Local, small household goods movers have been in the news ( again ) lately, and not in a positive way. Yet, there are usually two sides to every story – sometimes more. I shall attempt to delineate both as briefly as possible:
There are unscrupulous movers –nay, even crooked. And there are sneaky, stupid and manipulating customers, who often get hung by their own petards.
In 1985, having lost my job as an executive in the transportation industry, I blundered into the moving business by starting my own company from “scratch”, knowing almost nothing of the netherworld of moving. The industry was then regulated by the Ontario Highway Traffic Board (OHTB), but local, city movers were exempt from regulation, and subsisted in a legal and moral vacuum. Many of the people using these “fly by night” operators were usually poor, ignorant or both. They thought they were buying a commodity, looked for the lowest price, and got the lowest service. The good ones survived by referrals, and we were lucky to develop a referral base, because “we cared”, as our slogan went.
After a year or so, we incorporated and went before the Board to apply for a “C” licence, which allowed operating province-wide. The judge at the Board, after granting me the licence, made an unusual comment: “good luck to you, Sir” he said. “We don’t often get people of your calibre here.” I thought he was patronizing me, but was soon to find out how true it was.
We had to rescue a number of people from unscrupulous movers who had “dumped” the client, or just did not show up. One such mover was “Mississauga Movers” (Mississauga News, Friday September 9th, 1994). After working all night to “rescue” their abandoned client, I provided a letter of information to the client, which he used to obtain a judgement against them from the Mississauga Small Claims Court. Later the owner called to ask why I had assisted his client, and said “we movers must stick together”. I told him I did not associate with crooks, after which he threaten to come by and beat me up. I called the police and reported the incident. They eventually got such bad publicity that they closed down “Mississauga Movers”, and then popped up again under a different name. Eventually, in 1989, we became associated with a Van Line and were able to move away from the “lowest price” customer and sell to a better informed public. We also concentrated more on corporate long distance and international relocations. I sold the company in 2001 and retired.
In 1989 the Federal Government deregulated all surface transportation (they had earlier deregulated air lines). This led to an unbelievable free-for-all; squeezed the profit margins for all operators, forcing the larger operators into the price-cutting mode and the concomitant cost cutting affecting both equipment and safety. Belatedly, there was some re-regulation in the form of increased safety standards and inspections, but not until some spectacular accidents involving poorly maintained equipment (and probably poorly trained drivers). The shakeout is still happening, and the bottom-feeders are apparently still alive and well. The introduction of the CVOR (a “corporate drivers licence”) has also helped the MOT to monitor and control the worst offenders.
Movers face many hazards not apparent to the public: equipment breakdown, shortage of skilled drivers, indifferent employees and a dishonest public. Over the years I lost money due to employee thefts and carelessness, but mostly because of dishonest clients who cancelled their credit cards or gave NSF cheques, or made spurious claims for damage. Some of the incredible experiences in this regard are too long and involved to delineate here, but sufficed to say I’ve been subjected to outright fraud–not by low level scum but by apparently well-off and honourable people. I had to go to Small Claims Court to collect money owing–and win –more than once (anyone interested in learning more about the moving business in general, can read my memoir: A Son of A Gun, -2007- and still available at Chapters/Indigo and Amazon .ca).
Obviously, blatant cheating must be punished. When any company hold itself out to provide honest service to the public, they have a greater fiduciary and contractual responsibility, whether verbal or written, than has the average individual. However, all things are not always as they appear, and the government knows that. Thus, they are hesitant to enact rules and regulations that are constraints on trade, overly restrictive and cumbersome, and in the long run inimical to the public by limiting choice. There should be an expectation of honourable behaviour on companies and individuals, and when serious transgressions occur, there are all ready plenty of laws to deal with it.
There is also an onus on the public to behave in a sensible and intelligent manner. If you are swimming with sharks, expect to be bitten.