From the April 1998 issue of Entrepreneur

What happens when a deadline-dependent business such as a newspaper relocates 600 miles away, but its darkroom equipment takes a detour and doesn't arrive in time for production? Either the newspaper misses its deadline, or it goes to Plan B.

Fortunately for the 250,000 readers of National Speed Sport News, publisher and co-owner Corinne Economaki was wise enough to devise a Plan B--several, in fact--when she moved her 11-employee business from New Jersey to Charlotte, North Carolina. Thanks to her backup plan, Speed Sport News is still one of the oldest, continuously published motorsports publications in the country.

Failure to create a backup plan is the second most common mistake made by entrepreneurs moving their companies, according to Steve Mumma, senior vice president of marketing and public relations for Evansville, Indiana-based Atlas Van Lines Inc. Incredibly, failure to create a plan at all is the most common pitfall. "Without a comprehensive relocation plan, your move is doomed," Mumma warns. "And the earlier you start planning, the better."


James C. Sheil is a freelance journalist and law student who has survived three office relocations with varying degrees of success.

Should You Stay Or Should You Go?

After you decide you want to move your company, relocation begins when you start considering all the details of how your business will be affected when you move. Entrepreneurs decide to move their businesses for a variety of reasons, but whatever the motivation, the overriding goal should be to improve your competitive position. For Speed Sport News, it was the desire to escape the unpredictable winter weather of the Northeast combined with a need to be closer to the hub of auto racing. When the newspaper was founded in 1934 in East Paterson, New Jersey, northern New Jersey was home to a thriving auto-racing community, and races were held throughout the Northeast. The sport has since migrated to the Midwest and the South, so the decision to uproot Speed Sport News seemed like common sense to Economaki.

For Lake Forest, California, industrial contractor ARB Inc., the relocation rationale was two-pronged: a desire to build the company's presence in the booming Orange County construction trade and a need to shed a somewhat awkward, old space in Paramount, California. ARB's new headquarters, designed to its specifications, has a more efficient floor plan and allows space for managed growth.

Planning for a relocation is a good time to assess the quality of your staff to make sure the right employees are making the move. Relocation can cost up to $80,000 per family, according to Mumma, so it would be unfair to move a person who is not performing and whom you're likely to let go at some point anyway.

Keep in mind that if you decide to let some employees go before you move, you may need to quickly replace those employees once the relocation is complete, if not before. Whether you put ads in local newspapers or contact staffing companies in your new town, plan ahead so you won't suffer a productivity plunge once you're up and running at your new location.

Months before moving day, consider how the move will affect your customer base. If you're only moving to a town 10 miles away, for example, are you counting on your existing customers making the trek to your new location? Or, if you have a business that relies on convenience-seeking customers, do you have a marketing plan in place for recruiting a new crop of clients?

If you're moving across the country or to another state, do you have contacts in your new location? Before you get the moving process underway, it's essential to work out all the operations details, from who your new suppliers will be and whether you'll need to hire additional employees once you arrive to ordering new letterhead and business cards.

Big Wheels

Once you've decided to move and have found the perfect location for your business, choosing a reliable mover is the most important decision you'll make at this point, according to Ron Dickson of Dickson Moving Technologies in Celebration, Florida. Dickson recommends soliciting detailed bids from several moving and storage companies that have experience in corporate and industrial relocation.

Mumma stresses the importance of choosing the most responsible bidder. "The low-bid option is not necessarily the best way to go because you might just get what you paid for," he says.

Many moving companies offer comprehensive consultation, planning and relocation services; choose a mover who can provide the best all-around assistance for your move. "By selecting a company with whom you can partner, you can work together to lower costs while increasing quality and productivity," Mumma says.

Before selecting a moving company, check bidders' references for the last several moves they've completed and ask about timeliness and faithfulness to the cost estimate, Dickson suggests. To protect yourself, he stresses, "everything should be in writing--in a straightforward, plain-English contract." Some movers won't touch equipment that requires technicians to prepare it for moving, so you should ask about each and every office item so there are no surprises on moving day.

