Living the American dream of having a comfortable home is predicated on one very important factor: You have to be able to move your belongings to have your dream.
With this in mind, returning World War II veteran L.S. Shoen began the U-Haul Trailer Rental Company in 1945, not only to realize his own dream but also to fill what he saw as a significant void within the moving industry.
Today, U-Haul employs 15,000 people and has more than 90,000 trucks in its fleet and over 100,000 trailers; these vehicles clock daily mileage that equals more than seven trips to the moon and back. With a name that has become synonymous with the industry it services, U-Haul has helped millions get to a place in which a prospect for a better life is only a road trip away.
In 1945, Shoen’s prospects for getting home were not as rosy. He was leaving service with the U.S. Navy and wanted to enter the next chapter in his life; problem was, there was no effective way of getting his possessions from San Diego, Calif., to Ridgefield, Wash. Shoen was, indeed, in the right time with the right problem because at the end of World War II, as thousands of returning GIs began to pick up their lives – which meant, in most cases, moving to a new location – having a mode of reliable transportation was viewed as critical. Identifying his market, once home in Washington, Shoen and his brother-in-law, Hap Carty, began building trailers at the Carty ranch.
But it wasn’t only the hammer and nail that ultimately would make U-Haul a household name. For this, Shoen had to rely heavily on the kindness of strangers. Explains U-Haul Executive Vice President John Taylor: “He told his customers to find a nice location (in most cases a service station) talk to the owner, show him the contract and explain how U-Haul worked,” and in the event that the trailer was re-rented at its new location, the station owner was directed to send the money back to U-Haul, whereupon he would receive a commission check. (This, essentially, is how U-Haul operates to this day, with dealers receiving a commission based on the type and number of times a vehicle or piece of equipment is rented.)
For the most part, it was Shoen’s customers who helped U-Haul build up its incredible network of 14,000 dealers across North America, although, initially, the young entrepreneur was confronted with the occasional unscrupulous renter. For example, at the end of the war with rubber a commodity in hot demand, Shoen found a trailer at the side of the road, minus the tires. But such incidences were few, and the company grew to the point at which it was able to add trucks in 1959, storage facilities in 1974 as well as an array of other services and moving vehicles, from hitches to dollies. Today U-Haul is a finely tuned network that, in Taylor’s opinion, provides its customers with hope for the future. “I think U-Haul offers the optimism of enabling people to move to a place where they will have a better life,” he explains. “If we can help them get to that place of greater opportunity, then we’ll have done our job.”
The road to good fortune
Enabling this pursuit of a better life is the company’s recent investment of 3,000 10-foot trucks to add to its fleet of vehicles; it follows the addition of 2,000 10-foot trucks last summer. “We evaluate the fleet on an ongoing basis,” explains Taylor, “and we had such a great response to the 10-foot truck that we decided to add 3,000 more.” The 10-foot trucks satisfy the market for the do-it-yourselfers who are transporting a small number of possessions or other items.
Taylor explains that one way in which U-Haul distinguishes itself from the competition is in how it builds its truck boxes, with the do-it-yourself mover in mind. Features inherent in a U-Haul truck are its proprietary Lowest Decks, which offer ease of loading. In addition, the company’s loading ramps are the widest in the industry and reduce the time needed to move belongings. U-Haul’s Gentle-Ride suspension ensures that the customer’s most delicate and prized possessions will survive the move in tact. On select 26-foot and 24-foot models, additional Air-Ride Suspension(tm) gives cargo an extra soft ride, using inflatable rubber bladders in place of stiff metal springs. Another key feature of the Air-Ride is that it can be deflated when the vehicle is parked, which lowers the floor for easier loading and unloading. Other details are equally as important; U-Haul has designated the part that hangs over the cab (called “Mom’s Attic”) specifically for fragile items, knowing that the best suspension in the vehicle – and therefore the easiest ride – occurs at the front of the vehicle.
In addition, Taylor says, U-Haul incorporates a special feature that effectively separates the corner of the box from the truck corner, which mitigates having a box or piece of furniture crushed. Every minute detail is analyzed, right down to the installation of white door handles instead of black, which heat up in the sun.
