It's moving time
Summertime brings a high volume of relocation to and from the CZ
With only a few weeks to go until the end of school and the beginning of summer holidays, it's the time of the year that brings a high volume of moves both into and out of the Czech Republic. While his friends may be planning their summer holidays at the sea, Ewen Extier, the General Manager of AGS worldwide movers for the Czech Republic is gearing up for his company's heaviest working season. With thoughts of vacation far from his mind, Ewen is more likely calculating the best rate of transport by sea for his clients.
In order to learn more about the minutiae that are involved with international relocation, I meet Ewen at his office near the AGS warehouse in Prague, located in an industrial area of Jarov, not too far from the city's center. As we enter the 700 m² warehouse facility for a tour, Honza, one of the team leaders is sweeping the already spotless floor. Ewen shows me some packing boxes: a medium-size book box, larger kitchen boxes and a tall stand-up wardrobe box with a coat hanger apparatus so that clothes can be packed and later unpacked directly from the box. There is even a children's box with coloring pictures on the outside. Before items are put into boxes, they are wrapped against breakage in a thick paper made in America, which according to Ewen is expensive, but superior to standard bubble wrap.
Long-term storage units line the walls on the left side of the warehouse. Near the entrance, there is a forklift for bringing boxes up to the height of the transport vehicle. In the back, wooden crates are custom built to protect furniture or pieces of art. Outside the warehouse, there is a recycling station for used boxes and paper. The warehouse is empty this morning with everyone already out on location, but I can imagine it has a lively atmosphere on a busy summer morning.
Ewen's company does the bulk of its moving operations from May through September. “We could have 15 moves in one day during the month of June,” he tells me. This time of year is popular for diplomatic communities and corporate moves because the school year is finishing for children, and people want to get their families or their businesses packed up and subsequently resettled in their new locations, hopefully in time to squeeze in a late summer holiday.
Although the volume of their moves speaks to the company's success (AGS in the Czech Republic does on average 800-900 moves per year), Ewen tells me that it is, in fact, his company's attention to detail and precision that has earned them positive referrals in tight-knit embassy circles and among other international expat communities in the Czech Republic. “It's very easy to get a bad reputation in the moving business, and very difficult to keep a good one.” A well-executed move from start to finish is like a finely-tuned Swiss clock, he claims.
AGS Prague is a branch of a French parent company that has 129 locations in 82 different countries. Ewen himself is a French national who first came to Prague years ago by chance when the Erasmus (EU university student international exchange) program he had registered for relocated him to the Czech Republic. He describes the moving process from the perspective of a professional, and with the passion of someone who cares whether each piece of his client's fine china is packaged well enough to withstand an international sea journey without breakage. His appreciation for the Czech Republic and its people is apparent when he speaks about his team of movers.
Before starting his tenure as the General Manager of AGS, Ewen worked for the French Embassy in Prague, perhaps good preparation for his current position. Moving diplomats and their families is an exercise in diplomacy itself. Different nationalities and cultures have different expectations from their movers, Ewen tells me. Behavior that may be appropriate in one culture can be considered rude in another. AGS offers ongoing training courses for their movers where they are trained to handle both the physical requirements of the moving jobs as well as the diplomatic processes. In some cultures, it is inappropriate for the movers to use the client's bathroom facilities, while in other cultures accepting a tip is considered unprofessional.
Even under the smoothest of circumstances, it can be emotional and stressful having someone foreign in your home, looking through all your personal belongings and wrapping them up in boxes. AGS provides special boxes for children to pack their own things in, as well as coloring books and small toys. “When the children are pleasantly occupied,” Ewen says, “then the parents can relax and focus on communicating with the movers.” The company also gives nicknames to their Czech moving staff, usually ones that are easier for non-Czech speaking foreigners to pronounce. When the atmosphere is more personal, it's easier for the clients to feel that their belongings are in safe hands. “Oh, and we train our movers to smile,” Ewen says.
It might seem like a given, but in a country that is known for its impersonal customer service being greeted by a smiling mover is exceptional. “Our Czech employees are precise and careful. They work hard and don't complain at work. Sometimes other AGS branches call me to see if we have Czech movers to send to jobs in France or Germany, especially during the busy season,” Ewen says.
AGS in Prague has a multilingual support staff who provide assistance in English as well as languages including Czech, French, German, Russian and Japanese. With clients from so many different nationalities, speaking a variety of languages comes in handy. I asked Ewen if he sees a difference in the types of items people of different nationalities move. He noted that while each move is unique, he has observed some trends. For example, more Koreans and Japanese move pianos and fine European china, while Americans move expensive cars.
At the end of the tour, Ewen shows me a piano that's packaged in a custom-made crate and ready to send overseas. He seems as comfortable giving a tour of the warehouse as he does going over moving calculations in his office. When I tell Ewen that two families in my friend circle in Prague will move internationally this summer, Ewen replies, only half-joking, that likely I have friends who've used AGS's services already. I assure him that when I ever get ready to relocate, I'll know who to call.
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