moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

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cardsfan
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Location: The Woodlands, TX

moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Thu Jan 26, 2006 3:12 pm

I searched the forums on reviews of the agents that I'm talking to on my upcoming move but could not find many details on 2 of the 3 I'm considering.

First, a little background:

I moved from St. Louis to Tampa (1000 miles) about 2yrs ago and had a fantastic experience with Fry-Wagner (a large United agent in St. Louis). Everything was first class, and they were very careful. The weight of my shipment was actually 10,500lbs and I had a binding/do-not-exceed estimate based on 9500lbs, but the price never changed ($4500 + ~$400 for insurance). I received 5-6 in-home estimates from a variety of local STL agents and Fry Wagner was not the cheapest, but I went with my gut and it came out well. The move was self-paid, and we did almost all of the packing (other than mirrors, glass inserts in some tables, mattress boxes, etc). I paid for $0 ded. insurance and didn't have any claims.

Next, we moved from Tampa to Houston last June, another 1000 mile move, and used Tampa Bay North American Van Lines for my move (after receiving 5-6 in-home estimates from a variety of agents from major vanlines). Again, we did most of our own packing, their weight estimates were around 9500lbs, and we got a guaranteed price from them ($3900) and did not take the insurance this time. The agent was smaller, they were the lowest price of all of the bids we received, they didn't protect the floors very well, they were late (truck broke down and it took 4-5hrs to get another truck for them to use), etc... Nothing was broken, but it wasn't the best experience (compared to Fry-Wagner/United).

Now, we're moving back to St. Louis at the end of Feb, which is a bit shorter from the other 3 legs of our move, ~850 miles. We haven't added or removed anything major from our other 2 moves, and the estimates we've received from Houston agents are all around 10,000-11,000lbs (which is accurate since it was weighed @ 10,500 in the first move). Once again, I'm paying for the move myself, and got 7 in-home estimates from a variety of local agents from major van lines (United, Mayflower, Allied, North American), and all 3 of my "finalists" that I'm considering are coming in around the same price ($4300) for the move, but what I'm not sure about is which one to use and particularly more important is the destination that's going to be used. Why? Because we rented in Houston for the past 9 months, and the new home we built in St. Louis is brand new with extensive hardwood flooring. While the local agent here can promise the world about the guys moving stuff in and out of this Houston rental, they can't control (effectively) the help that's going to be used in St. Louis from that agent (even though their local driver would be up there and selecting the helpers). Given that, I'm much more concerned about the destination agent that will be used, instead of the origin agent (it's an older home and the carpets will probably get replaced after we leave anyway... walls need to be touched up and repainted, so protecting the house in Houston isn't as big of a concern for me as doing that in St. Louis with the brand new home).

Anyway, on to the contenders:

1st up is Armstrong (with United): http://www.armstrongrelocation.com/

Armstrong is a huge agent for United, our estimator told me that they've been #1 in the nation before, and go back and forth with a Chicago agent for that title of #1. He pitched their status as a "pinnacle mover" pretty hard and the fact that their drivers are all company employees, etc. When I asked him about the other 2 agents I was considering, he incorrectly said that neither of them were Pinnacle Movers (one of them is) and was overall negative (making them seem like rinky-dink outfits). Not terribly professional on his part, but the price is right and the estimator isn't the one driving the truck or carrying my big screen outside, so I don't care. However, the estimator has not followed up with me (it's been a week) and has an assistant that helps him coordinate moves. I get the feeling that with a big operation like this agent, you might become just a number and if something should go wrong, you'll have 10 different people to talk to. The destination agent in St. Louis would be Fry-Wagner, whom I had a great experience with 2yrs ago, so this is a huge plus. Searching this forum, I see Armstrong recommended and mentioned alot, which is a plus.

2nd up is Wald (with Mayflower): http://www.waldrelocation.com/

The estimator from Wald was very impressive, has followed up with me numberous times since being in our home last week and seems ready to do anything and everything should we ask for it. They are not a Pinnacle Mover, and when I asked about that, he kinda glossed over it and kept restating that they'll be able to handle everything smoothly, blah blah blah. I asked him that since they were a smaller agent, how would I know that the driver that comes to my home is one of their own and may he get pulled from somewhere else. He reassured me that they would use one of their own drivers and can put that in the contract if necessary. He was very proud of the fact that they have 0 compaints in the last 36 months with the BBB. Problem here is, while I like this guy and Wald, the destination agent used up in St. Louis would be Dodge Moving and Storage (http://www.dodgemoving.com/missouri.asp) whom I know nothing of. Looking at their BBB record, they have quite a few complaints (most look to be resolved though). As I mentioned, the people moving my goods into the brand new home are the most important thing to me about this entire move, so I'm a little leary based on that. Searching this forum, I couldn't find anything relevant to Wald or Dodge.