Also check with the Better Business Bureau to make sure your potential mover hasn't left previous customers in the lurch. Sheila Adkins, public affairs manager for the Council of Better Business Bureaus, says that since 1990, moving companies have consistently ranked in the top 25 of the 500 types of businesses for which the council tracks complaints. They've heard many horror stories about movers who, for instance, hold clients hostage at the point of destination, refusing to unload unless the customer ponies up additional funds.

The best way to avoid surprises in logistics or price is to conduct a walk-through of your office with the mover, says Lorrie Valerio, ARB's office manager, who coordinated the relocation of the firm's 90-employee headquarters. A facilities relocation specialist from Alexander's Moving and Storage in Tustin, California, completed a walk-through of ARB's old and new office spaces, reviewed the floor plans for each and helped plan every step of the move. With a thorough walk-through assessment, both the entrepreneur and the mover know what they're getting into.

Who's The Boss?

To ensure attention to detail, the buck must stop with one person--the designated move manager. According to Mumma, it's preferable to hire an outside consultant to oversee each step of the planning and execution. But since most entrepreneurs work on tight budgets, you'll likely have to don that hat yourself--or count on a trusted employee--come moving time.

Valerio recommends entrepreneurs designate one employee to be the relocation manager and then free that person from as many of his or her other job responsibilities as possible. And once that person has been selected, he or she must be given freedom to do the job. The planning requires cooperation from your entire staff, not just the relocation manager. "There can be no weak link," Economaki says. "Everyone should have a job to do."

Timing Is Everything

Summer is by far the busiest time of year to move. If you're planning a summer move, book your mover early so your business and employees can get settled in plenty of time. Mumma advises entrepreneurs to plan their relocation during vacation shutdowns or around company downtimes. And don't plan to move during your busiest sales period.

When a business owner is busy running the "home office," it's a lifesaver to have a local contact to work out details at the company's future location, as Economaki discovered. Her temporary move manager, hired well before moving day, was a local resident who helped recruit new employees, find housing for relocating staff, and identify outsourcing assistance in the event of a glitch in plans. "Hiring someone in Charlotte was one of the smartest things I did," Economaki reflects, "because, of course, something always crops up."

Economaki had several backup plans in place before her newspaper moved. The contingency plan that saved the day for Speed Sport News was an outsourcing arrangement with a local printing company in the event of a foul-up in the moving process. When the newspaper's darkroom equipment was damaged during shipping, the company used the local lab to print veloxes and develop negatives for three weeks.

Yet all the contingency planning in the world can't save you from the fickle forces of Mother Nature, especially in Southern California, where it never rains--it pours. Man, it pours, says Lorrie Valerio, who oversaw ARB's relocation during a torrential downpour in January. "The rain started the moment the movers got there, and it didn't let up," Valerio recalls. "It rained all day and all night."

The fact that the company survived the downpour, made the move and was open for business on Monday morning is attributable to extensive planning done in concert with the mover, Alexander's Moving and Storage, Valerio says. "The movers were so well-organized; they saved the day."

During the deluge, the movers spread tarps over their trucks, and two truckloads of equipment made the 50-mile trip to the company's new digs. The rest of the company's boxes and materials were moved into hallways to facilitate rapid loading and departure the next morning, a Saturday that was, fortunately, clear and sunny.

Unfortunately for ARB, however, Mother Nature intervened again. Severe ice storms that hit the Pacific Northwest knocked out the phone lines of the company's server in Oregon, so it was two days before the company could get its computer network running.

Like Clockwork

Mother Nature notwithstanding, you should do as much as possible ahead of time to prepare your new location. "Think of every piece of equipment in your office, its role in your business, where it will go in your new office, and when it needs to get there," Economaki advises.