“On both our trucks and trailers we make an effort toward providing equipment that achieves better fuel mileage,” Taylor points out, “this saves the customers money and, in the long run, will keep them returning to us.” U-Haul’s trucks and trailers, he adds, are constantly serviced to ensure that they remain in the best condition. “Once you pick up the truck, from that point forward, it’s our goal to get you to your destination safely,” Taylor says, adding that U-Haul also offers emergency road service.
Don’t forget the boxes
U-Haul’s total package for the do-it-yourself mover doesn’t end with trucks and trailers. The company also offers an array of boxes and moving supplies, and provides a packing planner worksheet to help customers figure out the number and sizes of boxes they’ll need for their move. U-Haul provides specialty boxes for dishes, computers and sensitive electronics; carton-sealing tape, security locks, packing supplies like wrapping paper and cushioning foam, and work gloves to protect hands when moving furniture or other household goods. In addition, U-Haul boxes are specifically sized to make stacking and tiering easier. Most importantly, U-Haul boxes are fresh and new, unlike used boxes that could be soiled or carry unwanted pests.
The best part of U-Haul’s box program is the company’s 100 percent buy back guarantee for boxes that the customer doesn’t use. “This service has been a real plus for us and the customer,” Taylor says, because sturdy and reliable boxes are, of course, items in high demand during a move.
But some customers may need help in moving those boxes, as well as items such as stoves, dryers and dressers. This is why U-Haul provides a utility dolly, which has a lightweight design and is easy to maneuver. It features a loop handle that allows the dolly to be maneuvered with only one hand and large, soft tires that go over bumps easily and will not mar walls, like most standard rubber tires. Skids built into the frame allow this dolly to slide up and down stairs.
U-Haul’s other moving helpers include a four-wheel dolly, providing a large, flat surface that is perfect for moving large dressers, wall units, pianos/organs and freezers. The height of this dolly provides the leverage needed to easily move refrigerators, freezers and washers.
“Utility and furniture dollies are some of the best items we provide,” remarks Taylor. These dollies roll right up to the trailer or truck’s ramp, which Taylor stresses is a much easier method for loading with furniture. ‘The competition uses lift gates – these can be dangerous, especially when there’s children around. It’s easier to roll the dolly right up the ramp – that’s why we have ramps on our vehicles,” he explains.
What about the car?
If you’re renting a truck or trailer, chances are you’ll need a way to get the car to its new home. U-Haul is also the only moving company that allows customers car-to-car towing.
The company has three towing options available to meet budgets and towing requirements; these include:
• auto transport, in which all four wheels of the towed vehicle are off the ground, ideal for long distance moves;
n Tow Dolly, in which the front wheels of the towed vehicle are off the ground; a low-cost choice for front-wheel drive cars, and
• motorcycle trailer, which is specially designed for towing big bikes, and more cost-effective than buying and storing a trailer.
To enable the storage of items on a car’s roof, U-Haul offers a special Roof Pouch(r) that easily attaches to a vehicle’s roof rack, explains Taylor. “We once offered a car top carrier that had a railing,” he adds, “but cars changed and the rails were eliminated and a new method of moving items on top of the vehicle had to be developed. Even people with SUVs need extra space, especially when on vacation.”
Doubling vehicle cargo space, the Roof Pouch measures 11 cubic feet and is made of super-tough vinyl-coated material; it is weatherproof, with welded seams, and will not scratch a vehicle’s finish. In addition, the Roof Pouch is a cost-effective way to move goods; it can be rented for only $5 a day or $19.95 a week.
In the area of trailers, U-Haul provides state-of-the-art trailers that are 25 percent easier to tow, more aerodynamic, 33 percent more fuel efficient, and are designed for an improved ride. What’s more, all U-Hail trailers have padded rub rails, a Low Deck and can carry a queen-sized bed.
If customers want to save time and delivery charges on furniture, or need some extra room for camping equipment that just won’t fit into their personal vehicle, a U-Haul trailer perfectly suits their needs.
Home-improvement projects are also made easier with a U-Haul trailer. For example, do-it-yourselfers can’t fit much sheetrock or plywood paneling inside their car. And lumber for framing may be too long for short-bed trucks. A U-Haul open trailer, however, is the perfect solution. When it comes to hauling rebuilt engines, taking along extras on a family road trip or bringing home trees and fertilizer for the nursery, garden or yard, a U-Haul trailer has many practical applications.