3rd is Adams Transfer & Storage (a North American agent) http://www.movewithadams.com/

They are also a "Pinnacle Mover", which the guy from Armstrong/United didn't seem to know. Their price came in the same, but I haven't received the final paperwork from her yet to see who the destination agency would be. The lady that came to do the bid was very nice and professional and seemed to want to bend over backwards to get our business. She was our last estimator to come through and I kept out the paperwork from Armstrong and Wald so that she would notice it. I told her that I was considering both, of the 5-6 that we have already seen, and she told us (without naming names) that one of them is a very good agent, similar to her own, while the other is "like the Walmart of agents" and that I'd have better luck with the other (if I don't select her and Adams). I'm glad that she didn't rag on her competitors directly (like the Armstrong guy) so she remained professional, but I was a bit confused by her analogy. At first, I would think she was referring to Armstrong/United, based on my initial experience and lack of followup (plus, they are the biggest, and Wald is another smaller agent, like Adams). However, maybe she was referring to the fact that both Adams and Armstrong are Pinnacle Movers? Like Wald, she was also proud of the fact that they had not had any complaints in the last 36 months with the BBB. Searching this forum, I couldn't find anything revelant to Adams.

With all 3 agents, I looked up their DOT and did the safersys.org searches on them too, and all looked fine (from what I could tell).

So, all 3 agents are giving me the same binding estimates, so price isn't in the equation at all. It's strictly, the driver and help that will be at my home, in both locations, and the quality of those workers. I'm not taking any insurance (other than their 60 cents per pound included) so speed with claims, etc.. isn't a concern either.

With 3 long distance moves in 2yrs (I wouldn't wish it on anybody), I've kinda learned a little here along the way. The name on the truck (vanline) doesn't mean much to me anymore. It's all about the agent used IMO. However, you could pick the best agent in the world, and if the driver you get, or the help that he decides to hire that day happen to suck, it's a total crap shoot anyway. In the end, it's that driver and his help that are going to determine the quality of your move more than anything else, and that's not something that's easy to predict. Even the best companies in the country have bad employees here or there, it's just total luck if you get them or catch one on a bad day... and there isn't much you can do to screen for that since you're not interviewing the actual driver when they're doing the estimates, only some paid salesperson.

Thanks in advance for anyone that can provide personal info on these 3 Houston agents or Dodge up in St. Louis.

PS. I also had in-home estimates from the following agents, but have eliminated them based on high pricing, or a lack of confidence with the contact person that I'll be dealing with for the move (the estimator/saleperson):

Westheimer Transfer and Storage (Allied)
Suddath Relocation (United)
Holman Moving Systems (United)
Central Transport Systems (United)
Jon

Diane
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby Diane » Thu Jan 26, 2006 3:23 pm

Very interesting, Jon. I had never heard the term "Pinnacle Mover" before and I'm kind of surprised that it's apparently used by several different van lines. (I had heard of Vanguard Gold for North American drivers, for example.) Maybe someone will come on to explain.

I guess in view of your concern about the destination agent I would tend to choose Armstrong, although frankly although I know they're supposed to be great, I haven't been that impressed with the reviews of Armstrong-Chicago at least.

MusicMom
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby MusicMom » Thu Jan 26, 2006 4:30 pm

"What Is A Pinnacle Mover?"

Seems like a BBB for movers in the Southwest area.

cardsfan
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Location: The Woodlands, TX

Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Thu Jan 26, 2006 9:45 pm

MusicMom wrote:"What Is A Pinnacle Mover?"

Seems like a BBB for movers in the Southwest area.


Pretty much. It also seems that some of the requirements call for extra personell (specific staff members like a certified safety director, maintence director) and all vehicles less than 10yrs old, etc so it probably weeds out alot of the smaller operators.

Of the 3 I'm considering, only Armstrong had complaints in the last 36 months through the BBB (very few, and all were resolved). Wald and Adams had zero.
Jon

Diane
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby Diane » Thu Jan 26, 2006 9:56 pm

It could be related to the amount of business that Armstrong does, though.

One person who has a very comprehensive knowledge of the moving industry nationwide is "Rick" and it might not be a bad idea for you to send him a PM directing his attention to this thread to see whether he has any comments that he would like to make either publicly or in a Private Message.

