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From moving antiques to moving prime ministers

Aug 14, 2017
Deputy Editor David Jordan takes a trip to West London to find out how Stephen Morris went from being an antiques dealer to running one of London’s most respected moving companies.

This was the second time I’d visited Stephen Morris Ltd. The first had been on a cold November day in 2010 to report on the opening of the company’s smart new premises in West London and the cutting of the ribbon by Cherie Blair.  

Security is tight on the Greenford Park estate, there are cameras everywhere. Everyone entering must stop at the barrier and state their business to the uniformed guard before being granted entry.  As I stepped out of the car into the 30-degree July heat the guard greeted me with a broad smile of pearly-white teeth and directed me to 9 Ockham Drive.  

Stephen met me in reception and we climbed the stairs to his office on the first floor.  On the landing, we passed a large display cabinet full of brightly coloured Coca-Cola bottles. “That’s my other business,” said Stephen … I was to discover more later. 

We sat outside Stephen’s office on a comfy sofa overlooked by large portraits of Tony and Cherie Blair.  Stephen famously moved the Blair family out of number 10 in 2007 and he and his wife Heather, who looks after the company’s finances, have remained friends with the couple ever since.  

Stephen started his business career as a London antiques dealer in the late sixties. “I had two shops in Highbury and sold a lot of furniture to clients In Europe,” said Stephen.  I really enjoyed the travelling and soon realised I was making more money from delivering the goods than selling them.  One day after delivering a consignment to a dealer in Paris I overheard a conversation between two people looking for someone to take furniture back to England; so I offered them my services.  That was how I got started in the moving business.” 

“One of my first jobs was to ship an old armoured personnel carrier to an arms dealer in Vancouver.  He also dealt in antiques and became one of our biggest clients.”  Many more unusual shipments were to follow, including a fountain for the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas and a huge metal processing plant for an overseas car breaker. But it was antiques that Stephen really enjoyed handling and that was to become the company’s core business. 

Today, about 60% of Stephen’s work is in the antiques and fine art sector with the rest made up of household moves, storage and hotel installations. 

“We have a very close relationship with the antiques trade, in fact Sotheby’s London warehouse is just across the road,” said Stephen. “We also go to most of the antiques fairs in the UK and several in Europe, it’s a great way to meet people in the trade and we pick up a lot of work. But we do things a little differently from our competitors in that most of our antiques delivery business is done directly with the customer. From that initial contact we’ve gained the trust of a lot of our high-end clients who later contact us when they want to move.” 

Stephen believes that trust and confidentiality are the cornerstones of his business, especially when dealing with wealthy clients and former prime ministers – Gordon Brown and David Cameron were customers too.  “Over the years we’ve moved hundreds of important clients including government ministers, pop stars and even royalty.  We know where they live and everything they have in their homes, so integrity and trust is essential. They don’t just want a moving company that can move their things safely, they want people who will keep their mouths shut as well!” 

Needless to say, most of the company’s business comes from recommendations from existing customers. The Blair move for example came from a recommendation by one of the couple’s employees that Stephen had moved to London from America a year or so earlier. 

Stephen Morris Ltd has particularly strong associations with Malta and Israel, which are now its most popular destinations. The company is the largest consolidator of household goods from the UK to Israel and it also runs a weekly groupage service to Malta and Gozo. 

With so many valuable antiques and works of art being shipped around the world, packing is taken very seriously, with cases being expertly made on site to protect fragile items on the most arduous journeys. Many items are protected by cases made from tri-wall fibreboard and fittings cut from polystyrene or Ethafoam for extra protection. 

Later, Stephen showed me around the warehouse where I saw first-hand how carefully everything was prepared for shipment by the packers. Sculptured figurines, pictures and even a ¼ scale Sopwith Pup aircraft complete with forward-facing machineguns were being prepared for their journeys. I also spotted more of those mysterious Coke bottles – thousands of them, on the mezzanine floor above. 

There is no doubt that Stephen Morris is one of London’s premier moving companies with a client list that closely resembles Who’s Who. Clients like that don’t come easily and they certainly don’t recommend companies to their friends without good reason. They clearly get things right. 

But what about all those Coca-Cola bottles? 

Well, believe it or not there are people all over the world who collect Coke bottles, and Stephen has built up a nice little business trading in them. Coke is the world’s biggest brand and every country produces its own bottle styles and special editions. Some are rare and quite valuable. Stephen’s first purchase was a quantity of special editions made to commemorate Charles and Diana’s wedding in 1981.  He made a tidy profit selling them on to collectors and it all came from there.   

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