- The Washington Times - Monday, February 11, 2002

Movers come and go from this Sterling, Va., house everyday. They pack up lamps, tables and chairs and carefully haul them into a truck. Then they unload the truck and put the items back where they were. Every once in a while, the movers will dent a wall or scratch a linoleum floor. But it's OK. No one lives here.
This small house sits inside a warehouse at the headquarters of JK Moving and Storage, Inc., one of the region's largest commercial and residential moving firms. It's a practice house, used to train employees on the finer points of hoisting, pulling, pushing and packing, and is the pride and joy of the company's founder and president, Chuck Kuhn. The company spent $1 million last year to build the mock house and office and set up other specialized training programs and activities.
"We've invested a lot in training. We've invested a lot in developing our people," says Mr. Kuhn during a recent interview with The Washington Times at the company's headquarters. "We've taken an almost Marine Corps approach toward training and development of our staff. I think what that does is translate into good customer service."
The 36-year-old Mr. Kuhn, a father of six who founded the company as a 17-year-old high schooler with $500 budget, is aware of some of the negative publicity the moving industry has received.
He concedes that it's an industry plagued with rampant customer complaints about damaged furniture, late arrivals and inaccurate estimates. But extensive training programs have helped JK buck that trend, he says. Claims against his company are 200 percent below the industry average.
"JK is really a pioneer in this area, because when the employees go out on the job, they are loved," says Ed Katz, president of the Atlanta-based International Office Moving Institute and proprieter of officemoves.com, the group's Web site. "It's almost like a symphony, the way everything falls into place."
And despite a slow economy, Mr. Kuhn says business has rarely been better. The company increased its revenues 25 percent last year, pulling in $30 million. It plans to hire 100 new employees due to increased recent business, particularly from federal agencies like the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Defense. Mr. Kuhn says demand for his business has remained strong even during the downturn, in part because many companies are moving from larger to small offices. But JK has lost some revenue because companies are choosing to pack and box things themselves before movers arrive.
The bankruptcies of several local tech firms have also hurt revenues, and high fuel prices this past fall increased the company's costs, but only for short-haul moves. For long hauls, JK operates under a published tariff that came with a surcharge when fuel prices rose. Customers had to absorb that extra cost.
Mr. Kuhn says the biggest challenge facing JK now is the rising cost of health and liability insurance due to the attacks of September 11. The cost of health care is up nearly 25 percent, he says, and premiums on general liability are skyrocketing.
"It's becoming very challenging for us to find the level of coverage we'd like on the general liability side," Mr. Kuhn says.
His concern over rising insurance costs highlights two unique aspects of the company all of it's employees are full-time and all receive health benefits that are fully paid for by JK. This means a heavy cost burden for the company, Mr. Kuhn concedes. But he says the costs are recouped by a resulting increase in employee retention, satisfaction and performance.
All JK employees receive an automatic 10 percent annual bonus that goes into a pension plan. And any profits over the company's yearly goal goes into a profit-sharing plan. The result is that each employee has averaged a 22.5 percent bonus over the last seven years, Mr. Kuhn says.
"I saw a lot of older guys in the industry who would literally have to work until they dropped dead one day because they'd never be able to afford to retire," he says. "When I started the company, I wanted to avoid that."
Mr. Katz says that across the industry, moving rates have held steady over the past several years, and JK is no exception. This fact may come as a relief to customers; all of the money spent on employee training and retention translates into JK being one of the more expensive price points in the industry. Top JK competitors, like the Elkridge, Md.-based Kane Companies, have been able to keep costs to customers down by outsourcing work and by hiring part-time help in the form of college students and military personnel. But Mr. Katz of the International Office Moving Institute says JK can get away with charging more because customers are usually very satisfied.
"They, unlike the industry, are offering premium service," Mr. Katz says.


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