As they like it

Jul 06 | 2015

Steve Jordan dropped in to meet Ingrams of Bishop Auckland and the two brothers who run it, Malcolm and Ian Ingram. It’s not your average moving company, but it’s the way they like it.

It was amid the narrow residential streets of a windswept Bishop Auckland that I came across a gathering of moving trucks painted in the instantly recognisable Ingrams livery.  The low rise warehouse is in a 120-year old bus garage with the office built into the corner.  But appearances are deceptive.  This is no struggling hand-to-mouth business.  It’s successful and, importantly, does things its own way.

When I called to make the appointment Ian Ingram warned me that he was eccentric.  He said that it was a ‘moving company unlike any I had seen before’.  That was a big claim.  Having been in the business for 40+ years I have seen a few.  But, I see what he means. The business is a bit unusual.

One of Ian’s little distractions is, for example, collecting model removal trucks.  Now this is far from odd or unique but he did have rather a lot.  Containers full in fact.  Although the company has advanced computer systems to run the business Ian prefers paper: but that seems fine to me.  Ian is also uncompromising.  He likes some people in the industry very much, and others not at all.  He comes from a time when, he said, movers were “rivals, but friendly rivals.” 

Now he thinks much of that camaraderie has evaporated.  He runs an honourable business and doesn’t take kindly to some competitors trying to score points against others.  “Now there’s no friendly anymore,” he said.

The business was started by Ian and Malcolm’s father, William Edward Ingram in the 1950s.  He bought second-hand cardboard cartons, turned them inside out and sold them to the local traders as new but used.  Because he had a van people asked him to do removals.  “So removals picked us,” said Ian. 

He and Malcolm keep themselves to themselves.  Ian sometimes goes to BAR meetings locally but doesn’t enjoy them much.  “People talk about you behind your back,” he said.  He has never been to a BAR conference and says he would rather be “laid out on a mortuary slab than go”.  It seems a bit extreme but neither of the guys are much into small talk.  Despite wearing the BAR badge proudly on the breast of his uniform jumper, Ian seemed pretty disillusioned with the whole trade association thing. He recently complained to BAR about a member that owned him money but the Association said it couldn’t help. On another occasion BAR Services said they had never heard of Ingrams even though Ian buys boxes at a time. As a lifetime member of BAR he felt that wasn’t right. Instead he works with the people he likes and lets the rest get on with it.

Ingrams has a loyal workforce, many of whom have been with the company for decades.  Although the company is successful it’s seen some difficult times.  In the past much of the business was commercial and Ingrams held contracts with many local government departments and health authorities.  But then cuts came and every contract had to be tendered for.  “We ticked all the boxes but one,” said Ian.  “Price.  We were too expensive.”

Now some companies would have been tempted to cut charges to buy the business, but not Ingrams.  “We have been around here for a very long time,” he said. “Everyone knows us.  When the commercial work went away we stopped saying no to domestic removals.  Now that’s mainly what we do again.”

The company does what it does well and sticks to it.  The warehouse is low rise but full to the eaves. They have even cut storage boxes down to fit under the eaves to make the best use of the space.  By comparison with some warehouses I have seen, it all looks a little cramped.  But I have no doubt that it works. 

Ian is proud to serve the rich and famous but is far too discrete to divulge who they might be.  He said that it includes Royalty, personalities and the wealthy local population.  He has also had the ‘pleasure’ of moving some of the area’s more nefarious characters over the years, including gangsters.  “Do they pay?” I asked.  “All but one paid,” said Ian. 

"But he’s dead now so he got his comeuppance.”  It’s all in a day’s work for Ingrams.   

The company does not do European work after a truck was stuck in customs for hours some years ago and Ian decided it was not for him.  He doesn’t believe in self storage because he says you can’t control who comes in or what they bring.  Nor does he do overseas work either except for a little export packing from time to time.  But Ingrams has diversified.  As well as the warehouse in Bishop Auckland he has a double out-of-town unit containing 8,000 sq ft of document storage.  He has done document storage since the early 1990s and was probably one of the first moving companies in the business to recognise it as a good idea.

Ian Ingram was right when he said he was eccentric.  He is, but I have met a few eccentric people in the moving business over the years and he is no weirder than many of them.  But he is unusual.  He and Malcolm run a family business in their own way.  They do what they want, charge what they feel is fair, take care of their staff, look after their customers, work with people they like, don’t have anything to do with fools and haven’t tried to be masters of everything. I like that. Maybe it’s not a classic business model, but it works, and I am delighted that it does.

Photos: Ian Ingram

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