When Houston movers came up before, the three companies recommended by "IMP" (who knows the market well) were Armstrong, Atlantic Relocation, and Graebel.

I have an idea. You could call Fry-Wagner and tell them Armstrong has been unresponsive and you want Fry-Wagner to be the booking agent. (Just kidding, but the destination agent normally gets nothing and the booking agent gets I think 15% of the linehaul amount, plus 5% more if it's also the origin agent. Arrangements vary, but I was told that in many companies the sales rep who books the move gets half of what the booking/origin agent gets total, so probably around 10% of the linehaul.)
Last edited by Diane on Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:15 pm, edited 1 time in total.

cardsfan
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Location: The Woodlands, TX

Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:08 pm

Diane wrote:When Houston movers came up before, the three companies recommended by "IMP" (who knows the market well) were Armstrong, Atlantic Relocation, and Graebel.

I have an idea. You could call Fry-Wagner and tell them Armstrong has been unresponsive and you want Fry-Wagner to be the booking agent. (Just kidding.)


Yeah, I saw that IMP thread with the Armstrong recommendation.

I actually did call Fry-Wagner, and they recommended Armstrong and Suddath for destination agents. Because I had already contacted those 2 agents directly, they couldn't book it for me, but they actually sent out the guy from Holman to do an estimate (for them, as the booking agent :) ). The estimator didn't do a great job and their price wasn't even in the same ballpark ($6500), but Fry-Wagner did tell me if I used Armstrong to make sure they are used as the destination agent (which Armstrong confirmed again for me today) and Fry-Wagner said they'd help me with any issues at destination (even though they're not booking it).
Jon

Diane
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby Diane » Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:20 pm

It still sounds as if Armstrong is your best bet, if you can overlook the personality of the sales rep. He'll net around $300 from your move, I guess, so you probably can't expect too much. I guess the Armstrong driver will hire unloading labor from Fry-Wagner, so it's worth something to them in terms of keeping their guys busy. Someone told me that most drivers pay workers around $10/hour or $15/hour in major cities.

I think it helps to keep the economic framework of moves in mind, to help understand why people behave in certain ways.

cardsfan
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Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Location: The Woodlands, TX

Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Thu Jan 26, 2006 10:58 pm

Diane wrote:It still sounds as if Armstrong is your best bet, if you can overlook the personality of the sales rep.


Yeah, in the end I'm not terribly concerned that the sales rep wasn't great (better than most though). Some that I've interviewed for these 3 moves look like they rolled out of bed and should selling used cars on a lot.
Jon

Rick
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby Rick » Fri Jan 27, 2006 12:39 am

cardsfan,

"The Pinnacle Mover Program was developed by the Southwest Movers Association specifically for the moving industry. The primary goal of the program is to promote and recognize professional competence and adherence to ethical standards on the part of movers operating within the five-state SMA coverage area of Texas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, Arkansas and New Mexico." It's similar to the Certified Mover Program offered by the American Moving and Storage Association. You'll find a more detailed explanation here.
http://www.southwestmovers.org/Pinnacle ... /index.asp

The most critical part any successful move is the driver assigned to handle your relocation. He is charged with the responsiblity to understand and perform to your expectations, hire the most effective laborers to load and unload, take the most detailed inventory, exercise the most care, and provide accurate communication on the status of your shipment.

As the parent of both United Van Lines and Mayflower Transit, Unigroup, like most van lines, strongly encourages their drivers to utilitize their local agency laborers to perform all services for their customers.

Since most household goods drivers are independent owner operators, however, the driver has the option of arranging labor thru his own resources. Technically, a United driver could use Mayflower laborers to load and a crew from North American to unload. It's the same with most van lines.

Most van lines rate each of their service providers. The sales force is measured on estimating accuracy, the agent on the quality of their laborer, warehouse practices, claims incidence, move managment practices, and customer service. The driver rating is usually developed base on their safety performance, claim experience, customer satisfaction scores, and adherence to assigned schedules.

