Having an entire household professionally moved isn’t cheap. That’s why many people end up leaving certain items behind – for instance, food.
“As movers, we saw a lot of food getting wasted,” said Jeff Gish, president and general manager of Action Moving Services in Spokane Valley. “So now we collect it and drop it off at Second Harvest food bank.
“Last year we collected enough to provide approximately 2,400 meals.”
That and other efforts – such as helping an elderly couple organize a garage sale before their move – earned Gish’s company this year’s AGORA Award for community service given by Greater Spokane Inc., the regional chamber of commerce and economic development council.
Gish discussed his family’s business during a recent interview.
S-R: Before you and your father, John Gish, bought Action Moving Services, you taught social studies for three years. Why the switch?
Gish: My wife and I found a school district in California that would hire us both. Then we had our son, and decided we wanted my wife to stay home with him. One teacher’s income wasn’t going to pay our mortgage, so we moved back to Spokane, where we’d done our student teaching, and I went back to school for management training. When I graduated, I said to my dad, who was working at Action Moving Services in sales, “Why don’t we go into business together?” After I peeled him off the ceiling – because this had always been a dream of his – we started looking around for opportunities. His boss caught wind of that and suggested we buy him out. So we did.
S-R: Had your father owned moving companies before?
Gish: Yes, on the west side of the state. He moved over here when he bought a restaurant at the south end of Lake Coeur d’Alene. He says that restaurant owned him for eight years. It flooded three times in two years, and he ended up losing it, so he went back into sales.
S-R: Had you done any moving for your dad when you were young?
Gish: When I was 5, I pushed things around on dollies. And as an undergraduate at WSU in Pullman, I earned extra cash working summers in the moving industry.
S-R: What’s your father’s role in the company?
Gish: His title is vice president and marketing manager. He oversees the sales staff and runs our Seattle office.
S-R: What lessons has he taught you about the business?
Gish: Not to worry so much. Since we went into business together five years ago, I’ve been bewildered by how calm he can stay about money, about issues with customers. Just because the sky is falling today doesn’t mean it isn’t going to be blue tomorrow.
S-R: What services does your company offer?
Gish: We mostly move private families – household goods. We also provide office relocation and temporary storage.
S-R: What’s your busiest time of year?
Gish: Summertime. We’re incredibly seasonal.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Gish: I really enjoy sharing company news and moving tips on a blog I write ( www.bekinsams.com/blog) – things like the importance of talking with a moving company early, so you’re on their calendar and get the best price. I also wrote about how you can lose friends by asking them to help you move.
S-R: What do you like least about your job?
Gish: Dealing with money. I prefer to serve the customers we have and bring new ones into the fold rather than deal with compensation packages or paying a driver in Florida to do something.
S-R: What are you good at?
Gish: When there are issues, I’m good at getting at the heart of them. I end up playing referee and HR manager a lot.
S-R: Is that a skill you honed in the classroom?
Gish: I think so. Students are always getting into conflicts. They want to get past it, but they still have gripes they want to bring out. I came into this job thinking that if I could manage 150 students, I could certainly manage 25 moving-company employees. Teaching helped prepare me, but adults are more set in their ways. That surprised me.
S-R: How would you describe your leadership style?
Gish: I like to lead by example. I ask my management team to work tirelessly in the service of our customers, and I try to work more hours than they do.
S-R: How has the business evolved since you bought it?
Gish: Business plans typically are out of date before the ink dries, so things didn’t go the way we expected. During this housing crunch, fewer people have needed to move, which has made the industry more competitive and squeezed margins. We anticipated having to lay off employees. But Bekins had a vacancy in King County, and they offered to pay us to go over there if we’d switch from (representing) Allied to Bekins in Spokane, too. It was great timing for us – instead of laying people off, we hired more.
S-R: How has partnering with you dad worked out?
Gish: Family has benefits and drawbacks. One of the largest benefits is loyalty – I trust him with anything, and I know he trusts me the same way. The flip side of the coin is we both wear our hearts on our sleeves. We’re good at tempering that in front of employees, but when the board meets – my dad, myself and my wife – it gets heated. I’m glad we’re able to have open, candid communication. It’s just not fun while it’s happening. That’s the challenge of working with family.
S-R: Does anything about professional movers surprise people?
Gish: The size of our trucks. They think we can back into their driveway and load up, but our trucks are between 70 and 80 feet long. Most neighborhood streets aren’t designed for large semis.
S-R: Any changes ahead?
Gish: I think expansion into other markets – Portland, Boise – is coming, because we’ve seen the success of the satellite-location concept in Seattle.
S-R: Do you ever miss teaching?
Gish: Frequently. I miss working with kids – having that teacher-student relationship. Now I have employer-employee relationships, but I don’t have nearly as much influence on employees as I think I had on students.