Antonio I. Tremols
I would say some of the biggest difficulties we have seen in this COVID -19 pandemic worldwide has been adapting to the constantly changing rules and regulations that are set forth by governments around the world vis-a-vis their specific governmental responses to the pandemic. Being in constant contact with fellow Member Agents within the Association has been critical in dealing with the continually changing rules, restrictions, and regulations in order to continue doing business during difficult times.
We aim to leverage constant communication with our Members via several platforms. We keep an eye out for unique platforms that will differentiate our Association, so that we can use their tools to create added value. We of course constantly update our Association website, we continue to reach our network via our monthly "PAIMA POST Newsletter", PAIMA E-Mail "News Flashes", our "PAIMA REPORT" tri-annual magazine, and the usual social media platforms such as Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. Beyond that, PAIMA invested in purchasing the Zoom platform in order to be able to conduct virtual meetings with not only our Member base but as well as our PAIMA Regional Directors and of course our PAIMA Board of Directors. With that said, PAIMA recently invested in an "additional technology tool" that will be groundbreaking for our Association and a unique value-added for our Member base. We will be sending out an announcement on this top-secret project we have been working on in the near future. From our perspective, PAIMA believes that this "new tool" will be extremely helpful in maintaining strong membership and will offer this added value to PAIMA's current and future Members.
In my opinion, there is no doubt that changes in technological solutions are here to stay beyond the pandemic. Humanity has been forced to leverage the most out of the plethora of technological solutions that are available today when faced with the challenges the pandemic presented to the entire world. In the moving industry specifically, I believe tools like "virtual surveys" are here to stay. In the Association world, virtual and hybrid meetings as a solution will stay beyond the pandemic to include staff that usually do not participate in specific annual conventions for budgetary reasons. Technological solutions with hybrid meetings will be part of the future after the pandemic.
We are aware and there have been reports from all around the world that "virtual or digital surveys" have been very well accepted and have, of course, increased due to the pandemic. The ability to conduct surveys virtually during the pandemic to ensure social distancing is another very popular trend.
The reflections and learnings I have had over the past year brings me to the old adage - "Necessity is the mother of invention". When humanity was faced with an unthinkable and quite rare worldwide pandemic, humanity rallied around the world not only to mitigate the spread of this horrific pandemic, BUT to create solutions to the catastrophe, shown in the development of vaccines, social distancing rules, regulations, and of course a plethora of technological tools. These have helped humanity to move forward despite the challenges it has been presented with. I am always amazed at how persistent the human race really is. When challenged, humanity has responded.
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When the pandemic first started to emerge there were a large number of expats returning home. This led to a large volume of work for moving companies. This, coupled with container shortages and lockdowns, made it very difficult for our members to get business done. However, international movers are a tough bunch and have adapted fast.
One decision I made right away when the pandemic hit us in The UK was to put a freeze on membership renewals. I thought that this was important as it allowed our members to concentrate all efforts on surviving the tough time. Then late last year, when we unfroze the renewals, we gave all members the original first-year special membership price as their renewal price too. As for tools it has to be the virtual meeting tool that we have used for our virtual meet-up. It allowed for presentations, marketing videos from our members, group table mingling, and one-on-one meetings.
Yes, most certainly. The widespread use of remote and virtual surveys through videos made by the customer has provided a safe way to continue business throughout the pandemic. These will certainly continue post-pandemic, just for the simple fact that they are fast, pretty accurate, and convenient. We will certainly see much more AR (Augmented Reality) tools being used in the moving quote side as well. A product that comes to mind immediately is from YEMBO. We featured it in our magazine a while back and I was very impressed by its accuracy and by the entire package they offer. I can see more moving companies using this and similar tools in the future too. As a network, we held a virtual meeting at the start of the year and were very pleased with the event. I was skeptical to start with, as a virtual event is never going to replace meeting partners face-to-face, but I must say that the virtual format does have its benefits. One that stood out to me was that it was much more inclusive. Travel can be difficult for companies in certain locations as it can be hard obtaining visas for travel, but with a virtual event, as long as you have a solid internet connection, you can take part. I really like this inclusion factor and we will certainly be holding another virtual event soon.
I have seen the promotion of 'COVID safe' moving a lot. This has included posts on social media showing covid rapid results test being made and sanitization measures being used. I am sure that this kind of marketing has been successful in securing new business, as many people are looking for companies who are taking this seriously because, let's face it, removals is a very personal business, and the customer finds peace of mind knowing that the packing team isn't going to bring COVID into their house on moving day. I have also noticed moving companies widening their services and offering extra services like handyman services, packing materials for sale, and so forth.
