of lading and valuation (to name just a few).
We realize we cannot completely stop criminal behavior within our industry, but we can curb the activity by taking a proactive approach to protect our immediate market and send a clear message that unlicensed activity and unscrupulous behavior will not be tolerated by the licensed moving companies in our state.
Finally, we all provide a very valuable service to our community. The work we execute on a daily basis is hard—physically, mentally and emotionally. What’s more, every time we move someone, regardless of the size of the move, we take on a large amount of liability. Yet many in the industry are struggling because they are not charging enough to cover the expenses associated with operating a moving company. Too often moving companies competing within the market are selling their services short, i.e., “will beat anyone’s pricing.” This is not sustainable when the company’s expenses exceed what it is charging the consumer. Our industry as a whole must correct the market by gaining confidence to charge a fair, competitive price that is equitable to the consumer and to the moving company. It is incredibly difficult to provide quality services with the appropriate resources when the company is not earning sufficient income. Regardless of price, consumers expect quality services and are usually not forgiving when damages occur. When there is no room for profits, one cannot create a financial buffer for unexpected incidents such as damages. Due to antitrust laws, we cannot discuss rates, but we do encourage all of you to evaluate your expenses and to charge a fair price for your services. Do not fall into the bidding war trap with a competitor. Booking a job because you were the lowest bidder does not make you a winner if you are not covering your expenses. There is nothing worse than realizing your company paid a portion of a consumer’s move. What makes a winner is operating a successful, reputable and profitable business. Yes, there are some within our industry that are licensed and are not ethical operators, but their reputation and dishonesty will catch up with them.
Gloria Pugh, CEO, AMWAT Moving Warehousing Storage, Agent for Wheaton World Wide Moving in Tallahassee, Fla., can be reached at Gloria@AMWATMovers.com.