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Introducing the new BAR

Jul 14, 2017
Steve Jordan talks to Ian Studd, Director General of BAR, two years into his appointment, to find out how he’s getting on building a new BAR to meet today’s unique and rapidly changing challenges.

 

It’s been two years since Ian Studd took over as the director general of the British Association of Removers (BAR).  In that time he’s taken significant strides to shake off the Association’s somewhat closed image in favour of a much more open, inclusive and conciliatory style.  Although he admits that there is still work to be done, the BAR is now beginning to look much more towards its members than it has done throughout its long and proud history. 

Ian said that when he took over the job in 2015 there were no great surprises.  He had, after all, served a two-year term as the Association’s president and had been a key member of the Commercial Moving Group (CMG), one of BAR’s specialist groups.  But he said he was still a bit surprised that the politics was somewhat more deep-seated than he expected and the way the organisation managed data was a little disjointed.  

“I have made a conscious effort to change the way we work at the headquarters in Watford,” he explained.  “We have now redesigned our operating system to make sure we have one file for each member containing all relevant information. It’s just the same as keeping client records in a commercial business. What’s more, every member of staff has access to those records. It improves our use and interpretation of data and makes our response time better.”  

And as for the politics?  Ian’s not too bothered about that. He dismisses it as “mainly just personalities”.  

Changing the image 

It’s fair to say that BAR is not universally liked in the industry. Some say it’s an old boys’ club run for the benefit of the few at the expense of the many (thank you Mr Corbyn).  “I think we have gone a long way to dispel that view as the organisation is managed far more openly than in the past, and with the rotation system we have now on councils and the Board, there is a change of some personnel every year.”  Board members are chosen by the functional groups and there are three directors elected directly by the membership.  “This means that the Board is democratically elected and it changes every year,” said Ian.  The rather inward-looking style of the old committees is now largely gone with councillors focussing more directly on what BAR can do for its members.  

Return on investment 

Most complaints about BAR are related to return on investment.  People need to know that their membership is of value to them.  Ian admits that BAR doesn’t always tick all the boxes but, for most members, especially those who are prepared to take an active role in BAR and make best use of the benefits and services offered, he thinks they do pretty well.   

But communication is always a problem.  “It remains one of our biggest challenges,” he said.  “We send out a lot of information to help members secure business but there are still occasions when we struggle to get our messages out.”  Ian is a great fan of the Area meetings, which he says are struggling for attendance. “I think that’s a shame because there is no substitute for sitting around a table and having a meaningful conversation with people and sharing experiences.” Similarly, Ian makes every effort to get out and meet as many of the members as possible.  If someone is unhappy with BAR, he prefers to visit them rather than call or e-mail. ”We are usually able to have an adult conversation and work things out in a way that suits us both.” 

Inspections and quality 

All BAR members are inspected by the Association’s team of inspectors every year.  That said, there is little inspection of the workmanship of the packers, it’s more an inspection of the administrative processes and the facilities.  But Ian said that they do perform drive-by inspections, especially when they have been alerted to a potential problem.  BAR also uses technology to monitor performance, taking time to look at testimonials from customers about members’ performance.   

Ian also believes that membership criteria need to be reviewed every five years or so to take account of market and technology changes. Not long ago, for example, the membership voted against having a Standards-based membership, but Ian thinks it might soon be time to look at it again.  “With hindsight, that campaign was slightly flawed,” he said.  “It was a reasonable question to ask at the time but the outcome caused that conversation to be put on the back burner for a number of years.  The question was raised at the conference in Cardiff.  I think we are getting closer, just over 55% of member businesses have at least one quality standard, I think that needs to be over 60% before we have the conversation again, and if we do, the way we pose the question has to be very different this time.  We need to focus more on what the marketing opportunities might be and what are the benefits to the members in helping them to differentiate themselves.” 

Advance Payment Guarantee 

Standards-based membership would, certainly, give BAR members the differentiation they crave over non-members.  But recently BAR has introduced an Advance Payment Guarantee for all its members which Ian says is unique worldwide.  The BAR’s Overseas Group has provided an advance payment guarantee to customers since the 1970s through International Movers Mutual Insurance (IMMI) but this is the first time it’s been expanded to cover all private residential removals and storage contracts concluded in the United Kingdom covering domestic UK, UK/Europe/UK and overseas moves.   

All BAR members operate to a Code of Practice which requires them to return money to provide this facility “but risk of failure for inland work has, up until now, sat on the BAR’s balance sheet since the Code’s introduction as we have a moral and legal obligation to deal with the fallout” said Ian. “We wanted to create a scheme that was simple to administer and implement and not cost prohibitive.  If it was too expensive or complicated the members would not buy into it. The scheme we have created is exactly that. We have created a brand for this and we see it as a very clear differentiator between what we stand for as an association and the level of security that engaging with a member of this association provides to the consumer.”   

BAR has created a new business to manage the scheme and hold the funds in trust with BAR as a corporate trustee. This allows BAR to gather the funds and provide administrative support. But the BAR has one vote, not a casting vote, and the other trustees (six in all) have one vote.  The Board of Trustees will properly consider any claim that might come against it.  The fund went on risk on 1 July, 2017 with IMMI coming off risk at the same time. 

