Moving to a new country is a big undertaking. It means getting to know a new language, a new currency, possibly a new job—and a lot of new neighbours.
A huge source of comfort is knowing the contents of your household—all those possessions you hold near and dear—are safe, secure and on their way to meet you in your new locale.
Along with the rest of the International team, Danielle Oaks’ job is to make it so.
Danielle is the director for AMJ International, an arm of the business that’s lesser-known in the domestic market, but well regarded in the close-knit world of global moving services.
AMJ International is responsible for supporting customers during cross-continental moves—quite a tall order—but one for which the company has earned a strong reputation.
The key to success in her unique niche, Danielle says, is the same one that applies to all movers. And that’s to remember that, above all, moving is a personal experience.
One less source of stress
Moving your possessions is just a “teeny tiny part” of a comfortable overseas transition, Danielle explains. But if it goes wrong, it can feel like one of the most painful.
“It’s stressful. To go through your belongings and say ‘I don’t need that.’ To get everything in a box, wrapped up and ready to go … even more so when you’re moving to the other side of the world,” she says.
“Your appliances won’t work, you have to sell your car and your house. There’s immigration to deal with. The move is just a teeny, tiny little part. But if we don’t do that little component well, that’s when emotions come out. They’re trusting us with everything they own. It’s a lot.”
It can be easy to become blasé about it because she and her teammates do it day in, day out, she adds. But they have to remember it’s a momentous occasion for each customer.
“That’s why we need to get it right.”
Using a process they have perfected over time, the International team leverages carefully crafted partnerships, solve problems and plans for contingencies to ensure the family or individual being moved is part of a seamless process that prioritizes the safety of their possessions.
What makes an international move unique?
Here are a few of the unique considerations that make a cross-continent move different from a cross-country one.
The importance of partnerships
On the international side, almost every move involves a partner in another country. That requires AMJ international to maintain strong networks of international service providers.
For her part, Danielle keeps an active Rolodex of people she’s met through global training events and conferences, and is constantly working on maintaining these relationships.
“If I’m moving someone to Bangladesh, I have to ask myself, who am I going to use? It should be someone I know, a partner. Moving is a personal business – I work hard to make sure I’ve got connections around the world.”
She works closely with an international alliance of movers called FIDI, which screens and accredits its members to ensure quality and reliability. When she’s looking for a new partner, Danielle will look for the FIDI seal of approval to know she’s be getting a likeminded, legitimate partner.
Materials for the long haul
The materials used to protect international shipments are different than for domestic movers.
The blankets and other wrapping materials are designed to withstand weeks of travel at sea, Danielle explains.
“They are engineered in such a way to withstand friction when the article is in movement. As much as we try and load things as tightly as possible, things still move. They vibrate for three, four, five weeks all the way to their destination.”
She says she still marvels at the way AMJ crews manage to pack a whole house into a sea container, with everything labelled, packaged and arranged in a way to still leave space for the movers to manoeuvre.
“What they do is absolutely amazing, the way we protect furnishings … it’s just an impressive sight to see.”
The importance of volume
Whereas the most important calculation for a domestic move is the total weight of the items being shipped, when it comes to a cross-continent move, volume is key.
“We’re constrained by equipment available,” Danielle says. “Our world is ‘container-ized.’ We need to determine whether it’s a 20-foot versus a 40-foot shipment. If we don’t get that right, it’s heartache and tears. If we haven’t assessed properly, there are boxes left on the driveway that won’t make it onto the shipment.”
Occasionally, when it’s a really remote destination or time is of the essence, a move will be made by air rather than sea. In these cases, furnishing and household items are packed on special, built-in skids that slide right into the body of the aircraft.
Even after 20 years, there are still surprises
Although Danielle likes to think, after 20 years in the business, she’s seen pretty much every situation, the sheer number of variables involved in every international move continue to keep her and her teammates on their toes.
“You would think every move is the same when you do it for a living. But, still to this day, I find myself chatting with colleagues saying ‘Huh. How do we do that? Isn’t it amazing we’ve never had this situation before?’”
She recalls a situation where a man missed his late Sunday night flight, meaning there would be no one to meet his movers on the other side of the world the next morning. To cancel the crew would’ve meant a long, inconvenient delay.
So, Danielle worked with the customer all night and managed to track down an acquaintance at his destination who could receive the shipment.
“We found a solution. We put our heads together and stick-handled it between 10 at night at 7 a.m. the next day.”
What to look for in an international moving service
When choosing an international moving services provider, there are a few important things to keep in mind, Danielle explains.
Quality of accreditation – First, look for a moving company that is part of a formal organization, such as FIDI. This will ensure the company is vetted, financial stable, adheres to global principles of quality, and that there are methods in place to protect you, during the moving process.
Testimonials/Word of mouth – Naturally, when you’re searching for a moving company, your first thought will be to ask your friends and family members who they recommend.
Finding this kind of endorsement is more difficult if no one in your personal network has ever moved across the world. If that’s the case, Danielle recommends you ask any companies you’re considering to put you in touch with a past client who can tell you about their experience with that company.
Transparency – The most valuable advice Danielle has for overseas-moving newbies is to never trust what you read online.
“In the world of global moving services, there are A players and B and C players—and there’s a big difference between them. But the internet has made it more difficult to differentiate that.”
She says to avoid choosing the first name you see, and not to be taken in by rock-bottom prices.
She recommends that before you hire anyone, ask questions such as: how they plan a move, what their process is like and how open they are with those details.
She says, during a move, if the company doesn’t give you the right information, or you don’t read the fine print in a contract, you could wind up spending three extra weeks in a hotel, in a whole new place, with your belongings trapped in transit.
“You have to remember,” she says, “the bitterness of poor quality remains long after the sweet taste of low prices is forgotten.”
Service-first attitude – When telling prospective customers about what sets AMJ International apart from competitors, Danielle always emphasizes AMJ’s focus on customer care. When planning a move, they just work as hard as if it was their own family making the transition, she says.
This level of service will help ensure the move really is just a small part of your relocation experience, and that it’s as relaxed and stress-free as possible.
“I want that Zen. That look of a relaxed and unworried customer. To me, that’s success.”
This day is also Women’s Equality Day. A day to celebrate the achievements of women in the workplace—and in the world. It’s an opportunity to reinforce the continuing efforts to ensure women have the equal chance to succeed. For Danielle, it’s also time to reflect on how the face of the moving industry has changed over the past 20 years.
“Twenty years ago, 90% of men made up the sales conferences, today it’s more like 60%,” says Danielle Oaks.
“We are so lucky in Canada and at AMJ, women can do what they do, and they can be great at it. We’ve got very successful ladies, and men, who are good at what they do and that’s because they love what they do.”
To be a successful leader, you can’t be afraid to get your hands dirty
Danielle’s personal approach to leadership is to get things done. “People might look to me as a leader, but I’m in the trenches as much as they are, and to me, that’s exciting.”
Because the Toronto International office is small, she says, everyone has the same DIY work ethic.
“There’s no one else to give the work to – so I do it myself. The buck stops here. That’s why you hire the right people to be around you.”
She also isn’t afraid to roll-up-the-sleeves and demonstrate this work ethic.
“Every now and then, if we can’t get a crew to deliver a shipment on time, I just put the boxes in the trunk of my car and drive it where it needs to be.”
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