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The original Maxi Mover - low floor 3.5T Luton van sales

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Keeping it in the family

Aug 14, 2018
Deputy Editor David Jordan takes a trip down the M1 to Luton to visit Stephens Removals, one of Bedfordshire’s oldest family run moving companies.

For many in the UK, a trip to Luton marks the beginning of a holiday in the sun or perhaps a quick hop across the Channel for a business meeting. In 2017 around 16 million passengers passed through London Luton Airport, which is currently undergoing a £160 million upgrade in a bid to attract even more travellers. On this occasion I left the motorway at J11, one exit north of the newly upgraded airport spur and headed for Wingate Road, the home of Stephens Removals.

Russell and Danielle

Stephens is not hard to find.  A vintage removals truck painted in the company livery sits on the roof of the building and is a well-known landmark in the area.

I was met at reception by Danielle Curl (nee Edwards) who is now joint managing director with her brother Russell. It was their grandparents, Peter and Marjorie Edwards who started the business back in 1960.

“The company was named after my father - their eldest son,” said Danielle. “They worked very hard and were determined to make the business a success.” At that time Luton was growing quickly, mainly because of the then thriving Vauxhall factory and the expanding workforce.

By 1965 the company had three vehicles and moved into residential premises on Linden Road where the garage was converted into an office, the back garden into a small furniture warehouse and yard for the vehicles. Eventually fitting in ‘just one more consignment’ became impossible and in 1986 the company purchased its present site on Wingate Road which boasts an impressive 26,000 sq. ft Warehouse.

Peter and Marjorie retired in the 1990s, leaving their two sons Stephen and Philip to continue developing the business. Indeed the business grew from strength to strength, now boasting a fleet of 13 and a workforce of 45 people. Danielle and Russell took the reigns in 2015 leaving Stephen and Philip to take a well-earned back seat.

“We’re keen to make sure all of our staff do things the Stephens way, we have always put customer service at the top of our agenda and strongly believe a happy workforce will help achieve this,” said Danielle. “We don’t use agency or part-time staff, everyone here has a proper job; we don’t believe in the ‘gig’ economy.

Indeed over half of the workforce have been here for more than 15 years – with two of the guys having just achieved their 35-year service awards!”

“Similarly, our two surveyors, who incidentally are father and son, were once out on the road doing removals. We feel that their experience gained from actually doing moves stands them in good stead to sell our services, provide invaluable tips to potential customers and also assess the job capacity accurately,”said Danielle.

Most of Stephens’ work is in and around the Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire area, but also includes daily trips into London. “We tend to move families in the medium to high end of the market, so we don’t get too much competition from the van and man operators,” said Danielle. “As BAR members our standards are high and our customers don’t expect our prices to be rock bottom.  If we’re in competition with another BAR member that quotes a much lower price we’ll look at it again, but we won’t drop our prices to match companies who are working to a lower standard.”

The quality of Stephens’ work is borne out by some of their clientele, which over the years have included Bob Monkhouse, Brian Connelly, the Royal Household and even the Antiques Roadshow.

“Over half of our business comes from customer recommendations and repeat business which we’re very proud of,” said Danielle.

“One of the milestone events in the company’s history was acquiring the Bishop’s Move franchise for Luton in the late 1990s. The work from Bishop’s has helped us expand further into the London and overseas market and we’re very proud to be part of this nationally recognised brand.”

I was later introduced to other members of the team including joint MD Russell and also Emma Knowles, the operations manager who has been with the Company for over 20 years. Not surprisingly, on a mid-summer day, all the company’s vehicles and crew were out on the road, so I wasn’t able to meet them. However, as the ladies in the office posed self-consciously for their pictures I got the impression that this was a happy place to work, which is probably why many of the staff have spent almost all their working lives there. Despite the ever-advancing march of big business and corporate takeovers, it’s good to know that there is still a place for private endeavour and the traditional family business.  Something with which our industry is thankfully blessed.

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