Moving is always a challenge, if not a trial. After 50 years in Norwell Center, Geoff Gordon, the second generation owner of the A. Gordon Insurance Agency, had to make the difficult decision to move out of the office that had housed his family’s agency since its inception, in order to allow his agency to grow and expand.
Six months on, Mr. Gordon has had time to reflect upon his experiences and has graciously share his own personal checklists with Agency Checklists on what other Massachusetts agents should consider before making a similar move.
The experience of moving doesn’t come with a checklist; you have to figure it out as you go. We managed to do some things right; we missed a couple items that we should have thought of, but, the overall result was probably as good as it could have been. –Geoff Gordon.
1. Plan, Plan, Plan and then Plan some more
I can’t emphasize how important the selection of partners is to the success of any move. There are many variables to relocating a business, important items that demand time and energy combined with the issues and work surrounding the daily operation of your agency; so it’s vital to have good advice along the way. I am fortunate to be involved in two strong networking groups, Network 128, from which I drew our real estate attorney, a cost segregation expert, a cleaning service, and commercial banker; and B2B Connexions from which I drew our residential banker, business attorney and most importantly, my personal coach who kept me focused… and detached when needed.
Depending on what type of move you are planning to make, whether renting a space, building-out a space or even simply expanding your agency’s space, never underestimate the lead time one should have for planning out your move. In our case, we had met with a space planner to help us design workflow, lighting, colors and many other factors. A. Gordon’s office manager, Kasey, coordinated and organized this deliberation for us. She engaged and surveyed everyone in our office for input on workflows and personal needs then convened a small group of four to organize and conceive a plan. Overall, this process took about 4 weeks, and gave us a good starting point for build-out plans once the building was ours.
2. Technology Will Be One of Your Highest Priorities…
Our customer management system is cloud based, meaning it can work anywhere with an internet connection, but nowhere without one, so ensuring a robust and dependable internet pipeline is critical. In our old space, we had been using FIOS through Verizon, but were told by Verizon that it would not be available at the new building on Route 53.
After a review of T1 and T3 and cable options, we chose Comcast, selecting a speed comparable to our previous FIOS speed. We liked that Comcast offers different levels of speed, making any initial decision changeable. We also have a load sharing / backup system where Comcast shares the connection with the lower speed Verizon DSL; if either connection fails, the other will keep us connected, albeit at a slower pace. We had had a similar setup with Comcast as the lower class connection in our previous office.
3. Upgrade While You’re At It…
We decided to scrap our previous Nortel phone system and take advantage of Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system. The integration of voice and data is a new and complicated landscape, so open communication between your IT team and phone team is critical. One particular challenge of this analysis was the terminology. It is difficult understanding the impact on cost and benefits of all the variables when you don’t even know what certain variables mean. Ultimately, however, we selected General Communications as reseller of Allworx, based mostly on the attentiveness and use of plain English by their salesman Craig. The system works well and we know there are options we haven’t taken advantage of yet.
We also had the data lines connected by Verizon, the DSL and fax line (we dropped all other phone lines) and Comcast (converted our phone lines and primary data) roughly ten days prior to the move so our IT partners PC Resources could test the lines with time to spare for the inevitable problems we wouldn’t know until they hit us. As we also knew that Verizon would release our voice lines only during normal business hours (Monday – Friday, 9-5), we had to plan to have a skeleton staff stay in our old office the first morning after moving until the lines ported over.
4. The Benefits of Building-Out a Space
In our case, we bought the building we were moving our agency into. Once we owned the building, we were eager to start build-outs and begin the whole moving-in process. We had interviewed and selected local commercial builder, Callahan Hoffman, and gave them an ambitious time frame from early January 2012 to late February 2012 for their work. Even with a fairly detailed plan, however, there are many on-site decisions and changes that can happen in any building project, so in the end, we spent more time on location than we expected. Having been through the process, I would suggest to anyone considering a build-out to plan on more time and daily visits to your work-site, if your expectations are as aggressive as ours. Ultimately, Callahan Hoffman organized the contractors incredibly well. We all have a new respect for the intricacies of building mechanics, and the trades in general.
5. Let Everyone Know Where You’re Going
This seems elementary, but I can’t overstate the importance of starting early to inform your customers of your upcoming move. It will give them time to adjust to the change and avoid a lot of unnecessary problems. In our case, once we owned the building, we began a campaign to notifying everyone, customers, vendors, the mailmen, everyone we could. We provided press releases to complement (and enhance) the realtors’ press notices, posted our move on our website and mailed two separate notices to our customers and prospect list. In addition, as our old space in Norwell Center continues to be unoccupied, we posted tow large signs in the windows with our new address and a map made to redirect people to our new address. Here’s a one of our mailers…..
6. Making The Actual Move
We planned the agency’s move for the Washington Birthday long weekend to allow some additional time for IT or other surprises. Since most of our ‘inventory’ is information, the IT move was the single most important part of the move. Other than the technology items, other things we actually had to move consisted mostly of office supplies. In our case, we asked each employee to be responsible for moving items from their own workstations (except PCs).
7. Make Sure to Welcome Everyone to Your Agency’s New Home
We planned an Open House for a month after our move-in date. Suffice to say, we were all immensely proud of our new space and glad to show it off.
8. Mistakes Will Happen:
Mistakes are inevitable. It is how you respond to them that will determine the level of success of your move. In our case, we had not made plans with National Grid (electric) and Commonwealth Gas for establishing accounts for the new space, so on the day of our closing on the new building, both the electricity and gas were immediately turned off. Because our closing was in late December, this was a major oversight. Fortunately the weather was not as cold as January can be, so we didn’t suffer and frozen pipes or other serious damage. But it did make for chilly space during the early build-out (demolition) phase and was a major personal distraction in the first part of the year. Neither company was particularly interested in our plight, nor did they share our urgency, but this is characteristic of monopolistic services absent relationships, and we should have known better. Fortunately, Chip Perfetuo at Perfetuo Electric had the problem-solving skills and a relationships with folks at the electric company to be able to fast track a resolution.
Overall, extensive planning and selection of competent partners made the difference in making our move to new space efficient, with as little stress as possible. We had underestimated the time commitment, but that was manageable through the period of preparation and move. Keeping everybody involved updated on progress and expectations helped keep the team together, and the end result is better workspace.
For us, the greatest victory came on Friday afternoon at about 6 PM.
We closed our Norwell Center office at 3:00PM, which was coordinated with our network engineers to shut down (and move) our primary server. As they shut down, packed, and prepared to move the server, all Gordon employees did the same with their PCs, including myself. With all the tasks I had been attending to during our move preparation, I was the least ‘prepared’ to move my own office; I had let that slide, knowing I’d have a three day weekend to do that. One other employee (Bill) and I took four or five PCs (including monitors, etc.) over to 306 Washington while the rest of the employees packed their personal items. Bill set up machines in established workspaces; and I hooked up my own. At 6PM, I had connected my computer, turned it on, and was able to access all my work, including email and cloud based customer management system. If all else failed, I knew we could all handle customer calls on Tuesday morning. With the cloud of uncertainty gone, the rest was just filling in the blanks. It was time for a little celebration with the whole team.