Making sure the new office site is completely ready on moving day is also crucial. If contractors are still getting the space ready when the movers arrive, you'll be paying your movers just to stand around. The move coordinator should also make sure parking spaces are clear for the mover's trucks and that elevators are available, if needed.

Properly packing and tagging all items is probably your employees' most important duty, according to Wayne Cotton, president of Cotton Moving and Storage Inc. in Houston. Each employee and each office should have a designated number that will be placed on all boxes, files, furniture and equipment. "And, to our movers, no tag means `no move,'--they might assume you meant to leave it behind as junk," Cotton says, so be sure all necessary labels are in place.

Cotton's company breaks the office floor plan into a grid and designates color-coded tags to correspond to specific areas. Moving things according to their colors helps focus efforts on one area at a time, thus making the move more efficient.

In addition to using color-coded labels and numbers, Alexander's Moving and Storage provides "Hot Box" labels that employees use to designate the items they need immediately to get up and running in their new office. Accordingly, ARB's employees were able to set up their desks, phones and vital files and get to work first thing Monday morning after the monsoon-like move.

Remember that your company's relocation is about more than just moving boxes and office equipment. You are moving people, too--uprooting lives and separating families from their homes and friends. Because the move can unsettle so many lives, be as flexible as possible to ease the transition. Warns Mumma, "A poorly planned move that stresses out employees could be costly to a [business] in terms of productivity."

Eye For Detail

As Economaki discovered, when it comes to moving with as little disruption of your business as possible, the devil is in the details. About four months before moving day, she began transferring her company's accounts to ensure they could immediately conduct business once they reached their destination. "Some of it was a piece of cake, like dealing with FedEx, but transferring the payroll and having the phone system disconnected and transplanted took some time," she says. "And, of course, I was still doing my usual job during all this."

Thinking ahead netted ideas like printing new address labels so the newspaper could use up its old stationery, and good relationships enabled Economaki to bring her "computer maven" from New Jersey to North Carolina to set up the newspaper's system. Keeping her eyes and ears open--and not being afraid to ask for advice--also proved fruitful.

"Ask everyone on your staff for ideas--they inevitably remember things you've forgotten," Economaki advises. "And be proactive: Start two months earlier than you think you need to."

On The Move

If you're considering the daunting task of moving your company, help is just a phone call--or a mouse click--away. Here are some resources you can turn to:

  • Atlas Van Lines publishes An Interactive Guide to Office Relocation, which offers detailed suggestions for making a successful company move; it's available from your local Atlas agent. Atlas also offers a Web site stocked with relocation-related information, accessible at http://www.atlasvanlines.com
  • The American Moving and Storage Association (AMSA) publishes Smooth Moves: How to Successfully Relocate a Company, a 100-page guide for completing a company relocation. To order a copy, call the AMSA at (703) 683-7530.
  • Dickson Moving Technologies offers an array of relocation fliers, brochures and computer software programs, including: "Bidding Office Moves," a program that calculates projected costs; and a 30-page Super Task List, about as thorough a checklist as there is for entrepreneurs facing a move. For information, call Dickson at (407) 566-8517.
  • The Southwest Movers Association offers a Consumer Protection Program with advice on selecting the most responsible mover for your relocation. For information, call (512) 476-0107 or write to Southwest Movers Association, P.O. Box 684845, Austin, TX 78768-4845.

Contact Sources

Alexander's Moving and Storage, (800) 722-6286, ext. 320, http://www.alexanders-moving.com

ARB Inc., 26000 Commercentre Dr., Lake Forest, CA 92630, (714) 598-9242

Cotton Moving and Storage Inc., 5410 Jessamine, Houston, TX 77081, fax: (713) 665-6653

Dickson Moving Technologies, 561 Campus St., Celebration, FL 34747-4613

National Speed Sport News, P.O. Box 1210, Harrisburg, NC 28075, (704) 455-2531