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Thursday, Dec 8, 2022
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Mover of the Stars

Marshall Lambert Title: President Company: Rene’s Van & Storage Inc. Born: Hollywood, 1971 Education: Some community college Most Influential People: Rene Lambert Sr., grandfather; Ricky Lambert, father; Bill Jackson, former boss; Stephan Schneider, family attorney and good friend. Career Turning Point: In 2006 when he returned to the family business.  Personal: Fiancée Michelle Lemus, stepdaughter Sara Lemus (18), son Jack Lambert (18) son Jace Lambert (17) and stepson Eric Lemus (17) Hobbies: Basketball, motorcycles, golfing and vacationing in RV.   Marshall Lambert is president of Rene’s Van & Storage Inc., a four-generation business on the border of Los Angeles and Glendale. He has brought the 85-year-old company out of hiding and onto social media, unheard of for a moving and storage business that prides itself on discreetness. The company is known for moving celebrities from Hollywood’s Golden Era to current A-list actors and actresses. How has your business survived for 85 years? First it was my great-grandfather, who started with our original name, Lambert’s Van and Storage. My great grandfather and great aunts ran the business. My grandfather was there, but he went off to war, so when he came back, he didn’t want to work for his sisters. He was a traveling salesman, doing different things. He told my grandmother, “Nothing is making me happy.” And she says, “Well, why don’t you do what you love best and open your own division called Rene’s?” They started growing very quickly, and the name recognition was out there because he was a Lambert, and so he was basically competing with his sisters, but helping them along the way, and they were helping each other. What happened to the family rivalry? In the ’60s, he bought his sisters out. He was doing so much better than the family at that point, and (the great aunts) wanted to focus more on their design – they were interior decorators. My grandfather died in 2007, he was about two weeks shy of his 89th birthday. He went peacefully and my grandmother was still going strong, still telling my dad this is how she wants it. My grandmother passed in 2016. Any memorable moving business stories from your childhood? Before confidentiality agreements, we moved Ronald Reagan into the White House, and we moved him out of the White House. We moved a lot of Old Hollywood, a lot of celebrities like Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Groucho Marx, just a variety of very famous people back in the day. How about today? We still move a lot of very recognizable people. We try to keep everything confidential. We’ve had paparazzi tailing us, marking our trucks. We moved a customer one time and we actually had a helicopter following our truck because they wanted to know where she was moving. So we pulled it into the front of our building and unloaded the truck, came out through the side door and loaded another truck, and waited about an hour, then that truck left while the other truck was still there, and they knew none the wiser. They were still parked there; they didn’t follow it. What other business have you worked at? When I was a teenager, I told my dad I didn’t really want to work in the moving industry, so I started working for a company called Castex Rentals, which coincidentally was a family-owned business that was started in 1955 – basically the oldest grip and lighting rental business in the (movie) industry as well, which was kind of weird. I did that for a long time, into my 20s. I learned everything from that business and the owner took me under his wing, his name was Bill Jackson, and he taught me about business, finance, how to run a business and how to deal with the day-to-day operations. What made you come back to the family business? In 2006, my grandfather was very ill at the time. He had home care for many years before that, and my grandmother was still going strong, she took me to dinner one night and she said, ‘Your dad, he’s just killing himself there without grandpa.’ That was the pull back to the family business. Were there any difficulties, taking the reins from the previous generation? My dad and I didn’t always get along when I first started, but we loved each other and knew we could work through it. He was open minded, he let me do things differently and start talking about the history of the company, changing the format of using the old technology of moving and bringing it more modern and current with photos and a GPS in the truck, being able to give real time to the clients of when things were coming. What did you learn from the succession? It’s hard to change something that’s working so well and then everyone has that mentality of like, if it isn’t broke don’t fix it. You can keep the same skills and the same way that you handle your customers and customer service, that’s all fine, but to modernize it and make invoicing easier … it was a different mentality. They were all afraid of the internet, all of them, because they were afraid that our client base would be compromised if somebody hacked us. That’s why to this day, all of our programs are still in house; we don’t put them online. Why do you think Rene’s has survived when other moving companies in the Los Angeles area have closed? Being that we’re a family business, there’s a lot of love and drive put into this business. Before my grandma died, I was actually in negotiations with her and her attorney, because I was ready to buy the company; my dad said he was ready to retire soon. We were sort of all in agreement, we were trying to find that number that made sense. I told her I didn’t want anything given to me, because nothing was given to her. If somebody else can pay this, then I should pay this. It was kind of a rough time because California just changed all of its emissions rules on our trucks, so we had 15 big trucks that were older and they didn’t meet the requirements. I had to sell almost our entire fleet of trucks, and on top of buying the company, I had to figure out a way to finance all these new trucks and get them built, because we custom-build all of our trucks. My great grandfather started the company during the Depression – his first household move was 50 cents for a three-bedroom house. That’s incredible. If you think about the sacrifices they made, and the determination they had, and then my grandfather and grandmother taking it to that next level, I just felt that I had to continue this family tradition. Any recent challenges? My family went through a really rough patch when the economy tanked and my father and his brother, they strategized and they cut back. They did whatever they could and they used their own personal money to keep their 