The IMMI guarantee (for overseas moving) was considered by many to be expensive and complicated and, according to Ian, was a potential barrier to new members.  It has been, however, the BAR Overseas Group’s USP for 40 years so now the Group needs to look for a new differentiator.  “The Overseas Group has been very supportive,” said Ian. 

Dispute resolution 

BAR has recently changed its process for resolving disputes between members and customers. The old arbitration scheme came in for a lot of criticism and was not viewed as being truly independent as is now required by consumer regulations.  

The new service has been outsourced to The Property Ombudsman that provides a similar service to the National Association of Estate Agents (NAEA). The scheme requires the member to resolve the problem with the customer within eight weeks of being notified.  If unable to do so the matter is referred to the Ombudsman for ‘Early Resolution’ at a cost of £250 to the member. If there is still no resolution the case is then referred for a ‘Full case Review’ with the Ombudsman, at a cost of a further £100 to the member. The Ombudsman will then arrive at a firm conclusion that the member and the customer must accept.  In accordance with the consumer landscape legislation, there is no cost to the customer. 

The new scheme is not universally loved by the members either.  Some resent having to pay to resolve something they feel is not their fault.  “I absolutely understand that there are some claims that go through that are potentially vexatious,” said Ian, “but I hope we have been in this business long enough to recognise them.”  It’s also likely that members will be keen to resolve issues at an early stage and avoid the costs involved, especially for relatively minor claims.  “In 2014-15 we averaged 40-45 referrals per month to arbitration,” said Ian.  “In 2015 we had 105 in the whole year; a significant reduction.” 

Regional training centres 

“We’ve gone back to the future on training,” said Ian, recognising that the new arrangements are very close to what had been available 30 years ago.  Through surveys and consultations with members on what they felt that the BAR should be doing more of, it was providing better and more accessible training solutions that came out top every time in the list of services required from BAR.     

Previously most of the training was held in Watford but this was costly and inaccessible for members. So there are now 11 operational Regional Training Centres, all offering a consistent approach to operator training in an easily accessible and affordable way. Ian said that he had a very open discussion with the centres about charges and what the rates should be to do the job properly.  BAR adds an administration fee to cover the booking and certification expenses.  “The challenge now is to get members to use the training centres,” said Ian.  BAR also has three apprenticeship schemes available as a result of being heavily involved in the Trail Blazer initiative, and has engaged with an apprenticeship agency to help members wade through the minefield of bureaucracy and funding.  

All the courses are currently operational but Ian is aware that BAR also needs to provide sector-specific administrative and management courses.  He acknowledges that the FIDI Academy might be able to help and that there are some member businesses that provide this service already.  He is also, amongst others, talking to the Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport (CILT) and West Herts College to see what they can do to help with this initiative.  “Watford still has a role to play, especially in management, administration and sales-based training,” said Ian.  “It’s very much on our radar.” 

Overseas members 

BAR has been losing affiliate members overseas for many years.  There was a time when the BAR conference was a cauldron of international trade, but that has waned somewhat over the last 15 years.  Ian is working hard to try to halt and reverse that trend, with some success. “The level of international attendance at conference has increased year on year recently,” he said. “However, we still don’t have massive numbers from outside the UK.”  Ian is keen to re-assess the value proposition for overseas affiliates but acknowledges that with all the other events around the world every year, and the ease of communication, it’s not easy. “But the networking opportunity is still important.  If our overseas attendees were not benefiting, they wouldn’t come.” 

BAR’s relationship with other groups 

BAR is by far the oldest (founded in 1900) and the only properly constituted trade association in the UK industry.  Ian believes that this means BAR should take a lead and set the example.  He is though, very happy to engage with other membership organisations when it’s mutually beneficial.  “Whether we agree with the thought process and output of other representatives of our industry is almost an irrelevance.  We ought to have dialogue.  We don’t have to agree but why not share ideas, it doesn’t harm us in my view. There are over 4,000 moving businesses in the UK, they won’t all become members of BAR, so it’s nice to think that there are other organisations that can have some degree of influence over what they do.”   

The future for BAR 

Asked about BAR’s relevance to future generations, Ian is confident that the industry’s oldest membership group will still have a role to play well into the future.  “We have a duty of care as an association to explore how and where our members can integrate technological advancement into their businesses,” he said.  “But I don’t know of any technology that can replace the men and the trucks.  Moving is a very personal service and we still need to provide regulation on how that is delivered.” 

Although he accepts that people will continue to source suppliers more online, he does not believe it’s right to expect them to become experts in the subject.  “We can’t expect customers to understand the industry the way that we do,” he said. “They might think they know as much as us, but that’s bound to end in conflict. We will always have a role, even if only for conflict resolution. I sincerely hope it doesn’t get that far.” 

Ian has brought BAR a long way in the last two years and the process us continuing.  But he’s not complacent.  He strongly believes that BAR needs to continue to evolve its services, keep them relevant to members’ needs and provide opportunities to help members develop their businesses.   “There is a value in the BAR brand but I am under no illusion that when markets are tough members will look at their costs and if they don’t think there is a return on investment, they will leave,” he said.  “It’s our job to make sure we always provide value for money.”


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