For the thousands of college students throughout the United States and Canada who have moving needs, renting a U-Haul trailer can be the perfect fit, offering convenience and economy. There are no mileage fees to pay, no extra fuel charges and best of all, they enable the students to drive to school in their own vehicle.
“It’s amazing the number of uses for these systems,” Taylor comments in referring to U-Haul’s hitching and towing systems, which can tow anything from bicycles, skis and motorcycles to boats, campers and horse trailers. He recalled a customer who drove a Ferrari and wanted to tow his Jet Ski but didn’t want the hitch to be seen when the Jet Ski wasn’t attached to the car; U-Haul offered its stealth hitch, which, as the name implies, is nearly invisible when the vehicle is not in tow.
U-Haul has become the world’s largest seller and installer of hitches and towing systems. Its hitches, ball mounts, balls, 5th wheels, goosenecks and all of its towing products undergo stringent testing requirements, surpassing what is required by SAE and V-5.
New products in its line of hitching systems include the U-Haul Round Tube Hitch, which was designed to fit today’s rounder more aerodynamic vehicles.
U-Haul is so convinced about its hitches being the best you can buy, that its offers customers a Lifetime “Unlimited” Warranty with every installation. This is the only warranty of its kind. With this warranty customers are covered for any damage to the hitch including rust, collision, jackknife, accidental overload and even theft of vehicle, for as long as you own that vehicle. Only U-Haul offers this “Peace of Mind” coverage.
Moving and storage
U-Haul added self-storage to its line of moving services in 1974; the company now is arguably the second or third largest in North America, with over 340,000 rooms of storage, equal to 33 million square feet.
“Self-storage was seen as a natural outgrowth of the moving industry,” Taylor explains, adding that U-Haul makes this feature especially attractive because it offers one-way truck and trailer customers free storage for a month, before or after their move. In addition, U-Haul enables customers to make a self-storage reservation online at uhaul.com or by calling 1-800-GO-UHAUL, which means they can leave New Jersey and have a storage room reserved for them when they arrive in, say, California. “It’s all about providing a needed service to the customer,” Taylor adds. U-Haul maintains more than 1,000 nationwide locations.
Amenities offered by the company in its storage locations include several levels of security in order to protect belongings 24 hours a day. These systems can range from electronic gates to individually alarmed rooms. U-Haul also offers climate controlled storage rooms (at certain locations) to provide protection to heat-sensitive goods such as videotapes, albums, photographs and precious wood furniture.
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Rounding out U-Haul’s vast array of services are its carpet cleaning and propane rental areas; each were implemented as a result of customer demand and have served both U-Haul and the public well.
Says Taylor, carpet cleaning was viewed as a natural extension of the moving business; whether homeowners or renters, people often are required to leave a clean carpet when they move. The cost is $19.95 plus the cost of cleaning material.
U-Haul uses machines produced by Thermax that provide a thorough steam cleaning via hot water mixed with detergent. Machines are lightweight and small enough to fit in most cars. The system will remove dirt, grime, odors and allergens quickly and comes with a hand wand that can be used for furniture, vehicle interiors, corners and stairs.
Propane seemed another area in which U-Haul could further service its customers who wanted an easy, convenient way to buy propane, mostly for outdoor grills, Taylor explains. U-Haul now has more than 1,367 owned and managed locations through the U.S. and Canada. Over 800 of these locations offer propane and have allowed U-Haul to become the largest retail propane distributor, offering seven-days-a-week convenience.
“We employ trained, certified personnel to refill all propane cylinders, and our network of propane dispensing locations across the continental U.S. is the largest alternative refueling network in North America,” he explains.
It is just another facet of a company that has earned its place as an icon, of sorts, furthering the culture of the do-it-yourselfer while offering a spectrum of services; whether you want to fire up the grill or move your belongings, U-Haul is there to ease the strain.
It is a philosophy central to the vision of company Chairman and President Edward “Joe” Shoen, a person Taylor describes as integral in moving the company forward. “He is always striving to understand what the customer wants,” Taylor notes, adding that this now enables U-Haul to embark on a new century of helping families realize their dreams in a new location. Still true to its original mission, the self-mover will continue to be at the core of what made the U-Haul name famous, and as long as there is hope for a new future, there will be a U-Haul vehicle or service waiting in the wings to make that dream reality.