15-20 employees with a check every week and continued the company so that I could take over one day. The success of the company started with my great grandfather, then my grandfather and my dad and uncles, and now me. When I say there are big shoes to fill, there were sacrifices made along the way to get this company where it is. I am very fortunate that it worked out for me and that I was able to buy the company. What have you changed? We just started a program where we take pictures for people that request it of all their furniture, then we give them a link to go online and see everything in that container. For a long time, we had to have a paper trail. Just recently in this industry we are able to put things more digitally which is kind of neat, but I still believe in the old technology, you know, paper, shred it, keep it on file. It feels good to have something in front of you because a lot of things can get lost digitally too. What’s the climate like now for moving and storage businesses? Millennials are not holding onto their stuff. They’re moving a lot, and they’re doing it themselves or they’re using an app. They think that they’re saving money, but when you think about it, you hire a moving company and it’s $100 an hour for two men and a truck, right? There are guys that will move for $69 an hour. So you hire a guy for $69 an hour, and these are professional movers that know their stuff, and they come into your place and blanket wrap it and put it on the truck, they’ll drive it over and empty it. Maybe you pay for three to four hours, under $500 and you’re getting it all done. What different now? Let’s say I’m a millennial and I’m going to use an app and I’m going to book my truck at U-Haul, and I’m going to rent pads and I’m going to buy my buddies pizza. You rent a truck and it’s $69, right? Then you have to pay for the fuel. The truck comes with no blankets, no dollies, no boxes, so you spend a couple hundred bucks. Now I’m still under $380, and I get all my friends to help, they’re free, but they damage my things. Well, they’re my friends, I can’t go after them. Now I just bought a new side table because my friend damaged it. And what about the time you took off to move? For $400 to $500, if you’re all packed up and ready to go, those guys know what they’re doing. They do it every single day, day in and day out. The savings is peace of mind, going from A to B, secure in the truck. Do you have a marketing strategy? It’s kind of in the works. We’ve always been word-of-mouth, passed around from friend to friend. We used to have Yellow Pages advertisements. In the phone book you’d open it up and we’d be on every page, basically. What’s the most interesting item you’ve moved? We have a hippo from Disneyland here from the original Jungle Cruise ride. I remember when I was a kid there was a movie called “The Incredible Shrinking Woman” with Lily Tomlin. They used to have this giant telephone the size of a car on top of the containers. It was massive because she was shrinking; she had to make a phone call and push the receiver over and dial with her hands. We were housing that because we did a lot of business back in the day with 20th Century Fox, Universal, Warner Bros.; we’d store stuff for them because we had tons of space. Anything else? We used to store film reels and stuff like that, black and white, rare. We didn’t realize, and neither did they, that if you left film in a cannister for many, many years, it turns into nitrogen and it can explode when it turns into a powder. We had a whole container full … we’re talking when film first started. Probably in the ’60s or ’70s, they said “Oh, you can’t even get into this one vault, it’s horrible smelling,” so they opened the container and our guy was so overcome with the odor that came out of it. They opened up the container and there was powder coming out of the huge film reels. We called the fire department because the smell was so bad; they cleared the whole property for a city block. If this ignited, it would be like setting off a giant bomb. Have you ever considered joining a network of movers or becoming a franchise? We were part of an agency called Red Ball, and we were part of Allied Van Lines for 35 years, we were an agent for them. A lot of our trucks had the big ‘A’ on them. We were doing a lot of long-distance hauling for them. When I came on board in 2006, I was looking at what we were paying to be an Allied agent as opposed to how much moving we were doing for them. It didn’t make sense, so we decided we were going to stay independent. What is Rene’s doing to face the U-Hauls of the moving industry? You really don’t realize how much money you could save, and the time and frustration, by hiring a professional mover. Again, it’s peace of mind. I think for younger generations it’s just easier to push a button, and it’s the ease of I get it at my fingertips. The consumer isn’t thinking about the cost so much as the ease. How has the business environment changed? Do you think California is less open to small businesses now? It can be very frustrating for anybody running a small business or a large business, with workmens’ comp rates, fuel, insurance, regulations that California puts on truckers and small businesses, the cost of credit cards, the cost of labor. Everybody wants to pay a moving company pennies on the dollar, but everybody wants the movers to make $25 an hour. How can we do that if we don’t charge more? That goes with any business. Why do we have all of these additives in California? Why did I have to replace 15 trucks for brand-new trucks because of emissions changes? Each truck is about $100,000. Think about a small business, maybe the guy is using his trucks and he makes enough to provide for all of his employees, running his business and having a little extra change. Now all of a sudden he’s hit with a big bill and he’s not prepared for it. Have you ever thought of moving or expanding elsewhere? Yes. We were in multiple locations, but when the economy changed we sold off properties and consolidated into one large building. With our recent success and growth, and hiring more people and buying new vehicles, we’re almost at maximum capacity, so it’s very exciting. If you expanded, where would you go? It would almost be like a franchise in a way, but I would still be the owner. We’re looking to add another storage facility, probably in Calabasas, Simi Valley or Van Nuys. We’ve talked about going to Texas and having a truck running just from L.A. to Texas. We’ve also talked about expanding into New York, because I’ve had clients who have flown me and my guys in an airplane to New York to meet the truck to help us unload and place the stuff and then fly us back, taking care of our hotel, food and everything.

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