What Is Man With A Van (Find Out What Makes Them)

Relocation can be a moving experience. In recent years, the traditional removal companies have encountered opposition from small independent contractors – offering their services on a more flexible basis. For many customers, these new entrants are an alluring but unknown entity.

Man With A Van refers to a category of independent operators who offer their services as operators of a generally mid-sized removal van. They operate independently or under the management of agencies and are generally cheaper and more flexible than traditional removal companies.

We’ll lift the hood on the operation, seeing how it works, where it started, and how to muscle in.

The Nature Of Man With A Van

Man With A Van operations are perceived as single-owner-driven piece-work operations. This is true in many but not all instances.

1. The Man

The operator (some outfits are women-owned and operated) of the van is not always the sole employee. Typically there is an assistant or three, hired either casually or permanently to assist with the workload.

There is not necessarily one driver, as partnerships are common. Operations that scale may also hire administrative staff. This is especially common in mom-and-pop-type outfits.

Operators with local knowledge and customer-savvy have an edge. Many operators are attracted by the low prior-experience requirement. This is a manageable risk factor, though, as the entrant may underestimate the breadth and slope of the learning curve.

2. The Van

Not all operations own their vans, and rental is a common practice. Some of the plusses of this arrangement are:

  • Start-up costs are defrayed.
  • Different types of vans can be hired, depending on the task at hand.
  • Well maintained, professionally valeted vehicles can be rented for professional engagements.

As with operators, even when the vehicles are owned, there is not necessarily a single van. This is especially handy for operations with scale and multiple drivers.

3. The Services

There’s no defined limit to the services offered. Whatever demand can be serviced by a van is featured to the extent that demand can be identified. Popular services are:

  • House Clearance: The popularity of the Konmari Method has created great interest in decluttering. Van services can offer to remove domestic excess. An added income stream (overcharging for the removal) is to sell the junk online.
  • Removals: The main consumer application is the removal of household items during moving. Value-added services like providing boxes prior to packing, and co-managing (with the mover) an asset register, give the van man an edge.
  • Trash Removal: General and garden refuse are competitive services that attract operators with hardy vehicles. These vehicles cannot be reused for other services, though, as they are generally not presentable.
  • Courier: Here, commercial customers are targeted to move packages. Knowledge of customers with standing requirements is useful.
  • Towing: Vans are able to tow other cars, and some operators offer this service. Bigger vans can also do motorbike transport, as there is little dedicated infrastructure for delivering bikes to their clients.
  • Food Delivery: Eat-in is a growing business, and van operators do offer last-mile delivery for restaurants and grocers who don’t want the expense of maintaining their own fleet.
  • Food Van: Vans can be customized to serve as pop-up food vendors, serving lunches and coffee during office breaks. This creates space for after-hours deployment (and revenue) selling meals at crowd events or areas with high nightlife
  • Advertising: The large surface area and constant motion of a van make it a sought-after platform for advertising. This creates a labour-free additional revenue stream and is suitable for operators who:
    • Traverse densely trafficked areas like city centres and highways.
    • Can demonstrate a high rate of activity.
    • Have presentable vehicles.

Finding the target offer price for these services is key. Entrants should conduct market research by calling rivals or by contacting similar operations outside of their area.

4. The Customers

Customers for van ops are consumers of the services listed above. They can be further segmented by income group and industry type. Targeting niche industries gives van operators an edge if they can pitch specialist services.

Further segmentation into repeat and once-off customers is critical, with operators preferring repeat customers. Apart from the recurring revenue, they provide an opportunity for specialization as there are more iterations over which to adapt to their needs.

The Origins Of Man With A Van

Michael Cummins registered the name Man With a Van to start an antique moving business in Sydney in 1992. He opted instead to trade under the name Man And His Van, and eleven years later, fellow Aussie Tim Bishop founded a similar company called (coincidentally) Man With A Van.

The maturity of the Internet – absent in Cummins’s early years – saw Bishop’s company explode in popularity. With that came a slew of copycats, leaving the founders hundreds of thousands of dollars out of pocket in copyright suits.

The imitation spread globally – to South Africa, the USA, and the UK. Today it is regarded as a generic term for a type of small-operator van business, rather than the name of a specific operation (which in various parts of the world it also happens to be).

Finding A Man With A Van

Locating a van op is increasingly easy. Some pointers:

  • Google is your go-to source. Failure to set up a basic web page red flags the chance that the operator won’t rise to the basic level of administration required by an operator.
  • Word of mouth has a place in looking through the operator’s promotional material. If you’re a business, reach out to a rival who’s fulfilled a similar requirement and get their feedback.
  • There’s an increasing number of Man and Van apps. These have features like geolocation, automated booking, rate auctions, and community rating.

Being A Man With A Van

This business is attractive to entrepreneurial individuals who crave the freedom to structure a schedule and have the capacity to work hard. The risks attached to the job include theft, spoilage, contract default (from clients), and road accident. Van operations are insurable against some of these risks.

How Profitable Is The Man With A Van Model

Tim Bishop’s operation has a multimillion-dollar annual turnover. Some operators battle to make minimum wage. Factors impacting profitability include:

  • Competition: The services listed above have varying barriers to entry. Lower-barrier services (like waste removal) attract more competitors willing to undercut.
  • Market Segment: Large corporates will pay a higher hourly rate than lower-income home movers. This is especially so for contract work, where rates are not subject to continued renegotiation.
  • Scale: This business model does not scale well. The more work you get, the more fuel, labour, and vehicle maintenance costs you sustain. You also cannot stretch the hours in the day or manage down gridlock.
  • Volume: For the reason listed immediately above, van operations require a large volume of transactions. This requires planning and proactive engagement with return clients.
  • Diversification: Offering a range of services increases the possibility of ramping up the volume.

Conclusion

With a flexible set of services, locally knowledgeable agents, and increasingly reliable vetting mechanisms, Man With a Van operations are here to stay. It is advisable to learn about operations in your area so that you’re suitably informed when you need them.

For the best man with a van service in town, we at Transport Executive will be happy to provide.

 

References

  • https://www.simplybusiness.co.uk/knowledge/articles/2021/08/how-to-start-a-man-and-van-business/
  • https://www.smartcompany.com.au/business-advice/intellectual-property/rip-off-merchants-why-man-with-a-van-s-tim-bishop-has-spent-more-than-100-000-battling-copycat-companies/
  • https://goodmenproject.com/business-ethics-2/how-to-start-a-man-with-a-van-business/
  • https://www.theguardian.com/money/2021/aug/01/cost-of-moving-home-rises-as-uk-removals-firms-put-up-prices
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About The Author
Anthony King

I'm Anthony King, founder and CEO of Transport Executive. I've spent the last 5 years writing, taking care of my dogs, and enjoying life as it should be. I'm also a beer enthusiast by trade and a wine connoisseur. You can learn more about me and the company here.