Sabrina Jones’ introduction to the moving trade came early.
“I grew up on a wheat farm outside Rosalia,” she explained, “and by the time I was 8, my chores included transferring cows from one pasture to another and hauling them to the stockyards.”
Decades later, while working at Gonzaga and taking MBA classes, Jones considered business opportunities and settled on starting her own moving company “because it sounded easy.”
It wasn’t. Not then, and not now.
But her sole-proprietor business – Movher – has thrived, boasting six consecutive Angie’s List super service awards.
Jones operates a fleet of seven trucks, two vans, plus a “piano trailer” for transporting outsized items.
Her disarming laugh belies the sign on her office desk that reads “BOSS LADY.”
During a recent interview, Jones discussed beloved snakes and trees, as well as things clients want her movers to make disappear.
S-R: Did you have any early role models?
Jones: My dad, Dick Shindler. He was my high school basketball coach and math teacher. I was one of four daughters, and the closest he got to having a son because I always hung out with him. He’s 75 now and still teaching half-days at St. John. He says it’s because he wants one hot meal a day. (laugh)
S-R: Did you have a career in mind back in high school?
Jones: I thought I would become a doctor because it sounded important.
S-R: Where did you attend college?
Jones: Eastern Washington University. I got a degree in economics.
S-R: Then what?
Jones: I moved to Seattle and worked for Snohomish County Economic Development Council. And I got married. My husband was in medical school. We moved to Minnesota for his residency, and I got a master’s in elementary education. Then we moved to Utah, Montana and finally Colfax. I was a stay-at-home mom for 13 years before taking a job in marketing and communications at Gonzaga.
S-R: What inspired you to start your own moving business?
Jones: I knew from my marketing background that to be successful I had to somehow stand out. When I got divorced in 2008, I rented a truck and hired a couple of strong guys to help me move. And I thought, what better way to stand out than to bring a woman’s sensibility to a male-dominated industry?
S-R: Besides marketing, what other skills have proved useful in this career?
Jones: Honesty, a strong work ethic and dependability. Those are things you don’t find all the time – especially in this industry.
S-R: How did you come up with the company name and logo?
Jones: My operations manager and significant other, Jerry Almanza, did that. We met at Gonzaga, where he worked in graphic design.
S-R: Where did you recruit muscle?
Jones: We’d go to GU’s gym and ask around. Our very first employees were twin brothers studying mechanical engineering. We weren’t sure they’d even show up, but they stuck with us more than two years and always beat us to job sites.
S-R: What sort of reception did you get from competitors?
Jones: I sent letters to all the moving companies in the area, just to introduce myself. I only heard back from one.
S-R: How much did it cost to start the business?
Jones: Maybe $5,000. I bought things like moving blankets and stretch wrap, which I kept in a closet in my condo. When I needed a truck, I’d rent one. I kept my job at Gonzaga for two-and-a-half years and poured everything I earned back into the business.
S-R: What do you recall about those early days?
Jones: I had no idea what to charge. I might estimate that a job would take five hours, and it might end up taking 10, meaning we lost money. On the bright side, we’ve never had an accident with our vehicles, and no broken bones. A few trips to the ER, but nothing serious.
S-R: What do you charge today?
Jones: Movers in Washington are regulated by the state Utilities and Transportation Commission, which gives us ranges we can charge per hour for a driver and helper if it’s a local move. If we send a truck and two people, it’s $135 an hour.
S-R: What business acumen have you picked up along the way?
Jones: A guy named Dave Duryee wrote a book on finance for moving and storage, and one of the things he stressed is to know your numbers. People like to say, “This is my revenue.” But are they really making any money? And if they’re not, what do they need to do differently.
S-R: How long do your part-time employees stick around?
Jones: From as little as one job – either they don’t like the work or don’t fit our culture – to as long as five years. One worked for us from the time he played football at Gonzaga Prep until he enrolled in law school.
S-R: How much do they earn?
Jones: They start at $12 an hour and can earn up to $20. Drivers start at $15, because they have more responsibility.
S-R: How would you characterize your company’s growth?
Jones: There hasn’t been a year when we haven’t grown. Until 2016, we worked out of a storage facility. Now we lease our own office and warehouse (at 3311 E. Ferry Ave.), and we need a bigger place.
S-R: What are some unusual things people have asked you to move?
Jones: A Gonzaga professor had us move her very large, boa-like snake, which she kept in a giant cage. We’ve moved a 2,200-pound gun safe for a Washington state patrolman, and a 14-foot-tall, 500-pound tree that lived in someone’s foyer.
S-R: Do customers ever say they don’t want to keep something and ask your crew to get rid of it?
Jones: All the time. And because we have so many college students working for us, they come back with all kinds of stuff – beds, dressers, microwaves, stereo speakers, tents. We don’t like to take things to the dump, though, because it looks bad for a moving truck to pull up and toss everything out the back. (laugh)
S-R: Does your service include packing items for customers?
Jones: If they request it. We’ll also clean a residence after it’s empty, and store items in our warehouse.
S-R: Do you own your trucks?
Jones: I used to. Now most of them are leased. That way they’re newer, and I don’t worry about them breaking down. If something does happen, we get a rental replacement. Leasing doesn’t save us money, but it minimizes headaches.
S-R: What outside factors, such as the economy, affect your business?
Jones: When I started, the economy was in the toilet, so lots of people needed to move. In general, though, the main things that affect our business is weather. Summer is our busiest season. We’re always looking for new ways to generate revenue during the slower months, which is why we got into storage. We’re also starting to do some shipping.
S-R: What’s your work schedule?
Jones: Typically 8 to 5, Monday through Saturday. But I’m always on. We operate seven days a week and travel within a 500-mile radius. If something happens, I’ve got to be available.
S-R: How can people reduce the cost of a move?
Jones: By being organized. We charge by the hour, so the more prepared they are, the more they can save. It also helps if they handle the smaller, more fragile stuff – lamps, art, TVs – and let us focus on the big, heavy items.
S-R: Anything else?
Jones: Good communication is important. Our goal is to understand what customers need, telling them how we can make that happen and how much it’s going to cost. For instance, some people don’t want everything boxed when they’re only moving a short distance. What they don’t realize is that we have to pack just as carefully for a 1-mile trip as we would for a cross-state move. People don’t like surprises.
S-R: Can surprises work both ways?
Jones: (laugh) Oh, yeah. During one recent three-truckload move that went to 11 p.m., the client initially wanted us to leave all the area rugs so he could take photos before putting the house on the market. Then, after our guys moved everything into another house, the client changed his mind and did want the area rugs moved. So not only did our guys have to go back and get all the rugs, they also had to move the furniture they’d already set up, lay the rugs, then put the furniture back again.
S-R: What do you like most about your job?
Jones: The variety. It’s never dull.
S-R: What do you like least?
Jones: The variety. (laugh)
Writer Michael Guilfoil can be contacted at email@example.com.
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