Do You Have What it Takes?
America is a mobile country! More than 37 million Americans move every year, many for a new job, to start a family, or for a nicer home. Migration in search of better opportunities or a new lifestyle, in fact, makes economic growth possible — and the professional moving and storage industry is key to making it all happen. Our industry consists of nearly 7,000 firms operating at nearly 14,000 locations in every state. It generates $12.6 billion of annual revenues and provides 93,800 jobs.
To fight unscrupulous or even illegal, unlicensed scam artists (known within the industry as “rogue operators”), AMSA has created a professional certification program for mover members. Those who pass a seven-point background check are authorized to display the ProMover seal, identifying them to consumers as certified professional movers.
Most long-distance moving is handled by agents of van lines, but many smaller companies provide only local moving services. These companies offer moving and associated storage services for households and businesses. Because they also handle national and international personal property moves for active duty U.S. military personnel, the Department of Defense represents the industry’s largest single customer.
What does it mean to be an owner-operator in the moving industry?
Some drivers are full-time employees of a moving company, but many others are known as owner-operators. Owner-operators own their cab (or tractor) and contract with moving companies to haul their trailers, a common business model across the trucking industry. In the moving business, drivers are often referred to as van operators, in recognition of the scope of their job duties which go beyond simply driving.
Although most van operators handle household goods, another segment is called special commodities. These drivers handle transportation for sensitive freight including trade show displays, electronics, and scientific and medical equipment.
What important skills are required?
If you like the idea of driving a truck, that’s certainly a necessary skill for the job. In fact, in most cases, a Commercial Driver’s License (CDL) is required to drive a commercial moving van. But that’s not all that’s required.
Driving is in many ways the least important part of the job, and is why this career is significantly different from working in the freight hauling industry. A good van operator also has to have patience, strength, people skills and be a good navigator. A van operator manages his or her packing and loading crew, and is the front line of the company with the customer. The right people skills to be able to work with a broad cross-section of customers is essential. A warm, friendly, can-do personality goes a long way to make the customer comfortable. As the leader of a crew of packer/loaders in the field, the ability to get along with others, to be a good listener and to value teamwork are key. The people skills required are not so much sales-oriented but more how to successfully read people and react appropriately. Good manners and a professional attitude are critical. Taking pride in your appearance, your vehicle and your tools is very important and sends a positive message to the customer.
Other key skills include being a good problem-solver, and enjoying logistics and managing inventory; for example, fitting all the pieces together when loading and unloading multiple shipments on one truck. A good head for business can be essential, especially when you are operating as an independent contractor which makes you something of a “mobile businessman.” Being able to manage your costs, especially early in your career, is important.
You need to feel that the success of the move is resting on your shoulders — that if you do an excellent job you will be rewarded. The desire to do a good job drives your success, which is a key component of having a strong entrepreneurial spirit and being a self-starter.
What’s the Job Like?
For someone who just can’t picture themselves in a desk job, being a van operator is a great alternative. It is a physically active job, so expect to build muscle, but rest assured, dollies, specialized moving vans and ramps help ease the load. The peak moving season extends from May through September. when some overtime will be required. Many moving companies are also engaged in warehouse operations, office moves and records storage. They try to keep busy all year but expect to be slow around the winter holidays.
Starting out, you will learn the job from an experienced pro until you are ready to undertake more responsibility for the various tasks yourself. The hours are long so expect to work 8-12 hours a day loading or unloading your shipments during the busy summer months usually not in perfect conditions, and at least eight hours a day on your driving days.
The work is not easy, but is extremely rewarding. You, in addition to driving, taking inventory, loading and unloading, will be part psychologist, parent, teacher, comforter, task master and friend during one of the most stressful times in a family’s life — yes, even when they are moving to the perfect new home in the perfect neighborhood. But when the favorite toy is unpacked in the new home and a child’s face lights up that says more than “thank you” ever could.
- Get to travel extensively through the U.S. and possibly Canada
- Teaming opportunities for married couples who want to work and travel together
- Long-term career path
- Possible business ownership
- Freedom of the road and to often set your own schedule
- Meet and work with about 100 different families from all walks of life every year
- Long periods away from home
- Miss family events and holidays
- Difficult hours
What a Driver Has to Say about Being a Professional Van Operator
”It was a great opportunity to stay close to my extended family. My uncle (a van operator) taught me a lot about being responsible. I was a pretty shy kid, but the job helped me gain confidence meeting and working with new people. I saw how my uncle really cared about the business and cared for the customers. You meet so many people in this business, you have to learn to put people first.”
— Midwestern van line owner-operator
What’s the Salary Range?
Owner/operators typically earn between $80,000 and $100,000 annually. Veteran owner-operators can make more than that depending on how well they manage their finances and what they spend on equipment.
An average veteran owner-operator at our company can produce about $250,000 in line haul a year and have an opportunity to retain between 50-57 percent depending on the ranking and scores.
— Van line agent executive