Man on the Move

Adam Booska never gave a thought to doing anything other than working in the business his grandparents founded

by Tom Gresham

Adam Booska (right) represents the third generation to run Booska Movers Inc. The company has evolved from a local mover into an independent interstate moving business, which accounts for 45 percent of its sales. Jim Cote-Wurzler manages sales and marketing.

When Adam Booska strolls down Church Street in Burlington with his father, David, he knows it's going to be a long trip. Odds are, he says, that every few steps they are going to be interrupted by a greeting and ensuing conversation from some well-wisher. It's the way it's always been.

"It takes us two hours to walk down Church Street," he says. "You walk down the street with him and he knows every other person and they know him. A lot of that has to do with him being in business in the community for a long time, but a lot just has to do with his personality and ability to connect with people. He has a very unique way of being able to communicate with people."

Adam watched his father closely for a long time, observing the way David and his family ran Booska Movers Inc., their Burlington moving business. Today, he manages Booska's location on Flynn Avenue in Burlington, and openly emulates his father.

"I learned a lot from watching my dad run things here," he says. "He's been a big influence on me."

Many other Booskas have had a hand in the enduring prosperity of Booska Movers. The business was founded in 1946 by Roland and Connie Booska, Adam's grandparents, as Booska Trucking. The first location was on Swift Street in South Burlington. From the beginning, Booska Trucking was a family business at its core. "My grandparents had a very large family, lots of sons and daughters," Adam says, "so they sort of relied on a lot of free labor in the beginning. Most of the children were involved in some way or another."

Eventually, many of the Booska progeny moved on to other ventures; however, David and his brother, Wade, remained with the business, managing it for several years. In 1991, Connie Booska transferred her ownership of the business to David. He managed the business for four more years before turning those responsibilities over to Adam, who had come to work at the company straight out of high school.

He says there was never any question in his mind that he would end up pursuing a career with the family business.

"I always enjoyed working for the moving company growing up, for a number of reasons," Adam says. "One of the biggest ones was the feeling of excitement you get when you see your name on the side of a truck driving down the street. It's a proud feeling, and it makes you want to carry on the family name. I never gave any thoughts to doing anything else. It wasn't about the money for me and I didn't feel like I had to do it. It was about not letting my family down. I felt like I could take some of the burden off my family when I started. My father wanted to let his hours slide a bit, to slow down some, and I wanted to be able to help him do that."

Adam knows he was fortunate to receive the opportunities he had, particularly to be given significant duties in a business right out of high school. He says that immediate sense of responsibility quickly cultivated a sense of personal investment in the business.

"I came on as an 18-year-old kid working 50 hours a week right off, given a lot of responsibility for my age," he says. "I was given responsibilities that they might not have given a longtime employee. I knew I was lucky. I was handling finances, making business decisions at an extremely young age. I learned at a very young age that each of the decisions I made affected my day, my career and the business as a whole. It was nice not to have to worry about my resume. I could set those worries aside and say if I can help the business continue to do well and grow, then the benefits to me are obvious. I believe that's a big difference from working for somebody else.

"As I got more and more involved, I really understood that the business was my future. It's gotten to the point now where if I didn't have this business I don't know what I would do emotionally."

The company has enjoyed considerable growth over the last decade, says Adam. "We just seem to be adding new employees and new equipment each spring in order to keep up the demand."

The biggest contributor to the company's recently robust health has been the shifting of focus into interstate moving projects. From 1946 to 1991, Booska Movers performed only jobs within Vermont; however, Wheaton Van Lines approached the company in 1991 and initiated an agreement allowing Booska to act as an interstate mover under Wheaton's authority.

The move made a dramatic impact on Booska's business.

"We went from being just a Vermont company to a company that could handle moves across the country and really around the world," Adam says.

Today, 45 percent of Booska's business sales come from interstate moving projects. The growth has been so strong for the company that Booska severed its relationship with Wheaton in November of last year and obtained its own licensing. He says the company still has plenty of room for growth in the interstate moving market.

Booska Movers owns a fleet of 13 trucks, and leases two more to pick up recent growth. Robert Morway, local dispatch supervisor, has been with Booska since 1999.

"Although we have 10 years' experience in interstate moving, we still feel as if we are relatively new in the business," Adam says. "It's an area where you can get a tremendous amount of repeat business, and we're trying to increase our network each year."

The largest portion of Booska's interstate moving business involves travel to Florida. A number of Vermont retirees move to the Sunshine State for their golden years. Others, so-called "snowbirds," migrate to Florida just for the winter months.

Adam's parents, David and Marlene, recently chose to retire to southwest Florida after several years of taking trips to the area. David had spent his early years of retirement "doing what you're supposed to do when you're retired," Adam says.

