Take the Misery Out of Moving

Whether up the street, on the other side of town, or across the country, moving is a significant event in the life of any business. The good thing is that you probably won’t move often. But when you do, there are several things you should know to make this major project go as smoothly as possible. Relocating a small business, even a two-person office, is a time-consuming job that requires careful planning. Although many people who have had to move would hesitate to wish such a fate on their worst enemies, much can be done to minimize the impact and trauma of the experience.

The Small Company Moving Guide By Diane TouleyrouAs Diane Touleyrou points out in her book, The Small Company Moving Guide, it can even be fun. Have A Good Reason According to Kristi Rollins and Kerry Miller of the San Francisco-based business relocation consulting firm, Everything In Its Place, the first step is carefully examining the decision to relocate. If you’ve lost your lease, obviously you have no choice but to move. However, if you aren’t being forced out, consider all other possibilities. For example, could more efficient use of present space, coupled with purging and remote storage of inactive files and unneeded furniture and/or equipment, make this move unnecessary? If there is even a slight chance that the current facilities could be made to work, calling in a space planning consultant might spare you the inconvenience and expense of moving. If you eventually do decide to relocate, the consultant can help you quantify your needs for the new location, and ensure you get the most from that space once you’ve found it. Key Issues If you are seriously thinking about relocating your business, make a list of all the pros and cons so you and your staff clearly understand the underlying need for the move and what it should accomplish.

Other factors that should be considered are the timing of the move, the expense, employee relocation (if any), and minimizing downtime and lost production. When is the best time to move? Are there seasonal fluctuations or other considerations that could affect this decision? How much will the move cost, and what percentage are you and your staff going to do yourselves? How will this relocation impact the employees, and what effect will it have on overall productivity? These questions need to be addressed during the earliest planning phases. Touleyrou suggests choosing a “move leader” and “move team” at least three months before the actual relocation. She also recommends selecting people to manage specific areas such as new office furniture and equipment, electronics and communication, color coding, plants, decorating, morale, employee relocation (if needed), and budget. Often several of these responsibilities can be given to one person, but make sure each of these areas is assigned to someone. Managing the move budget is a critical activity. It is a good idea to make area managers responsible for their individual budgets, subsequently funneling their expenses to the budget manager. However you organize your move team, whether it consists of one person or 20, the issues and decisions are similar. Depending on the scale, moving can be expensive, and unforeseen expenses tend to be the rule, rather than the exception. At the same time, there are ways you can judiciously save money. Allow enough time to thoughtfully weigh your options, and don’t forget to save all receipts, as moving expenses are tax deductible. Creative Leasing While a carefully orchestrated relocation is preferable, sometimes unexpected circumstances provide an enticing opportunity to make a quick move. This happened to Rusty Hendley, owner of ProType Graphics, whose negotiation skills proved a critical factor in enabling her to take advantage of a very attractive offer.

Hendley’s company began 12 years ago with an emphasis on typesetting, but when personal computers made typesetting almost as easy as typing, she evolved her business into a pre-press service bureau. In 1993, she was invited to move into a new graphic arts center being set up by an established printer, which would benefit both firms. Because this opportunity came about very suddenly, lease negotiation proved a crucial factor — both with Hendley’s existing landlord (with whom she had recently signed a three-year lease) and with her new landlord.Protype Funding the unplanned move was also a primary concern. Hendley talked the new landlord into giving her the first two months free, with reduced rent for the next six months. She even got him to pick up her utility bills, which usually run $500-600 per month. Hendley also negotiated her way out of the old lease without penalty, and arranged for her security deposit to cover the last month and a half of rent.

Before deciding to lease the space you need, you might consider purchasing that space or leasing it with an option to buy. Given today’s real estate market and low interest rates, you may decide that this is an excellent time to buy. Plan, Plan, Plan Rollins and Miller repeatedly emphasize the importance of detailed long-range planning whenever possible, pointing out that most moving disasters usually result from poor planning. However, they admit that even in the best planned moves, something inevitably goes wrong. For these reasons, they strongly recommend involving the entire staff in the relocation process, from the original decision to the open house. Employee input opens the door to more creative solutions during every step of the move, while also increasing morale and productivity among the staff. Preparing for a move is the perfect time to purge obsolete paperwork, archive old records to offsite storage, and get rid of other materials you really don’t need any more. Allow plenty of time for this step, as it always takes longer than you anticipate. An added benefit is that the more you throw away or send to remote storage, the more you end up saving on moving expenses. A move prompts many companies to upgrade their telephone system and computer network, or at least plan for future upgrades. Because changes in technology have driven down prices, smaller firms can now afford equipment with enhanced capacity and more features for greater productivity. However, as additional features also mean more potential problems, be sure your moving plan provides for advance installation and testing. Even if you are downsizing your office rather than relocating, you might investigate the benefits of changing your phone and computer networks. Deciding about office furniture is also part of the relocation process.

In addition to buying new, you should think about refurbishing existing furniture or looking at used. Even panel systems are available on the secondhand market. If you decide to get rid of your old furniture, consider donating to charity rather than trying to sell it. It’s far less trouble, and you can get a nice tax deduction. With proper planning and the involvement of all your employees, a move can be a valuable exercise in building intra-office teamwork and improving morale and communications. The experience, while admittedly a lot of work, will also provide a break in the routine, and a chance to work together to solve the numerous problems that are an integral part of any move. Because relocation is going to divert people from their regular responsibilities to some degree, you will need to establish a balance between the move and getting the work done. Hendley decided to do most of the packing herself. “I didn’t delegate a whole lot,” she admits. “It was more important that the employees bring in some cash flow. That’s not to say they didn’t participate in the move at all, because they definitely did. When work was slow for my front desk person, for example, she was purging files and packing.” Another alternative is calling in professional help, which may increase the expense of the move itself, but could result in substantial savings of time and energy in the long run.

