Business

July 11, 2014

Through Bellhops, students at UNC Charlotte, elsewhere help out on small-scale moves

Bellhops, with a network of college-age movers that includes UNC Charlotte students, is part of the emerging “sharing economy,” where companies use technology to match service providers with customers.

“It’s like a puzzle sometimes,” said Josh DeLuca, wiping the sweat on his head after multiple attempts to fit two sofas into the truck. He and Brett Patterson, both UNC Charlotte students, were hired to help with a move on Richland Drive.

They then flipped one sofa onto the other to save space.

“You guys are so smart!” said Shelley McGraw, who needed to move a couple of blocks away after her current lease ended. Patterson smiled: “Such thinkers.”

These are the services of Bellhops, a Chattanooga, Tenn.-based company that contracts with local college students exclusively to provide alternative moving services. About 80 UNCC students work part time for the company.

“We are totally built around small-scale moving,” said Cameron Doody, co-founder of the online-based Bellhops, which launched in 2012.

Bellhops identifies itself as part of the emerging “sharing economy.” From vehicle-sharing Lyft and Uber, to house-sharing AirBnB, these sharing-economy companies are powered by technology to pair up supply and demand.

These companies have no assets. Instead, they use online connections to match providers – such as homeowners with a spare room, for example – to customers looking for such services.

With Bellhops, a moving-services provider, “we are sharing their muscles with the local community,” Doody said.

Bellhops’ niche market is the local, small-scale move. Ideal jobs are students moving to a new dormitory or young professionals relocating within a city. These types of customers haven’t been the favorite of traditional moving companies.

Bellhops is “entering an industry that has been dominated by the blue-collar men,” Doody said.

McGraw’s parents found Bellhops online for her when she left Tennessee to work for UNCC. Without a second thought, McGraw sought its help again this time.

At the Bellhops website, customers input the date, estimated hours, number of bellhops needed and moving locations. Requests are sent out by the system via text message. Student bellhops claim desired jobs according to their schedule.

Customers will receive students’ photos and personal information, including names and majors. A Bellhops “captain” will contact the customers several days in advance and also on moving-day morning.

Because McGraw rented her own truck, DeLuca and Patterson just showed up at the scheduled time. If customers need a truck, bellhops will pick up one from their partner company.

Bellhops charges $40 per hour, per student. Customers can hire one or a group of students for a minimum of 1 1/2 hours.

Small-scale move services are the right fit for somebody who is on a budget, who isn’t looking for help with the transportation, and is making a short-distance move, said Shannon Cullins, vice president and general manager of MovingCompanyReviews.com, which compiles names of movers and customer reviews.

A dependable college workforce

Around the nation, “we have a lot of fit guys that can move a lot of stuff,” DeLuca said.

DeLuca, 24, heard about Bellhops from his friends when he was looking for part-time jobs. A senior exercise science major, DeLuca is also a coordinator for Bellhops. He leads the UNCC Bellhops team with guys mostly from club sports, fraternities, intramural sports and ROTC. So far, no women students in Charlotte have applied for jobs, DeLuca said. There are some women bellhops around the nation.

DeLuca started as an assistant about a year ago. His first move was for a family in uptown Charlotte.

All students go through the Bellhops Academy, a training program that consists of 12 online videos.

“Welcome to Bellhops nation,” says former Major League Baseball player Pete Rose, encouraging college students in one video.

Through the videos, student job candidate s learn the company culture. They’re taught how to “crush the job,” “make an impression,” “blow the customers’ minds” and so forth. Senior professionals from companies such as Access America Transport share their working experiences with the students.

Bellhops are taught to pay attention to the details, including their manners, handshakes, making eye contact, smiling and demonstrating a strong work ethic.

“I’m going to say your name five more times during the move,” Doody says in one training video, so customers will feel like “these are just solid dudes.”

“I make sure customers are happy and make sure people show up for their job,” DeLuca said. He likes his job and calls it a good workout.

Building a network

Bellhops’ website and text-message system fuels its rapid expansion around the nation.

Bellhops says it contracts with about 8,000 college students in 132 cities around the nation. A total of 85 cities joined just this year, according to the company.

When people hire a traditional moving company, the process can take weeks – asking for quotes, negotiating and checking on the company’s reputation and license.

But Bellhops can offer same-day moves because much of its college workforce is on standby.

In North Carolina, members also include college students from Boone, Chapel Hill, Durham, Greensboro, Greenville, Raleigh and Wilmington. Students from Queens University of Charlotte may also join the crew, DeLuca said.

Moving companies with physical properties – such as offices, facilities and trucks – are heavily regulated and require state and federal licensing, according to the North Carolina Utilities Commission.

Bellhops, however, is not categorized as a full-service moving company, Cullins said.

“If it’s labor only, there are no licensing requirements,” Cullins said.

Bellhops has liability insurance and property damage insurance for customers, just like other vendors, according to Doody.

Bellhops’ target customers range from college students to working professionals. In Charlotte, about half of the jobs are on-campus moves; the rest are residential-family moves.

Steady gigs

This summer, Bellhops in Charlotte has had work almost every day.

After Patterson and DeLuca loaded all of McGraw’s furniture, she drove the truck to her new apartment. The Bellhops duo followed, to help with unloading.

“They are strong, young, and they won’t get tired,” McGraw said.

After graduation, DeLuca’s account with Bellhops will expire. But he’ll walk away with customer service experience – and, maybe, future job opportunities through the people he helped move, or met at work.

“They are willing and driven to impress people,” Doody said, “because they will be looking for a job after graduation.”

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