On a personal note I am grateful for my family, as I have spent much more time with my wife and young son and, by being home almost constantly, I have been able to see his growth and take part in his milestones. We have spent so much time in the countryside and truly appreciate the nature of beautiful Cornwall in the UK. On the business side, I have seen that you cannot be complacent and need to be able to change your business plan at the drop of a hat because things globally are changing so fast. I have seen how important our free advertising and magazine exposure is to our members and strive to make each edition better for our members to help them get their services known to a wider audience
The biggest difficulty at the beginning of the pandemic was the lack of information for the rules and regulations in the different countries. The regulations for international goods transportations and removals have not always been the same. International removals were highly affected at the beginning of the pandemic by national regulations. Removals were forbidden in France in April and the first weeks of May 2020 for example.
In the last months, a lot of the problems had been on the national and regional levels in Germany, since the regulations especially for quarantine have been different in the regions of Germany.
The most important issue for us was giving our members useful information to enable them to fulfill their duties in daily business during the pandemic, on both a general and personal level. We used traditional tools like circular letters, e-mailing, telephone calls as well as generating a special section on our membership webpage and holding video conference calls and webinars. Video conferences turned out to be a very useful tool to maintain a strong membership and networking if it is a small group with common interests or topics to discuss.
In general, we expect hygienic protection to be more respected.
Regarding the work of our Association: Conferences with the AMOE Board or the Regional Associations as well as the working groups will be held as 1-2 hours video conferences instead of holding 1-day on-site meetings, which have to be planned far in advance and consume additional time for traveling. Web seminars will also be held more frequently to inform our members on various topics. Web seminars serve as excellent training and information tool.
Regarding the work of removal companies: Digital surveys will definitely stay beyond the pandemic as well as video conferences with customers and colleagues. When customers search online for movers, they will expect more detailed information on terms and conditions and pricing for removals.
The amount and frequency of personal meetings will decline since some of the meetings will be replaced by digital meetings. Annual conferences and events will not disappear as they have an important social function. Human beings are social creatures, knowing that digital communication works best with those you met before. Digital networks are not as strong as personal networks.
More private removals had been requested during the pandemic. People were not allowed to get together during the lockdowns. Bad times for do-it-yourself removals. During the last year, consumers had been willing to make use of digital surveys. We assume this tool will maintain an important tool. The sales to private customers by use of digital means will increase.
The pandemic has changed our lives fundamentally, both on a personal and professional level; this applies to the present and the future.The progressing digitalization will transform the economic world significantly, which in turn will influence the culture of work and communication, e.g., more mobile working, shared desks, home office, and virtual assistance.
In the beginning, the first challenge was developing Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – what precautions do we have to take? – in the office, with workers, in the trucks, with handling goods, and with dealing with customers. Once we had an idea what safety practices needed to be put into place (these were just being figured out by the medical field at the same time) we then had significant challenges accessing what we needed, like personal protective equipment (PPE) and labour.
SOPs – CAM was very proactive at working with its members in February 2020 on standard operating procedures around health and safety at the office and at the consumer’s home. Some members stepped up and shared their emerging best practices with CAM and we shared them with other members. Professional differences were put aside and collaboration became key.
PPE – Once we had an idea about health and safety precautions, it took some time to have a source for accessing masks and gloves, plus the fact that there was a country-wide rush on paper towels and disinfectant wipes and sprays. You couldn’t find paper towels or disinfectants anywhere. The suppliers struggled with the demand and it took some time for them to get a surplus of masks. Now, fifteen months later, that isn’t an issue.
Labour – By far the biggest issue for a couple of several reasons:
Sadly, labour continues to be a huge issue for our members, and it’s especially problematic now that Canada is in its peak moving season. Canada’s real estate industry went insane with an extraordinary demand for moving services this past year. We haven’t had the traditional downtime from September until March, as demand continues to remain high for movers. Our moving crews are tired. They have been working pretty much flat out since May 2020 in not ideal situations, as no one is fully vaccinated and there is an indication that it will be at least September or October before they will be.
My daughter lives and works in China and had worked in the moving industry in Canada for several years before she went over, so we had been receiving intel from her as early as mid-January. That gave us an early lead on what to expect in terms of the safety measures that were being taken in China to control the spread of the virus. From the onset of COVID-19, CAM members have taken all the necessary measures to keep workers and their customers safe during the pandemic. As early as late January 2020, our members started to screen customers and employees who were doing international moves. Suggested health and safety standard operating procedures for both the workplace and the client’s home or business were circulated soon thereafter and are still in place today. CAM was quick to get up an information website developed for our members and the general public where they could access the latest developments and COVID news. CAM was posting, almost daily, government announcements and news and created information sheets, consumer tasks lists, and a variety of other items to aid everyone involved. Canada has six time zones and 13 provinces and territories all giving updates at different times during the day. It was extremely challenging for CAM’s team of two to keep everyone informed and the website thus became the critical resource center. Members have become far more engaged in sharing local and regional developments with CAM. Eighty percent of our members use our COVID website. As one member recently told us “The updates on the CAM news page were excellent! This was one of the first news sources I went to get up-to-date information.” We also expanded our biweekly newsletter to include as much up-to-date information as we could. That has been incredibly helpful to everyone.
