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MOVING–LARRY LINDSAY WEATHERED THE RECESSION OF THE 1990S AND IS NOW APPLYING THE LESSONS HE LEARNED TO MANAGE GROWTH

It’s a familiar story. A small business did gangbuster business through the late 1980s and then, boom, the recession hit. Business plummeted and it nearly went bust. That’s what happened to Larry Lindsay. After two decades of steady growth, his company, California Expert Moving and Storage Inc., fell on hard times. By 1996, he had scaled back his fleet from 14 trucks to six, and cut his staff from 35 people to eight. He also relocated his business from a 30,000-square-foot warehouse in downtown Los Angeles to an 8,000-square-foot facility in North Hollywood. “It was a smart move for us,” Lindsay said. “This business is feast or famine. We had to downsize.” Four years after hitting rock bottom, Lindsay’s company is back on a growth track, thanks to a booming economy that’s allowing many clients to move into bigger spaces. The company now has 30 employees and 11 trucks. And plans are in the works to move back into a 30,000-square-foot facility in the coming year. Meanwhile, revenue has steadily increased from $700,000 in 1997 to $1 million in 1999. In the process, Lindsay has learned a few lessons. He now plans to grow the company slowly. Instead of buying all its trucks, he has started renting vehicles when needed on larger jobs, avoiding hundreds of dollars in monthly loan payments and insurance costs. And instead of expanding his staff beyond what’s absolutely needed, Lindsay keeps a list of freelance day laborers to call on for bigger jobs. On the move Lindsay, now 53, got into the business with Lyon Moving and worked there for nearly two decades until he and George Hammer, a close friend and co-worker, decided to strike out on their own in separate enterprises. Lindsay formed his company in 1979. Hammer held onto his firm, Viking Transfer, until last May. When his parents passed away, he called Lindsay, who agreed to buy the business on one condition Hammer had to work for him as his lead salesperson. Hammer agreed. Between the two of them, they’ve done moving work for firms like Amgen Inc., Walt Disney Co. and Warner Bros. They’ve also done household moves a small percentage of their business for stars like Dennis Franz, James Cagney and Dean Martin. One long-time contract has involved the state of California. Mary Powers, district director of the State Compensation Fund, began working with Lindsay in 1992. She’s now working with him again, as her Woodland Hills branch is moved to Glendale. “They really are much more than a moving company,” Powers said. “They help us plan things we don’t think of ourselves. And they have a really stable workforce.” Lindsay estimates that about 90 percent of his business comes from repeat customers or word-of-mouth. “You’re only as good as your last move,” he said. Few days off Lindsay said service and low prices allow him to compete with major chains and the dozens of independent movers out there. He also has allied himself with Wheaton Van Lines to expand into national moves. In some cases, he acts as an agent, setting up work for Wheaton and collecting a finder’s fee. “This is a service business,” Lindsay said. “Anyone can do what we do, we just don’t want anyone to do it better.” For example, workers are not only trained to move heavy objects like desks but also fragile items like picture frames and computer systems. Employees also learn how to work with the people they’re moving. “There are tough guys in this business,” Lindsay said. “We train them not to whistle at the women, we teach them about service. If a client wants his desk moved around six different times, then we do it. It’s one of the reasons we maintain our contracts.” Weekends are the biggest moving days, so employees at client firms can leave their old offices on Friday and head to new office space on Monday. “There’s only one day we won’t work Super Bowl Sunday,” Hammer said. Before each move, crews are given a blueprint of the building being left behind and the one being occupied. The move is planned two weeks in advance, and items are numbered so nothing is lost or misplaced. Either Hammer or Lindsay oversees just about every job. “We’re not too big that we don’t take care of the little people,” Hammer said. Over the years, they’ve been given a variety of collectibles from people they’ve relocated. Lindsay has a copy of the Declaration of Independence, printed in 1876 to commemorate its signing, and a stagecoach used in the movie “Shenandoah.” Hammer ended up with an original agreement signed by Pancho Villa and the Mutual Film Co. of New York. While the friends specialize in commercial work, they say the hardest jobs are residential moves that involve divorces or widows leaving a house after a death. “You have to do a lot of P.R.,” Lindsay said. “When a spouse dies, they don’t see furniture, they see memories.”

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