Saturday, January 23, 2010

The Super Movers: A neighborhood based moving company

We don't advocate moving out of the Columbia Waterfront neighborhood - in fact, we strongly advocate moving in - but if you must move, consider supporting the locally based moving company Super Movers. We recently had the opportunity to interview Ariane of the Super Movers about her company, the moving business, the neighborhood, and related environmental issues. Check out what she had to say below, which is a great read, and seriously consider using them for future moving needs within the neighborhood and beyond.

TWOCS: How did you get started in the moving business?
A: Long story. Some other time. But in the winter of 2005 we took a cargo van and started a man with a van service that has since grown into a full fledged licensed and insured moving company, with our own website and a facebook fan page. I never thought I’d be a business owner, let alone the owner of a moving business. But it’s been a big adventure, all things considered.

TWOCS: How long have you been based in the Columbia Waterfront?
A: We moved to President Street in the fall of 2004, and started our business in the winter of 2005, so we’ve been here about 5 years now. When we moved here, Columbia Street looked like it had suffered a shelling – it was all potholes and rubble. There were four poultry houses in a three block radius, and prostitutes at the end of Sackett Street. We could park our trucks in the M&T Ice Cream lot, and get fairly inexpensive space on Van Brunt Street. It sounds worse than it was, but the neighborhood reall did change rapidly. 60 Tiffany Place opened in 2006, and then 26 Tiffany went up. The city repaired Columbia Street to make way for Fairway and Ikea, and two of the poultry houses departed.

TWOCS: What are some of the advantages of basing a moving business in our neighborhood?
A: This neighborhood, from a transportation perspective, is great for our business. It has easy access to the BQE in both directions; commercial traffic has to use the Manhattan Bridge to get into the city, and we’re fairly close to the bridge. We work with Treasure Island in Red Hook for storage, and its remarkably close to very desirable Brooklyn neighborhoods—much more convenient than the facilities on Second Avenue in Sunset Park or off Flushing near the Navy Yard.

TWOCS: Your website talks about an initiative to be a more sustainable moving company. Please tell us more about that and how progress has come along on that.
A: We’re happy to be able to report that we’re just finalizing a partnership with the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative to donate a sum of money from each move as carbon offsets. The Brooklyn Greenway Initiative will offer our customers a complimentary one year membership that includes invitations to the Greenway’s events. Besides that, we’re active composters, and have made personal commitments to take as much as we possibly can out of the journey to the landfill. We recycle. We avoid petroleum based plastics as much as possible. There’s a widening gyre of garbage twice the size of Texas in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, and it’s full of plastics that get ingested by fish that get ingested by us, and then we end up full of bisphenol-A and dioxin. We switched to compact mercury vapor bulbs in the office. We use unbleached paper that can be put in our compost. More generally, we’re really working to build a thriving business in a small area. When we move people in Cobble Hill or Carroll Gardens or Park Slope, we’re hyper-local. We use less gasoline than if you hired Flat Rate or Moishe’s who come down from the Bronx. We know the neighborhoods, so we’re better at navigating and we don’t get lost. When our estimators go for a site visit, quite often they can walk.

We’ve made other commitments, as well, that will take more time to implement. When we add trucks to our fleet, they’ll be diesel trucks that can use B20 biodiesel fuel. I’ve looked at the city’s alternative fuel vehicle programs and would love to have trucks that run on compressed natural gas, but that’s a far longer range plan. Some popular movers now have plastic moving bins for rent as an alternative to cardboard boxes, claiming they’re “greener” because they’re reusable, but we’ve looked into it, and we don’t feel that way. The plastic bins crack after about half a dozen moves, so they’re only slightly more durable than book boxes, and cardboard can be put out with the recycling when it wears out. Plus, most plastics are petroleum based. The whole green thing is in a weird place. You can go to Home Depot and find a paint brush with a plastic handle that claims to be green because no trees were cut down to make it. The Ethanol boondoggle should have taught us to be a little skeptical about any sustainability claims made by someone with a profit motive, and I’m glad that you brought this up. The real steps we’re taking—to support the Greenway and to compost and keep waste out of the landfill as much as possible—are local and are about changing lifestyles and personal expectations.

