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October 15, 2017 | Tom Ballard

PART 1: Culture of “extraordinary customer experience” defines Chattanooga’s Bellhops

Bellhops(EDITOR’S NOTE: Today marks the official beginning of “Startup Week Chattanooga,” and what better way to celebrate the city’s entrepreneurial ecosystem than with a spotlight on one of its most successful recent starts. This is the first article in a two-part series focused on Knoxville native Cameron Doody who co-founded Bellhops shortly after graduating from Auburn University.)

By Tom Ballard, Chief Alliance Officer, PYA

You don’t have to spend much time with Bellhops Co-Founder, Chair and President Cameron Doody to learn that he is driven by three words – “extraordinary customer experience.”

The fast-growing Chattanooga start-up, which was launched in Birmingham by Doody and Stephen Vlahos in 2011, now offers full-service moving in 25 cities. The duo met at Auburn University and originally named their company Dorm Movers.

“It was a scary time in my life,” Doody said of the start-up’s launch. Using a ladder to create a visual image of the challenge, he explained that he had just finished climbing two four-year ladders – completing high school and now college – and was at the bottom of a 40-year career ladder.

What did the future hold?

“I quickly learned I wanted to control my own destiny,” Doody told us during a recent interview at Bellhops’ offices in Chattanooga’s iconic Warehouse Row. “Our idea was to help students move into Auburn dorms during a three-day period in the fall. We expected to help 30 people; it turned-out to be 300.”

The initial idea was to start something they could do as a side business, but that quickly changed.

With the greater than expected demand, the Co-Founders decided they had a unique opportunity, added eight more colleges in 2012 and changed the name to Campus Bellhops. They subsequently further streamlined the name as the company broadened its focus to full-service moving.

“We might have become the world’s foremost leaders in moving kids into dorms,” Doody said of those early years. “We realized there was something special about this workforce; they were customer service-focused.”

Just how important that differentiator was became evident as Bellhops started receiving and accepting moving requests from non-students and heard repeatedly from those customers how friendly and engaging the college student workers were. What started out as a highly focused service now had an almost unlimited set of possibilities.

“The market began telling us it wanted a sophisticated moving experience,” Doody said. “We had a technology platform and a distributed workforce. Instead of just loading other people’s vehicles, what about adding our own trucks?”

Deciding to expand its focus, Bellhops quickly became a top 50 customer of a national truck rental company, but the fact that it rented and paid for the trucks centrally rather than providing each driver a credit card proved to be an operational impediment.

“We suspended that focus and doubled down on the customer-focused side,” Doody explained. “Technology has allowed us to launch an entirely new model in moving.”

As one might imagine, he’s reluctant to reveal too many details about the secret sauce, but a few things are obvious – technology enables an online booking experience completed in two minutes or less, provides efficiencies that keep its rates about 20 percent below competitors, and enables Bellhops to train and monitor employee performance.

Doody underscores the importance of systems in place to recruit new employees, train them properly, ensure their indoctrination into the corporate culture and brand, and continually monitor their performance.

“We’re a completely new breed of moving company,” he says. “There’s something really special about moving with Bellhops. We believe we will win by building a brand and an experience.”

NEXT: The importance of culture to a start-up and other lessons Doody has learned.

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