The Current State of Household Goods Movements

Apr 1, 2019 | Defense Transportation Journal

By John Johnson, Director, Government Transportation, Unigroup and Chair, NDTA Household Goods Subcommittee

Here we are again, at the annual point in our industry where we put the finishing touches on preparations for the 2019 peak moving season. This is always a stressful time, anticipating what business you may receive and where to you expect it to come from, not to mention for our customers who say moving your household goods is on every top 10 list of the most stressful events in their lives.

Since the 2008 housing financial crisis and the initial onboarding of the Defense Personal Property Program (DP3), there have been significant changes that affected the household goods moving industry. The collapse of the housing marking caused people not to move, speeding up an already steady decline of linehaul drivers as they looked for other sources of income. Labor pools are thin to scarce today due to record low unemployment numbers, and even before this crisis unfolded, 9/11’s impact on base access created substantial delays for on-time pickup and delivery of all commodities—and these impacts are still being felt 18 years later. The combination of Electronic Logging Devices, Hour of Service rules and DP3 program policies are also putting a strain on capacity available to DOD.

Transportation Service Providers (TSPs) I have talked with are working diligently to keep their current drivers, attract new drivers, find and develop quality labor, and develop processes that allow for greater efficiencies to maintain and hopefully increase their available capacity to customers. The DOD market is squarely on every TSP’s radar as we head into the peak moving season.

DOD is the largest single customer or national account in the household goods moving industry. NTDA’s Household Goods subcommittee has worked closely with USTRANSCOM’s J5/4 Personal Property team and the individual Services to provide insight on how the moving industry is evolving, and to identify possible areas in the DP3 program that could assist in providing higher quality services to their members. The Subcommittee typically visits two to three Joint Personal Property Shipping Offices annually to discuss the moving industry, providing additional insight on their local area, how our industry operates today, and how we can work together to provide a quality move experience for their members.

Peak season preparation is a year-round, never ending process and with good reason; it’s when 40 percent of the entire world moves their personal property. While change is a constant in every aspect of life, when it comes to household goods moving, there are specific challenges that come with it. The moving parts are very dynamic and the variables for any move are many, especially when trying to operate at maximum capacity during the peak season. The deciding factor on a satisfied customer can often hinge on how a TSP reacts to solving the particular challenge.

So, what is on the horizon for the 2019 peak season? Unfortunately, there is no one solution to improve the peak moving season but more a multi process approach. One of the single biggest challenges today is the peak moving season has basically shrunk from 12 weeks to 6 weeks. This contraction coupled with the loss of drivers and seasoned labor is a very large reason why the peak moving season has become so difficult today. The majority of TSPs expect 2019 to be similar to last year in the amount of overall capacity available and many are trying to create additional capacity through their own initiatives. The concepts I’ve heard from other industry veterans are to be more efficient with the resources under their control, reduce the amount of agent pickups for line haul, improve or increase their crate and freight process, and improve communications with customers to better meet their expectations.

Change is difficult in any industry and in the household goods moving industry maybe even more so. The size and scope of every agent, independent owner operator, and van line varies greatly, and changes impact each of them differently. Generally speaking, our industry starts planning for the next peak season as soon as the last one is over. This philosophy allows for the maximum amount of lead time necessary to implement change especially given our industry’s technology driven approach to IT solutions. Rolling out any new improvement or program change early is imperative to success.

USTRANSCOM conducts an annual post peak season hot wash with the Services and industry to discuss how the summer went and identify potential ways for improvement. Last year’s discussions centered on how to improve customer satisfaction for the service members’ moving experience. USTRANSCOM worked with industry to update transit times to reflect today’s linehaul capability, targeted increase of crating smaller shipments (Code 2) and potential use of refusals to more efficiently cover the “peak of the peak season” shipments in 2019. These meetings were very educational and allowed DOD and industry to discuss potential ways to improve the peak season moving experience.

USTRANSCOM also recently announced plans to explore outsourcing the DOD personal property program from entitlement counseling to claim settlement. Just the thought of this change is having a ripple effect through our industry by adding a level of uncertainty on what the future means to TSPs, agents, and drivers who perform this business for DOD. We are staying engaged in this process and will continue providing insight and understanding of our industry to the USTRANSCOM team as this initiative is further developed.

The household goods moving industry is very diverse from small agents with a few crews and pieces of equipment in rural areas to large metropolitan locations with multiple crews, equipment and warehouse space all coordinating to make a move happen. It’s a family-oriented business where companies are handed down over generations and their employees (drivers, move coordinators, and leadership) are an extended part of that family relationship. I’ve met the most amazing people in this industry who are extremely proud of their work and even more proud of their customer: the men, women, civilians, and families of our US military!