Bellhops started with two recently-graduated college students who were fed up with the complexities of moving multiple times in their early adult years. They employed a contractor worker model (many of the “bellhops” being college students themselves) and focus on small-scale moving, unlike traditional larger operations companies. By doing so, they were able to offer a far lower price than a traditional moving company.
The Chattanooga-based startup already saw a major market in its southeast neighbor of Atlanta, so when it came time to hire a CEO to scale operations, they looked to a leader in that market that already had experience in disrupting the transportation industry — Luke Marklin. Marklin moved into the position following a stint as an Atlanta-based General Manager for Uber. The move makes sense — like the ride-sharing service, Bellhops brings the ease of on-demand, tech-enabled access to an industry that is largely stuck in the past.
Since bringing on Marklin, the company has expanded to about 20 cities across the southeast and midwest — Atlanta is still their biggest market. They’ve also added an option to hire not just bellhops to get you moved, but also rent a truck. Their scheduling tool allows you to book in real-time at your preferred time and date — no hassle of coordinating over the phone or waiting around during an 8-hour pickup window.
Marklin, who will be speaking this week at the MIT Enterprise Forum’s Logistics Tech panel, shares more about Bellhops’ journey over the last few years,
What have been your biggest accomplishments since coming on to Bellhops as CEO?
One is adding the transportation piece of things. The bellhops that we partner with just exude the energy and enthusiasm that is just not found in typical moving industry, and we were able to tap into that in a way that scales in a very high-end experience. The evolution of the business was that we knew the offering was not complete just with labor, so we needed to provide a transportation piece to really become a full service mover. That’s been the major pivot that we’ve made — now in every market that we operate in we have a full-service option, so it really started to become not just a helpful set of hands but a true end-to-end moving company.
Also, we’ve put a lot of our operation into tech. We have our own app for the Bellhops that we built earlier this year and they interact with us in a very similar way to Uber, where they’re assigned to roles and positions in a very high-tech fashion. So from when a customer books on the website, to how the job gets assigned, it’s all through technology, and that is a very big departure from the traditional moving space.
The third piece is that, it’s kind of similar to Uber in that we take feedback from every move. We’ve built that in a technology way — how we take that feedback to drive the success of Bellhops and the platform and our quality going forward. Our job is to reduce all of the unnecessary barriers that it takes to book a move — moving is a very stressful time and it’s one where people have plenty to worry about. Our job is to make it as enjoyable and stress-free as possible — to make it fun.
Why is the southeast such a prime market for you?
I think it’s a couple of reasons. First and foremost, the southeast is growing. Because it’s growing there’s a lot of moving activity which really aligns well for us. Two, that growth is being fueled by a lot of millennials. Our core demographic is millennials because they want a more modern way to move and we provide that. We do really well in a lot of these markets where millennials are moving into town or moving around town, so the southeast is one of the best areas in the country for that. And then three is it feels like a very tech-friendly place. People are looking for more modern alternatives.
You came over to Bellhops from Uber. What were some of the biggest lessons and takeaways from that type of model that you brought into this company?
The parallels really do abound. The transportation industry before Uber was an archaic and slow moving industry with very little innovation. And you can say a lot of the same things about the traditional mover. Traditional moving companies are typically franchised or small with inconsistent quality and rely very heavily on a hands-on managerial approach versus a technology-based approach that loops in customer feedback. We actually have a ton of the same opportunities that Uber has in the moving industry. The more that we can build high-quality technology into how we book moves, how we manage and enable our awesome workforce, we believe we have a huge opportunity.
Do you do anything differently from Uber regarding how you manage your contractors, your bellhops?
I can only speak to us, but on the Bellhops side, we don’t view them as just a number — we view them as people. And we have a very strong community of bellhops in all of our markets. They know each other, they support and help each other, and we do everything we can to enable that and impart our values into that culture. At the end of the day the bellhops are the backbone of our business. They’re fundamental to how we provide a better moving experience to change the industry. We are always focused on elevating them and making their experience just as good as the customer experience.
Why do you base your HQ in Chattanooga?
I think a lot of the southeast fundamentals are consistent across the region. It has great universities: UGA, Georgia Tech, University of Tennessee. I think millennials are interested in just being in the Southeast because they see it as a growing part of the United States, one where they can not only have a really awesome lifestyle but also one that’s a little bit more affordable. Why Chattanooga is special, and I think this probably is true for most of the cities here, is that you’d be hard pressed to find a nicer group of people to work with and interact with customers than Chattanooga, Tennessee. Being a service industry and having to interact with customers is really built into who we are. Many of our core values are built on that hospitality and the warmth that people want in a really good service business. And there is just not a better place to find it.
So what’s next for you as we look at the end of 2017 and into 2018? Do you plan to expand outside your current markets?
The future for us is really bright. We’ve been working a lot on the transportation piece of the model for the last year and we really nailed it — we’ve been oversubscribed. Now we are ready to really scale up and fill the demand for our service. So our plan is to add jet fuel to our operations and grow within our core markets. And then at some point in the not-too-distant future, we have the rest of the country to expand into and we’re going to be very excited to do that as well.
Folks around the country need to move and we’re happy to help them. Our business model can provide an innovative and modern approach, a disruptive approach, throughout the United States.