Originally published in Business Digest, October 1997

All the Right Moves

by Julia Lynam

They've both been moving things most of their lives, and they don't intend to stop now. Roger Barber and Carl Laroe, partners in Action Moving and Storage of Colchester, a part of the nationwide Bekins chain, share vast experience of the business, great dedication to doing a good job, and a vehicle fleet that travels more than 1.2 million miles a year.

But there the similarity ends. Barber, a youthful 61, is outgoing, talkative and persuasive, so it comes as no surprise to learn that, as general manager, he takes care of sales and much of the customer contact. "It may sound like a cliche," Barber says, "but even after 37 years in the business I really enjoy meeting new people and working with them."

Laroe is more than 20 years younger, a man of fewer words, and a hands-on operations manager who knows his business inside out. He likes to be out in the field working with the drivers and personally directing major moves.

It may well be that these differences are the secret of their success. Certainly, the partnership they forged in 1985 has gone from strength to strength to achieve an annual business volume now exceeding $2 million.

[Carl Laroe & Roger Barber] Carl Laroe (left) and Roger Barber, both experienced movers, joined forces in 1985 to establish Action Moving & Storage Inc. in Colchester. Laroe had been in the moving business with his father; Barber was with Gero Bros. for 20 years.

"In 1985 I was general manager at Gero Brothers, the Mayflower moving company in Fort Ethan Allen, Colchester," says Barber. "I'd been there since 1960 and, since it was a family business, I couldn't take a stock interest in the company -- I'd always be an employee. Carl and I knew each other through the industry -- he had his own business in St. Albans. We could see that there was definitely a market for an additional national carrier in the Vermont area."

So the two men set up their business on Railroad Street in Essex Junction, with a third partner, David Garcia, who subsquently parted company with them in 1989.

"We had one truck when we started," Laroe recalls. "It was a 1977 GMC and we were in a 200-square-foot office." They employed a driver, but drove the truck themselves when necessary.

It didn't take much for them to outgrow that first office. Within a year Action Moving secured bulk mail trucking contracts with the U.S. Postal Service, which led them to quadruple their fleet -- to four vehicles -- and move to Winooski's Elm Street.

"That's when things really began to mushroom up," says Laroe. "We were doing more and more moves as our name became known. Then we finally got contracts with IBM for internal trucking within their local plant. And we still have those contracts -- we've never lost them!"

Continued expansion led them to seek new premises out of town on Jasper Mine Road at the northern tip of Colchester, where they constructed a custom-built garage and storage facility in 1992. The 12,000-square-foot building includes 10,000 square feet of heated warehouse space, where clients' furniture and other belonging are neatly packed in wooden cases stacked three high to the ceiling. "We built during the recession, because the cost of construction was low, and it was a great advantage to be able to design our own space," says Laroe. "This is the Cadillac of storage spaces, and we also have self-storage units in Colchester and St. Albans, which I think of as the budget model."

According to Barber, Action Moving is one of the largest volume operation of its kind in the state. The company has 32 employees, and a large fleet of trucks and trailers making domestic and commercial moves within Vermont and to every state in the nation. In the last 12 months they've completed more than 900 local moves and 300 out-of-state ones, in addition to internal trucking operations for large companies such as IBM in Essex Junction and General Dynamics in Burlington. Action Moving has also completed nearly 1,000 special commodity shipments -- moving mostly electronic components and computer parts in climate-controlled vehicles for various companies and research centers. "As far as I know, we're the only company in northern Vermont that can offer trailers with stable 70 degree temperatures and air-ride suspension," says Laroe.

The firm's work is divided almost equally between household and commercial moves, the latter including offices, heavy manufacturing plants and equipment and -- a speciality of theirs -- libraries, which they have moved for the University of Vermont, Johnson State College and Lyndon State College. They've also successfully moved a stack of medical records "a mile long" for Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington.

At Lyndon State, they smoothed the path for two library moves, recalls Laurel Stanley, the college's library director. "Even though moving is always tortuous," she says, "they were a very enjoyable group of people to work with." The entire library, consisting of more than 100,000 books and periodicals, was moved twice: once into a gymnasium while its building was renovated, then back again. "Not everything went to the gymnasium," Stanley recalls, "Action Moving was particularly good about getting things to four or five different places on the campus. Carl was pretty incredible -- he kept all of that in his head and knew just how long each of his teams would take to do each part of the job."

Robert Cassavoy, chief financial officer of Vineyards Brands of Birmingham, Ala., shares her opinion. His company moved lock, stock and barrel from Vermont to Alabama earlier this year and Action Moving not only masterminded their office move, but also the domestic moves of the company's nine employees, the company president and Cassavoy himself. "The logistics were daunting," Cassavoy says. "Roger Barber and all his people did a fantastic job."

Laroe has the moving business in his blood. His father, also Carl, ran a moving company in St. Albans for more than 30 years. Carl II, a keen golfer, now lives on Lake Champlain in Georgia with his wife, Patti, two-year-old Carl III and baby Alexis. "We love it there," he says. "We moved there for the children and it's a great place with good neighbors."

Barber and his wife, Sharon, live in Grand Isle but have recently started spending part of the winter in Sarasota, Fla., near their son Roger and his family; their daughter Kerry, lives in Vermont.

Any moving business has to negotiate its way through its share of red tape. Truck driving and interstate moves are heavily regulated operations. Nationally, tariffs have to be filed with the Department of Transportation, and moving companies have to obtain authority from the Interstate Commerce Commission to provide moves from state to state. "We have authority ourselves for the 28 states east of the Mississippi," says Barber, "and through Bekins for the rest of the country."

Five years ago the partners opened two locations of self-storage units, which range from 50 to 300 square feet, as a response to requests from customers for storage with 24-hour customer access. "In our main storage unit customers have to have a warehouse man with them to access their belongings," Barber explains, "so it can be expensive." They also have 40 large trailers that they rent for use as storage space on building sites.

Laroe and Barber have seen few changes in the business that has been their careers for most of their lives. It's still a business that needs careful attention to detail and meticulous planning as well as the ability to move large objects, if not in a single bound, then at least with as few handlings as possible. That's where the biggest change has come, says Barber. "We started to use large wooden containers in the 1970s, rather than packing furniture directly into a trailer, and they're better all around for everyone." The wooden boxes are 5 feet by 7 feet by 7 feet. Items can be safely packed away in them, then the boxes stacked and moved easily. "Using containers eliminates four extra handlings, so it's better for us, and better for the customer, " Barber points out.

The largest single object Action has ever moved was a stone polisher for Hearthstone Woodstoves of Morrisville. The machinery, used to finish the company's soapstone stoves, was "thirty foot long and ugly," recalls Laroe. A man who enjoys a challenge, he personally masterminded the successful move of the 30,000-pound item, using a large fork lift to get the stone polisher up onto wheels.

"We specialize in whole plant moves," says Laroe. "I go out on all the heavy machine moves myself, because things can go wrong quickly if you don't know what you're doing, and you can end up with the machinery on its side if you're not careful -- I've seen it happen!"

Some moves are bizarre, rather than big: They've transported human brain tissue, packed in dry ice at minus 30 degrees Farenheit, when a UVM research lab was relocated.

And some just require a bit of lateral thinking. Faced with the prospect of moving an entire bank headquarters -- the Merchant's -- from Bank Street in Burlington to Kimball Avenue in South Burlington, Laroe brought in the heavies! "We used a crane to take things out of the upper floors, because it would have been so much more expensive and taken much longer to take everything out via the elevator," he says. "Speed was important because we had just one working day to transfer the bank's central computer to the new location -- it had to be up and running the same day!"