The average American moves more than 11 times in his or her lifetime, according to the Census bureau. And while few people are trading up to larger homes these days, the economy hasn't stopped them from packing up or changing addresses -- a boon for moving and storage franchises.
Whether by choice or necessity, "people are always moving, regardless of what the housing market is doing," says Paul Brown, who sold his insurance agency and opened a Two Men And A Truck franchise in Elmhurst, Ill., in early 2010. He's since opened a second location and grown his fleet to 13 trucks from two. Another selling point of the moving business: It can't be outsourced or made obsolete by the Internet.
That's not to say the moving business hasn't evolved. When PODS, a Clearwater, Fla., franchisor, introduced the concept of portable storage units in 1998 it turned the moving and storage paradigm on its head. Rather than load a truck and drive it cross country or across town to a storage unit, only to unload it again, customers have containers delivered to their homes. When they're done packing, the company stores the containers in warehouses or deposits them at their new location.
In recent years several other portable storage franchisors have come on line, but the market still has room to grow, says Michael Seid, managing director with MSA Worldwide, a West Hartford, Conn., franchise consultancy. The recession is forcing people to downsize, he says, "but they aren't just abandoning their possessions; they need somewhere to put everything." The biggest drawback relative to traditional moving operations: "The upfront investment tends to be pretty high" -- in some cases, in the millions of dollars.
As with any franchise, would-be franchisees need to do their due diligence before diving into the moving business. That includes studying the franchise disclosure document, talking with existing franchisees, and making sure the franchisor offers adequate systems, training and support. What about brand recognition? It certainly counts for a lot, says Todd Bingham, vice president of operations at FranNet, a Louisville- based franchise consultancy. "But if you're willing to go with a newer franchise you're going to have more options when it comes to picking your territory," he says. And what a company lacks in national brand awareness, it may make up for in strong local search engine optimization, he adds, since most people start their search for movers and storage units online.
Would-be franchisees are also wise to make sure their venture is hip with the times. A growing trend in moving, says Seid, is companies with an environmental focus, that rent reusable packing containers, sell biodegradable bubble wrap or use biodiesel in their trucks. The next frontier: Two Men And A Bike.