I'd recommend Armstrong as first choice of the three agents you are considering - not because of their Pinnacle Affiliation but due to their ISO 9001:2000 quality process and FAIM certifications. Whereas the Pinnacle Program is a designation that must to applied for annually, the ISO badge must worn every day. Clyde Springer established a quality company and it shows in the number of awards they've received.
http://www.armstrongrelocation.com/awards/default.asp

Good Luck!

cardsfan
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Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Location: The Woodlands, TX

Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Fri Jan 27, 2006 9:09 am

Thank you very much for the recommendation Rick, I will be going with Armstrong.
Jon

Diane
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Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby Diane » Sun Jan 29, 2006 10:00 pm

Jon, eventually I'm going to be doing a summary post on Houston moving companies. Since you have a lot of experience interviewing estimators from same, I'm wondering whether you could rank-order your impressions of the estimators for me, including:

Armstrong (United)
Wald (Mayflower)
Adams (North American)
Westheimer Transfer and Storage (Allied)
Suddath Relocation (United)
Holman Moving Systems (United)
Central Transport Systems (United)

Nobody is going to hold you accountable for this, but it would be helpful to me to understand which sales reps impressed you most favorably and least favorably, for whatever reason. There are some fairly big names that you either didn't consider (Graebel, Atlantic Relo) or rejected (Suddath, Holman), and I'd be interested in knowing the reason for it, to help others.

cardsfan
Posts: 6
Joined: Thu Jan 26, 2006 2:31 pm
Location: The Woodlands, TX

Re: moving from Houston to St. Louis (long)

Postby cardsfan » Sun Jan 29, 2006 10:26 pm

1) Wald
2) Armstrong
3) Westheimer
4) Adams

All four of their estimators were very nice, professional, and honestly seemed to care about my move. Wald especially, I even compimented him on his presentation (I'm in sales, as an investment advisor, and it always impresses me when someone else in another field of sales knows their craft well). All of the estimators from this group called me ~30min before the appointment to let me know that they were on their way, or to confirm the directions. Everyone (except the guy from Armstrong, who I ultimately picked) followed up with me 1-2 days after coming out. All 4 were able to give me the estimate either on the spot (printing it or emailing me a PDF file) or faxed it the same day when the got back to the office. My Armstrong estimator was very nice and helpful while here, and each time I've talked to him on the phone. My only complaint was that it's taken him some time to follow up or return a voicemail and I can rarely catch him live on his cell. I guess that's the price of going to the biggest agency... their sales manager is probably very busy. The smaller ones getting less requests for estimates have all the time in the world to follow up with you. The guy from Westheimer was great, but his price was much higher than the rest. The lady from Adams was extremely nice as well. Her price was right in line with Armstrong and Wald, but I'm not crazy about my destination agent options going through North American.

5) Suddath
6) Central
7) Holman

The rest were mostly unprofessional, seemed rushed, disinterested, and not one of them even sat down at the kitchen table to ask me what was important to me about the moving company that I would be hiring, or bothered to tell me about their agency or why I should select them.

Suddath - I get better conversations from my two dogs. This lady was in and out and didn't say much more than hello and goodbye. Incredible.

Central - again, didn't say much. all but ignored my wife when she tried to ask him about the availability of used boxes if we would come to pick them up from their warehouse/office. Kind of an older guy (late 60's), took him 3 days to send me the estimate (via fax).

Holman - total slob, looked like he had just rolled out of bed (it was 4pm mind you). Ask me no less than 5x while walking the house if I would need help packing anything (first thing I did with all 7 of them when they entered is informed them that we have been renting for 8 months, most of our stuff we never unpacked from the previous move, including all of the dishes, china, pictures, artwork, large mirrors, etc.... and said the ONLY thing that I would need them to pack is ~12 glass shelves and inserts (in various coffee/end tables and TV stands). All but this guy got the drift and didn't ask again, but literally, every new room it was "now, will you be needing any help packing these items?"

That said, the salesperson that an agency brings to you is a total luck of the draw. Even some of the bad ones may have just had an awful day, who knows. Most of the people that I rated highly had been in the business for 10-20yrs, and/or were sales managers.

As for the big names that I didn't consider. 1) I didn't know they are big names, I've only lived in Houston since June and didn't even open the phone book. I went to each major vanline's website and entered in a request for an estimate... each one had one of their agents contact me. The reason why I had multiple United agent bids is that I contacted them all directly for seperate estimates. I really wanted to use Fry-Wagner (United) for my destination agent, so the best chance of doing that was using a United agent in Houston.

Wald is with Mayflower, and although they are owned by the same parent company as United, they can only use Fry-Wagner as a destination agent for military moves. My very helpful salesman from Wald was going to try and pull some strings to see if he could get them even for my move, but I never heard back (I'm guess he couldn't, or hasn't confirmed it one way or the other).

Hope that helps. I'll report back after they unload me in St. Louis (early March) with reviews of the loading and unloading.
Jon


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