Alpha Specialised Movers is moving in a new direction now that one of its founders has retired. RICHARD SILCOCK talks to its remaining director about the change.
Upper Hutt based Alpha Specialised Movers is on the verge of a new era following the retirement at the end of last year of co-founder, co-owner and long-time specialist mover, Murray Russell. Remaining co-founder and now sole owner of the business, Chris Ellis has decided to steer the company in a new direction.
Looking back to the time of Alpha’s inception in 1994, when the pair formed the business, Chris says the focus was on jacking a house off the foundations, loading it onto a truck and trailer unit and relocating it to a new site – with all the other details pretty well left to the client.
“We excelled in taking a project, looking at the degree of difficulty, finding a solution and planning the methodology to execute it in a safe and efficient way,” he says.
“In house moving you are handling something that was never really designed to be picked up, put on a vehicle, transported to a new location and unloaded onto new foundations – so you have to plan carefully otherwise it will turn to a pile of crumbs and a very unhappy customer.
“And let’s be frank, the house relocating business is hard, demanding and difficult. Apart from the physical side, you are dealing with interpretations of local by-laws, operating in sometimes atrocious weather at all hours of the day and night, securing and retaining reliable staff, working with difficult customers at times and putting up with hindrances such as traffic and road works along the planned route – these are all pretty much the norm in our line of work.”
However the dynamics of the industry are changing, he adds.
“Now we are seeing clients expecting and demanding a complete one-package solution.
“So when Murray decided to retire from house moving, I bought his share in the business, sold a lot of equipment, reduced the number of staff and will now concentrate on the project management of relocations.
“I will also continue to develop another side of the business, where we purchase houses, relocate them to fully serviced subdivisions and on-sell them as a complete package.
“This will entail obtaining the necessary consents, liaising with councils and other authorities for permits, doing all the necessary paperwork including the insurance, preparing the site works, subcontracting the actual relocation, carrying out any alterations using our own team of builders, attending to power and plumbing requirements and generally providing the client with a no-worries package all ready for them to ‘turn the key’ and move in.
“There are some obvious cost benefits in working this way,” he says.
“We don’t have the overheads of plant and machinery, we can operate with a smaller team and pick and choose who will subcontract and do the best job for the best price. The client is happy because we are taking on the responsibility of getting ‘all the ducks in a row’ and delivering the total package.
“Putting it another way, we are delivering the cake with all the hundreds and thousands on top, as well as the whipped cream!”
When Chris left school at age 14, it was, as he says, “Not for me”.
“I wanted to be out and about doing different things. I enjoyed working with machinery and tinkering with engines so got a job, first with Olsen Civil Works before moving to Titan’s and then Britton House Movers.
“During my time with Britton’s I was invited to assist a large removal company, Almas Movers International, with some of their work in California, which included moving heavy power transformers and oil refining equipment, which was great experience.
“I recall one job, where we moved an historical, 7000 square foot, three-storey, 450 tonne house four miles down the road all in one piece.”
Teaming up with Murray on his return to New Zealand in 1993-94 they formed Alpha Specialised Movers and they soon established a reputation for finding solutions for difficult moves.
“With a bit of a ‘shoe-horn’ mentality we craned houses out of and onto tight access sites and found answers to what initially appeared to be impossible – whether it meant dividing a building up into manageable sections or utilising new technology to lift a building or structure clear of obstacles while transporting it.
“As the business expanded we grew to a staff of 18 and I can recall some pretty interesting jobs.
“One entailed purchasing and moving three, 6000 square-foot buildings from the former railway works at Woburn in Lower Hutt. The first building was moved to Maungarakei to become a church and another to Upper Hutt where it was renovated and turned into a private house. The third was transported over the Rimutakas in six sections and transformed into what is now the White Swan boutique hotel in Greytown.
“It made headline news when one of the sections was blown sideways by a sudden strong gust of wind on the hill, forcing the trailer unit nearly over the edge and tilting the load, but we managed to salvage it without damage.”
In addition to this type of work Alpha, in association with Tidd Ross Trailers of Hamilton and Palmerston North based company Manawatu Hydraulics, got into designing, manufacturing and exporting custom-built heavy-haul trailer units and hydraulic house jacks to the United States.
“This was a bit of a coup for a group of relatively small New Zealand companies.
“The contacts I made in the US through this side of the business led to contracting with them on a number of projects and this entailed moving our team to the States in 2005 for a short time to assist a Houston based company move 16 houses. When Hurricane Katrina struck Louisiana in 2006 I again took eight of our guys over to help in the ‘clean-up’ and move houses.
“Similarly we assisted when Hurricane Sandy struck New Jersey, by sending over hydraulic house jacks.
“Here in New Zealand business continues to be strong and we are managing a number of relocations. Just recently, we were awarded the contract to purchase 33 buildings and project-manage their relocation from the old Porirua mental hospital to various locations around the lower North Island, a job that will entail 47 separate moves.”
Chris is a member of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association and a former chair of the Wellington/Wairarapa branch of the Contractors’ Federation (now CCNZ), a position he held for two years in 2005 and 2006.
“Both are important for our industry,” he says.
“They provide the glue and voice for members when advocating with local and central government. With the management of bureaucratic regulations beginning to impact on the true cost of house relocation, there is a danger this will jeopardise the industry and is something the Association is conscious of and working progressively with authorities to overcome.
“Perhaps there is room for adopting a President Trump mentality of ‘draining the swamp’ and cutting out a lot of this bureaucracy that has crept in over recent years,” he says with a wry smile.
“I’ve been in this industry for 33 years now and I still enjoy it. While the hours are long, every job is different and none are ever the same. I like being out and about, getting to meet a variety of people and solving a problem where others cannot. That’s Alpha’s point of difference – we are solutions orientated.
“It may be the end of an era as Murray’s experience in the industry was legendary,” says Chris.
“Our individual skills allowed us to work well together, each complementing each other’s abilities and we built a successful business, but now I am looking forward to this new evolution of the company over the coming years.”
When Chris is not busy managing the business he takes time out for his passion and hobby – restoring ‘collectable’ vehicles, which include a 1927 Cadillac Roadster and a 1956 GMC pickup.