King House Removals has a mantra for running a successful business and it’s called ‘Professionalism’ with a capital P. Richard Silcock caught up with one of the co-owners.
Grant Willis and his older brother Warren own and operate King House Removals, a family-owned house relocation business from yards in Invercargill and Christchurch with a staff of 20.
The brothers took the business over from their father, the late Fred Willis in 2003. Originally, Fred and his wife Jenny bought the house removal side of the business off DT King Carriers in 1959 and ran it from the same location it is today.
It is the oldest house removal company in the South Island, having achieved 61 continuous years of operation in May this year.
Grant says that presenting a professional image across all facets of the business makes good sense and helps ensure their order book is always full.
“I am a firm believer in keeping all our trucks, utes and equipment in top order and ‘lux’ cleaned and polished,” he says.
“Likewise, I insist our staff are neat and tidy and present as professionals in all interactions with our customers. All our staff wear branded company clothing and are very much part of the team. We insist on a good work ethic and trustworthiness.
“I don’t tolerate dishevelled clothing or drugs in the workplace. That’s not the way we do business and our customers choose us because of our professional approach, our image and our ability to move a building safely in almost any situation.
“We always leave a site in a neat and tidy manner, clearing away any rubbish and rubble – again it’s just about being professional.”
While not the cheapest house removal specialists in town, adds Grant, they charge a fair price for what’s involved and is one of the largest operators in the South Island.
“We get a lot of repeat business because our customers know we will do a good job and will stick to a schedule unless there are valid reasons for delays.
“There are companies out there who will do a job for less, but like everything else in this life you ‘get what you pay for.’ We run a professional business, with trained and skilled operators and have the very best available modern technology and equipment.”
King House Removals has a tendency to buy new trucks and trailer units but also refurbish some. They have a bias for Mack trucks, although they run several Internationals and Freightliners, a 6WD MAN, a Stirling tip-truck and a 6WD Iveco as well.
“All our five trailer units are command steer and we have clip-on units for increased carrying capacity,” says Grant.
“We like to keep our fleet up to date and we are always upgrading them, or selling off the older, higher kilometre units.
“We often design and build our own specialised hydraulic lifting gear and steering trailers and several years ago we built a hydraulic jacking unit that can synchronise 32 jacks in tandem with the capacity to lift 150 tonnes to a height of three-and-half metres.
“I strongly believe in preventative maintenance so we employ a full-time diesel mechanic, a fabricator and spray painter as well as our team of professional house relocators and Class -1 pilots.
“Good staff are important so we look after our team, treat them with respect and provide opportunities for them to become supervisors in charge of jobs. I don’t ask them to do anything I wouldn’t do myself.
“Some of our staff have been with us for over 15-20 years.”
Grant says the company has moved well over 7000 houses, from small granny flats and townhouses to two and three storey structures all over the South Island and occasionally the North Island.
“With the gear we have there is virtually nothing we cannot lift, shift, manoeuvre and relocate.”
However, he has a concern over the need for more consultation from road and highway designers during the planning stages of highway construction and upgrades, not after the work has been done.
“I think our association does a good job lobbying the Government and NZTA, but it seems to be ignored in the planning stages with little consultation. Tight roundabouts, signage and bollards often make it very difficult to navigate around.”
Asked about some of the more memorable or difficult jobs, Grant says every job can present challenges, but projects that spring to mind over recent times include relocating a large two-storey house in Christchurch.
“Due to its size we had to crane the top storey off and move it in seven sections using a number of our truck and trailer units.
“Another move involved relocating an historic timber church with an 11 metre-high gable roof six kilometres through the centre of the Christchurch CBD.
“We also lift houses on site and repair piles and concrete foundations, or build basements and garages beneath. One of these jobs entailed a block of flats weighing upwards of 200 tonnes which we lifted and then pumped concrete grout underneath to level the foundations.
“A growing side of the business involves buying old houses, moving them to one of our yards and after some refurbishment on-selling them to customers, with the majority used as beach properties, farm dwellings and rental investment properties. We are also transporting prefabricated and built housing to new sections, particularly in Christchurch following the earthquakes.
“We’ve also done a number of large boat moves and been involved in transporting transformers to the Tiwai Point Smelter.
“Our motto is: A difficult move takes time, the impossible ones just a little longer.
“For every move we follow a strict and detailed set of safety procedures along with careful route planning and operating protocols to ensure every move is successful.”
As a long-standing member of the NZ Heavy Haulage Association, King House Removals has earned the respect of their peers and a reputation for excellence, both with their customers and within the industry.
“I am a firm believer in building and maintaining relationships with other good operators and we often help each other out with gear or man power. I believe in comradery rather than rivalry!”
In recognition of his contribution to the heavy haulage industry, Grant’s Father Fred Willis was awarded the prestigious Gus Breen Memorial Award by the NZ Heavy Haulage Association in 2007.
The trophy stands as a reminder to the present team at King House Removals to always act in a professional and helpful manner, says Grant.