Many resources exist to aid you including relocation consultants, space planners and architects, other small businesses, moving companies and even insurance firms. You will need to contact your insurance agency to provide information on your new address, and make sure that any risks which could arise from the move itself are properly covered. Also consider hiring some casual labor to clean up the old space, and help pack and unpack in the new location. With careful advance planning, most small businesses manage to move without drastic interruptions in delivering the products or services they market, and many relocate without closing down at all. One hint is to pack everything except the items needed for the immediate job at hand before the move. Those key items are the last packed and the first unpacked at the new location.

Every company undoubtedly has some unique requirement that necessitates special advance planning. Hendley, for example, had to deal with a 500-pound Photostat camera. “We had a professional come out and take our camera apart at the old location because it wouldn’t fit through the door. After the movers moved the camera, he came back on Monday to put it back together.” As Kristi Rollins recounts, “Moving inevitably means boxes — lots of boxes — even for small firms. When a friend of mine recently moved a lawyer out of a small one-room office, there were more than 200 boxes of papers and books.” If you are working with a moving company, it is the best source of strong boxes, and the most economical method is to rent them. The fee is nominal, and the moving company delivers the boxes a month before your move, and picks them up after you’ve unpacked. The company will also supply color-coded labels, and help you work out a labeling system. Be sure to precisely label everything, from boxes to furniture and equipment. Color coding by destination helps ensure that items get delivered to their proper place at the new location.

In her book, Touleyrou suggests posting color-coded signs at the new site before moving. She also emphasizes the importance of placing a hold on ordering new stationery, product literature and anything else with the current address and phone number on it until the new address, telephone number and official moving date have been finalized. Selecting A Moving Company If you only have a small amount to move, seriously consider renting a truck and doing it yourself, or enlisting the help of some hired laborers. In that case, make sure your insurance covers this kind of activity, in terms of both worker’s compensation and liability. Other options include hiring a professional, interstate moving company or a smaller, local company, depending on your specific requirements. The best way to find a qualified mover who fits your needs is to obtain referrals from companies similar to yours, or from independent advisers such as moving consultants or space planners. Another possibility is to check the Yellow Pages, although you should be sure to interview the companies and their references and confirm the scope of their insurance coverage. Kerry Miller stresses the importance of contacting the references of the movers you are considering. “The purpose of talking to references is not only to make sure the company is okay, but also to gain valuable suggestions and ideas. These people have probably moved their businesses fairly recently, and as a result, their experiences will be fresh in their minds.” Moving companies can also be valuable resources in terms of your overall moving plan, as well as some of the details. For example, if you have to move an office panel system, the moving company can sometimes give you a better deal on disassembly and reassembly than the original panel supplier. Moving Day! After an enormous amount of planning, packing, decision-making, labeling and consolidation, the fateful day finally arrives. The experts advise you to remain calm and flexible, which is easy for them to say. Rollins relates an example of the unexpected things that can occur. “On the day of the move, an ice storm hit and everything came to a screeching halt. Not only were the roads impassable, but the cold weather ruptured a water main at the new location.

When the moving company finally arrived, the whole basement was flooded. Another firm’s carefully planned move from the 17th floor of the building hit a snag when the elevator broke down. Fortunately, the movers came up with some creative solutions and were able to finish on schedule despite the obstacles.” So as to lessen disruption and avert customer service problems, consider scheduling the move after business hours, or closing down the operation for a day. Make sure you have adequate staff on hand to oversee the move itself (at both the old and new locations), and to field the inevitable questions that will arise.

One suggestion from Hendley is to move on a Friday, and give the employees a day off after the relocation is completed in exchange for coming in over the weekend to unpack so work can commence on Monday and customer impact is minimized. If you are moving complex equipment with numerous interconnecting cables, leave cables attached wherever possible. Tape cords and cables to the appliances they serve, rather than boxing them, to avoid searching and frustration after the equipment is unpacked for reassembly. After The Move After you finally have everything under your new roof, there is still much work to be done. During the planning phase, establish a timeline for resuming normal operations in the new location. If you don’t plan the moving process to completion and people stop before everything is unpacked, it will seem, in retrospect, as if the relocation took far longer than it actually did to complete. For many businesses, a move can provide valuable public relations and marketing opportunities. For example, open houses, grand openings and kick-off sales can reinforce existing relationships with clients and vendors while also attracting new customers.

Planning such events to coincide with the completion timeline will also help ensure that the schedule is met, and when that happens, you’ll really have something to celebrate. Basic Moving Checklist Complete negotiations with future landlord (for example, reduced or no rent at first, remodeling, special space or electrical requirements).

1) Negotiate release of current lease, if necessary.
2) Reserve new phone numbers, or arrange to transfer existing ones, with the phone company.
3) Prepare artwork for announcement letter, business cards, stationery and envelopes.
4) Get change of address cards from the post office, or create your own.
5) Make appointments with the utility companies for cut offs and new hookups.
6) Schedule phone installation.
7) Design new office space, including use of old furniture or purchase of new furniture. Discuss plans with employees and solicit their input.
8) Establish criteria for purging files and throwing out old materials.
9) Have custom wiring installed for telephone/computer networks.
10) Inform current customers of the move, visiting some in person, where appropriate.
11) Arrange for extra help to pack, clean and unpack.
12) Arrange for extra help at home for family needs.

 

See The Small Company Moving Guide by Diane Touleyrou for a set of detailed checklists to help you relocate your business. 

Jeff Weil