Thoughts While Waiting

The new kitchen cabinets that were to be delivered no later than Monday are now scheduled to arrive on Thursday. I’m hoping this is not a bad omen.

One of the jobs I had as a college student was as a furniture mover. It was hard work and the days were long, but the money was good. Had it not been for the broken down bodies of the older men I worked with, I might have made it a career… but not with the company that used me most often.

I experienced both ends of the spectrum of the household furniture moving trade. Both companies I worked for in Pittsburgh are now part of history. I have no idea why either one closed up shop. One company I’ll gladly name; Dilner’s did things right. In fact, I used them when I moved to Georgia.

The other company was a true fly-by-night operation, but since some descendants of the owners might still be alive and kicking, I won’t mention their name. I’d rather not be sued and have to defend the truth in a court of law.

I’ve often thought about writing a pamphlet for people getting ready to move. Everyone should be warned of the pitfalls of dealing with a disreputable company.

There are two basic types of move: local and long-distance.

A local move entails a representative of the moving company providing an estimate, but it’s not always very detailed… and in no way binding. Typically, the people being moved are given a list of prices – two men and a truck will cost so many dollars per hour; three men will cost a bit more, four men… and so on. Based on the starting and ending locations, the people may be told the move should be accomplished within a certain number of hours… assuming everything is packed and ready to go when the truck arrives.

With Dilner’s, for local moves, we were told to move as quickly as possible while being careful not to damage any of the person’s belongings. With the other company, our marching orders were to move as slowly as possible – just avoid the appearance of intentionally moving slowly. In other words, run up the bill as much as possible.

Long-distance moves are treated much differently. The company representative does a careful walk through to determine exactly how much space will be required on a truck. Then, if the customer is willing to spend the extra money, a crew will show up a few days prior to the move and begin carefully packing the customer’s goods. For packing, the customer is charged based on the number and sizes of the boxes used… not by the amount of time it takes the crew to pack the boxes.

Finally, an inventory is taken. All items are tagged and listed on an inventory sheet, which the customer is asked to sign before the truck is loaded. For boxes, the inventory sheet simply says “packed by owner” or packed by the company. The distinction is simple – if something packed by the owner gets broken in transit, it’s the owner’s responsibility. If the company packed the box, broken items are the company’s responsibility.

As for furniture, there are a series of codes that can be written beside each item. The codes denote if an item is scratched, marred, chipped, broken, splintered, or has any other flaw – regardless of how minor.

Finally, the empty truck is driven to a public scale and weighed. Then, it is driven to the home and the furniture is loaded. It is then driven back to the scale and weighed a second time. The customer will be charged based on the weight of the furniture and the miles driven.

With Dilner’s, special care was taken to ensure that anything we packed would not be broken. The company paid the workers by the hour and told us to take our time to do it right.

The inventory sheets were completed as honestly as possible and any major problems were pointed out to the customer as the damage codes were added. We wanted the customer to know what we had found so there were no questions at the other end.

When it came time for the customer to sign the inventory sheets, we encouraged him or her to carefully read each line and let us know of any disagreements. Once those papers were signed, they became a binding contract.

After the truck was weighed and we began loading it, the rule of the day was to take our time and pack everything carefully to avoid any shifting of the load and resulting breakage. Again, we were being paid by the hour and told to take our time. The owner of the household goods was paying a total based on an estimate of the weight and mileage. Most of the time, the Dilner’s people who did the estimates were within five or ten percent of the actual costs.

Once the goods were loaded on the truck, the owners were invited to follow us to the scale to witness the weighing of the loaded truck. If their belongings filled the truck, they were even invited to put their own padlock on the truck to protect their belongings.

Now, the other company represented the other extreme. Because we were being paid by the hour, and the customer was not being charged by the hour, we were instructed to work as quickly as possible.

Because I was one of the few employees who could read and write, I was given the job of taking the inventory. I was instructed to mark as many boxes as possible as ‘packed by owner’ whether that was true or not.

As for furniture, I could be looking at a brand new piece of furniture and, following the instructions of my boss, make it look like it was ten years old and falling apart. Every item of furniture was marked as scratched, marred, dented, chipped, and every other code I could fit in the box.

I was then instructed to get them to sign without giving them an opportunity to review what I’d written. In truth, I couldn’t bring myself to do that. I’d hand them the paperwork and invite them to carefully review it. I was amazed at how many people simply signed it. As I said before, once it was signed, it became a binding contract.

We then set to work loading the truck as quickly as possible. If we damaged something along the way, it made no difference; the inventory sheet already listed it as damaged.

After the truck was loaded, we told the customer we were going to the scale. We never invited customers to come along. That’s because we’d return to the shop and fill every available space with refrigerators and any other heavy objects we could find. We probably added a couple of thousand pounds to every load.

Only once was I on the other end of a move. I couldn’t believe how badly damaged the furniture was as we unloaded it. Again, we were moving as fast as we could. Our orders were to unload the truck, get the customer’s signature – indicating everything was received in good order – and get back on the road as quickly as possible.

Once again, I was given the job of handling the paper work. When I gave the papers to the customer, he immediately began to sign. None of the other workers were around, so I stopped the man and suggested he might want to check things out first. He told me it wasn’t necessary and went ahead and signed his name on the dotted line.

By the time we got back to the shop, the owner of our company was on the phone listening to the man raising royal hell. He grabbed the paper work from me and looked for the man’s signature. Once he saw that the many had signed, he told the man to do something anatomically impossible and hung up.

I’ll go to my grave regretting that experience.

But I’ll also keep it in mind when my cabinets are delivered. I will open every carton and carefully inspect each cabinet. I will sign nothing until I’m satisfied I’m not dealing with a company similar to the one for which I worked.

I’d feel much better if a truck with the Dilner’s logo pulled up with the delivery. But I’d still inspect every carton. Call it experience!

If you are getting ready to relocate and looking for a reputable mover, feel free to contact me. I’ll be more than happy to help guide you to a good company.

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