Customers angry about inaccurate estimates

Software tailored to the moving industry

Accurate estimates, streamlined management, better marketing information

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Until several months ago employees of Ron Shalem's small moving company spent almost as much time pushing paper as they did moving furniture. From quoting estimates to calculating sales commissions, every function of the Baltimore-based Orly Moving Systems Inc. was done with paper and pencil. Estimates were usually nothing more than guesses. And because most of the salespeople hadn't been in the moving business for long, the guesses were often way off -- infuriating customers already stressed by moving.

After a crazy summer of misplacing files, leaving customers waiting for movers who never showed up, and dealing with customers whose bills turned out to be much higher than what they'd been quoted, Shalem realized it was time to get organized. No more paper. No more guesstimates. He talked to colleagues and decided to buy a software system specially designed for the moving industry, SoftMove Moving System, from SoftMove Corp., in Brookline, Mass. (617-739-0380, price varies by module and number of users, with an average ranging from $700 to $3,000 per user). Now Orly's quotes are practically 100% accurate.

"The only thing I knew about computers," Shalem says, "was how to move them." Now he runs an almost paperless operation. When calls come in, sales representatives open up the software program, and it prompts them through a set of rigorous questions. They never forget anymore to ask about such details as whether the building has an elevator, the number of stairs, and how many boxes are to be moved. The software makes up for lack of industry experience and calculates accurate estimates in seconds. The result: no more surprised and furious customers when a job is done.

Shalem's investment -- about $18,000 for three PCs with Pentium processors and the software -- was large for a company with $500,000 in sales, he knows. But he wanted something his company could grow into. He's also begun to use the program to calculate commissions and salaries for his 20 employees and to track referrals, eliminating the hours he used to spend making sense of handwritten notes from staffers.

His employees are more relaxed and self-confident, Shalem says, and that reassures customers. "I can't believe how we used to do things," he says. But he still hasn't figured out how to avoid climbing those stairs.

-- Sarah Schafer