TWOCS: What could be done by elected officials or large companies to help you and other moving companies convert to more environmentally friendly trucking operations?
A: I think if the city offered low cost loans or generous incentives to companies that switched to high efficiency or alternative fuel trucks, you’d see a rapid expansion of cleaner vehicle use. Fresh Direct uses B20 biodiesel (it’s a mix of diesel of biofuel that can be used without converting a diesel engine, but greatly reduces carbon emissions), which I think is great, but it’s an initiative that was undertaken for good publicity, without support from the city. For a huge fleet like Fresh Direct’s, the increased cost may be insignificant, but smaller companies with smaller budgets may need a few more carrots and sticks to keep them moving in the right direction.

TWOCS: How has the recession affected your company? Are more people moving or in general or are they staying put?
A: Our business has grown steadily since it opened in 2005, so it’s hard for me to really assess the impact of the recession. Winter is slower than summer. Business credit is really tight, we learned, when we were turned down for a loan to purchase a new truck recently. A lot more people have had to reschedule their moves because the closing got pushed back for one reason or another. But people are always moving in Brooklyn. We used to move people from Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill to the Columbia Waterfront neighborhood. Now they’re going farther afield—to Prospect Heights and Clinton Hill. Lots of people have moved from Park Slope to Gowanus. People are calling Windsor Terrace the South Slope.

One huge change brought about by the recession is in the people who apply to work for us. We have really sharp, talented and skilled individuals who have been out of work for a while who come to us and are willing to work for $10 or $12 a hour. That was unheard of in 2008. It’s been really surprising. Last summer, we did an open call and had over 200 people show up to fill out an application over the course of an hour and a half. Seeing that is really troubling to me. It makes me very distrustful of news that the economy is recovering.

TWOCS: Have you or your staff ever found or been given anything really interesting or crazy after a move?
A: This is a funny question. People try to unload things on the movers all the time — dressers, old television sets, sofas sometimes, mostly empty bottles of liquor, food from the refrigerator. A guy who was moving from Gowanus to Long Island City to take up residence with his girlfriend asked the movers to dispose of about 8 contractor’s bags full of pornographic movies on VHS. That was particularly excessive, but we end up putting boxes of girly magazines out with the recycling several times a year. People are always getting rid of one particular piece of Ikea wall d├ęcor—a painting of Audrey Hepburn as Holly Go Lightly. We’ve taken five of them in the last two years. I’m still puzzling this one out.

TWOCS: Any other funny stories or comments you'd like to add about the moving industry and running a moving company in Brooklyn?
A: I never imagined I’d own a moving company, but there’s something I really love about entering people’s lives at transitional points, seeing how they live and what they value. This area, the Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood to, say, the far edge of Prospect Heights to Ditmas Park and Kensington, is really special, too. We move lots of families here, more than elsewhere. We get to see the choices and trade offs people make. We’ve fallen in love with Ditmas Park just because we’ve moved such nice people there in the last few years. I personally have grown to appreciate Prospect Heights as the result of moving people there, and hope it survives the city’s plans for it. I’m always in awe of the apartments in the North Slope. I love the mansions of Ocean Parkway, and the stately prewar buildings of Eastern Parkway. We’ve had some horrible experiences—a woman was moving out of an apartment that was infested with mice. There must have been 200 mouse bodies in her apartment when the movers were there. The mice even lived inside her mattress. She was fighting with her landlord. The movers were gagging. It was completely unbelievable. When we finally got her out of there, most of her stuff had to go to the garbage, but she was so happy. The ordeal was over. And we’d helped. But the vast majority of the time, moves are pretty seamless and simple. That’s our goal. That’s what we want.


Andrea V. said...

Great interview!

Allison said...

I have been moved by Super Movers and they are in fact SUPER.