Absolutely. Our industry has been very old school and hasn’t really embraced technological alternatives, such as virtual surveying or digital paperwork. With COVID, movers are now very comfortable with using video surveying with the use of surveying software, or by contacting the customer and using ZOOM, WhatsApp, Facetime, Skype, etc. CAM arranged two virtual learning sessions on “Video Surveying Basics” and there was such a demand, that we ended up doing six classes, and no doubt could have done more. We have had many members tell us that they have been photographing paperwork during the past year – opening up an opportunity for our association to help them source digital options.
Moving companies have realized the convenience of the technology that they have been compelled to embrace to get their job done over this past year. I have had members say to me that they never realized how easy and convenient virtual appointments were and they were going to keep doing them.
I think our industry is going to be changed forever because of the rise in digital options for moving companies. Since salespeople are more comfortable with virtual meetings, consumers are going to take advantage of the convenience of this method of confirming their shipment sizes, rather than the bother of having someone come over. There is still nothing that matches having someone come into your home so you can meet them and get to know them a bit, but the option of having a video survey done is going to appeal to a lot of busy families.
Generally, I think everyone is going to be more cognisant of health and wellness. While health checks may go away, I can see a scenario where a customer may not want a sick crew member coming into their house, or the crew may ask a sick customer to stay away from them. I think we’ll stop wearing masks indoors before the year is out, but it will be interesting to see how consumers and moving companies deal with getting back to normal. Will customers still request movers to wear masks when they are in the home?
There is also going to continue to be a huge demand for moving services while Canada’s real estate market is booming. With working from home now the norm for many companies, the mass exodus out of city centers, combined with large numbers of immigrants coming to Canada a few years ago has meant that the supply can't keep up with the demand – in other words, too many people looking for not enough homes. This situation is not going to lessen any time soon, so moving companies will be able to ride the wave for some time. But what happens when the market finally balances out and moving companies are no longer in the record-setting revenues that they are enjoying now? Canadian moving companies need to prepare for the fall and how to fill their coffers once household moving goes into decline.
As a result of the huge demand for moving services, moving scams have become ripe in our unregulated country. Professional moving companies are maxed out with moves already, so scam operators are taking advantage of that by providing low ball quotes to stressed-out consumers. Add on COVID-19 and the restrictions to going in homes or interacting with clients, which has resulted in the rise of new moving scams where doing surveys and providing paperwork, like weigh scale tickets, are avoided due to “safety concerns.” Low-ball estimates are then provided and then huge charges are applied after pick-up with shipments being held hostage until the payment is received. There has also been an emergence of scammers operating under a variety of short-lived identities (until they get too much media attention) to meet the market demand for cheap moving services. Fortunately, for the first time in Canada, we have seen the emergence of a new partnership among stakeholders (victims, lawyers, and trade associations) with the shared goal of shutting down scammers who prey on Canadian consumers on the move. We are starting to see a lot of success in court and hope that continues as this stakeholder group gets stronger.
A couple of words come to mind when I think of this past year… resilience and flexibility. For me, I think of the number of times I have had to remind myself that everyone in the world is going through the same thing. That has provided some comfort because no one has had the right answer or the key to survival. It was also okay to not be okay. It was okay to be stressed, worried, or overanxious. It was okay to try things or be extra vigilant about health and safety protocols. It was okay to say no.
We were all trying to figure that out as we went along, and we needed each other to get through this. It didn’t take long for CAM members to figure out that the best way to do that was together.
In the early days of the pandemic, everyone was going through the same beginning – what was COVID-19? How was it going to affect me, my family, and my work? What did we need to do to continue to work? But as different countries, and areas within countries, experienced the spread and also the containment of COVID-19 differently, it became super challenging.
What system worked up until today, may not work tomorrow, due to a change in restrictions, or a tightening of borders, or a supply issue. We’ve had to learn to be flexible, which in Canada, has meant going in and out of waves, with the current “third wave” being far worse than anything our country has experienced before. This is causing a whole new set of challenges as we are now dealing with much higher costs than this time last year and a huge demand for storage in transit as consumers ride out their 14-day quarantine before accepting their shipment.
We’ve learned from the very beginning of the pandemic to be creative and think of all possibilities, going beyond how things have always been done. We’ve seen some moving companies being compelled to drag their businesses into the digital age and others having to diversify their business streams to stay afloat. We’ve seen our members rise to the top and provide essential moving services to hospitals and vaccine clinics, and collecting record numbers of food and clothing for charities to help those all of a sudden unable to work. We’ve seen a rise in moving and storage services for women and children fleeing abuse.
We’ve seen an even greater camaraderie between our members. Canada may be 8,000 km across, but our members from coast to coast to coast put aside their “competitive stripes” and freely shared intel and assistance to have all of our members come out of the other side of the pandemic as best as they could. It’s been wonderful to see everyone pitching in.
Today is only one day. We can’t change yesterday, but we can learn from it and be better prepared for whatever tomorrow’s pandemic twist brings. I believe we will be a strong, united industry when this is over.
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