"He had a lot of hobbies in his garage," including buying and repairing antique furniture. Even in retirement, David had the family business in mind. His expanding connections to antiques dealers, decorators and interior designers led to a lot of new business for Booska Movers. Marlene retired from Adelphia Cable in January 2002 and moved immediately into the position of corporate secretary for Booska Movers.

When the couple moved to Florida, it's hardly a surprise they couldn't settle for a quiet retirement. In January, David and Marlene opened a Naples, Fla., location for Booska Movers along with David Jr.

"They just decided there were too many opportunities down there," Adam says, "and my father felt like he had too much experience and too much knowledge in the moving business to just let it rest."

All three are enjoying the Florida experience, adam reports. David Jr. had been working alongside him in the Burlington office before electing to give Florida a try.

"My brother decided he liked the idea of moving to Florida at the time and giving that part of the country a shot," says Adam. "I know he's enjoying it a lot so far, too."

He acknowledges that at first blush, Burlington, Vt., and Naples, Fla., seem to be an unusual pairing for the only two locations of a business; but with Booska Movers' heavy involvement in the interstate moving business it acts as a natural match.

Interstate moving is not the only reason for Booska Movers' growth. Adam says the economic conditions of the last few years have benefited the moving business.

"Certainly, some small percentage of our work stems from layoffs," he says, "because people are often forced to sell their houses and move somewhere else to work. Any time there's a twist like that in the economy it can actually help us. But the biggest thing is the strength of the housing market. Interest rates being as good as they are, it's led to a lot of shifts in the housing market and that's obviously good for us."

While interstate business has been good for Booska, the company hasn't forgotten its roots. Being independent allows that to happen, says Jim Cote-Wurzler, who heads the company's sales and marketing efforts. "We have between seven and nine trucks that do local moving. If someone wants to move, say, an antique desk they want to ship to their brother on Long Island, we'll do it for a reasonable price. If people have to move desks around, if people call and want to move a piano or a couch, we have the ability to do that," he says.

One bright example of the company's health is its unusually stable work force. Of Booska's 25 employees, 10 have been with the company for at least eight years.

"Based on what I hear from other movers, in this line of work that's pretty much unheard of," says Adam. "Certainly there is some turnover for us, but a lot of it is the result of this business being very seasonal and sometimes they feel that there's not enough hours for them. Having a steady work force is extremely important in this business, as it is in just about any business. It really helps us maintain a level of high service and professionalism.

"The customer recognizes it, too. For our repeat customers, they see the same faces helping them time after time. Sometimes, we'll get a customer who will call us and ask if someone specific is still with us and can help with their move. Often, they are still around."

Ron Wheel is the most prominent of Booska's longtime employees. He joined the business almost 20 years ago as a mover. Today, he acts as Booska's interstate operations manager.

Adam Booska says the company's unusually stable work force is one reason for the firm's health. Rex Bradley (left) has been with Booska since 1987; Walter D. Burbo, since 1996. The professional movers are pictured in the company's 16,000-square-foot warehouse.

"I went to school with the second generation," says Wheel. "They brought me in one weekend to help out, and I never got away." Within a week, Wheel was offered a full-time job as a mover's helper and went from helper to driver pretty quickly. "In about 1990, they had me start doing some estimates, because I had a pretty good feel for how long it took to do moves," he says.

"He's gone through thick and thin with this company," says Adam. "He's had several bosses. Wade Booska was the one who hired him and he knew my grandmother, Connie. He's worked for my father and now for me. He's really an important part of our organization."

Adam was Wheel's helper on the truck years ago, and Wheel says Adam gives him pretty much a free hand "to do what I feel needs to be done. I kind of watched him grow up."

Adam attributes the longevity of many of his employees to an emphasis on the employer-employee relationship something he picked up, of course, from his father.

"If you worked for David Booska, you were not just his employee but his friend, too," Adam says. "It was not unusual for employees to stop by the house, maybe come to dinner. He kept his door open. It certainly adds to one's workload when employees feel like they can come by your office and talk. It's a lot easier the other way, but it's something that's good for your business. I feel as if I've become friends with most of my employees, too. They come over to my house sometimes now."

Adam also inherited his father's willingness to put in long hours. He says he customarily works 12-hour days and always works Saturday. Recently, however, it's become more difficult for him to maintain those hours, since the birth of his daughter, Brooke, three months ago.

"It hasn't changed my work pattern because I haven't been able to figure out how to reduce my hours and keep doing my job," he says. "It's hard to come home, though, and she's already lying there asleep."

Work and family dominate Booska's schedule, but he looks forward to bits of free time Sundays when he can indulge in his penchant for home improvements.

Despite the long hours, he manages to take frequent vacations during the year. Often, the destination is Florida, where even on vacation, Booska Movers often manages to claim some of his time.

"We have some peace-of-mind time," he says, "but I do end up spending a little time hanging around the business with my family, helping out a little."

Originally published in November 2003 Business People-Vermont