Thou Shalt Not Covet..
If you've noticed an error in this article please click here to report it so we can fix it.
By Arthur R. Wilson, M.I.R.T.E.
REMOVERS may perhaps be forgiven if they were lulled into complacency by the exclusion of ordinary furniture removals from the scope of nationalization, and by the granting of permits at least on a scale which allowed them to carry on business without serious interference. Many, however, overlooked the fact that, from the outset, a large removal concern was to fall into the hands of the State, through the financial holdings of the railways. So the stage was quietly set for a mass assault on excluded traffics. The Road Haulage Executive is now looking with longing eyes on the furniture removers, whose business appears to be attractive.
Wholesale nationalization of the removal trade is unlikely for several reasons. Generally, apart from one or two isolated instances, the only removal concerns so far to have been acquired have been small businesses in which the removal work was only a sideline and no great amount of goodwill attached to that part of their activities.
Goodwill Means Satisfaction
Thus, the removal goodwill which has accrued so far to the R.H.E., from sources other than Pickfords, is infinitesimal. Goodwill in the removal trade, probably more than in any other business, lies not in the profit and loss account, but in the satisfied customer--the housewife. Women talk, and, naturally, a housewife who is dissatisfied tells her relatives, friends and neighbours of the treatment that she has received. Together with her husband and family, her goods and chattels are her life, and without registering any complaint, she may remember for years some trivial incident—trivial, that is, to the remover, but not to her, at the time. The die is cast, and several potential customers may be lost for all time to the remover concerned.
If the removal trade becomes wholly nationalized, where wiil the housewife take her complaints, or what will she advise her neighbours to do? The answer 'appears to be the ballot box. History shows that women have wrecked dynasties and governments before to-day. They are no less capable of effective action to-day than in the past.
An Act of Bad Faith ?
The R.H.E. is obviously keenly aware of the existence of goodwill in the removal trade. Where concerns taken over had any pretensions to removal business, they are continuing to work tinder their old nameswithout any allusion to nationalization. In doing so, are they not leaving themselves open to a charge of misrepresentation, or an act of bad faith?
A customer can go to half-a-dozen free-enterprise removers and receive possibly half,a-dozen different estimates. Likewise she can go to, say, three supposedly different concerns, also probably getting three widely different prices, but without knowing that all the undertakings are State-owned.
This knowledge will, however, gradually percolate to the public and there are signs that it is beginning to do so. Often, the first question is now not, "What is your price?" but, "Ace you nationalized?" Admittedly, this approach is of recent origin, and at the moment is only a symptom, but if the trend develops, political feeling may play a much greater part in the removal trade than B6 ever it has done in haulage. In that event, the monopoly of long-distance removals for which the R.H.E. is striving, will be as far distant as ever.
The revocation of permits will prevent removers from carrying new furniture from manufacturers in various parts of the country, but chiefly in London and High Wycombe, to shops and warehouses. This traffic was carried as return loads for many years before any of the State-owned concerns became interested in it. Many furniture manufacturers are small and have cramped premises with inadequate dispatch departments. Any delay in the collection of the finished product causes congestion in the dispatch departments and slows down, or may even temporarily stop, production.
Shops Keep Stocks Low Shops and warehouses, particularly in country towns, do not, for many reasons, carry heavy stocks, so that nearly every sale to the public brings a repeat order to the manufacturer. No doubt it is simple to send a van to a factory, load 12 or 14 suites of furniture; and deliver them to perhaps six shops in one town. It is, however, a different story when the load consists of 102 pieces, to be delivered to 36 different shops in 16 widely separated towns, during which a small, percentage of rejects may have to be accepted.
A furniture manufacturer's only interest in the subject lies in the clearance of his floor space. Therefore, in the cause of planned economy, he will have to be organized and all members of the public will have to be educated to buy in one town at one time. Probably the outcome of the revocation of permits for the transport of furniture will be another large increase in the number of C licences, wherever conditions justify the full use of a vehicle, and the R.H.E. will be left to handle the difficult small loads.
Will They Seek Acquisition ?
The Executive's attitude on the question of permits suggests that the recent history of the road haulage industry is to be repeated. The R.H.E. might expect the larger concerns which have had their permits revoked to seek acquisition. These units would form the basis of groups into which the smaller men could be dragged at the Executive's convenience.
The remover is, however, in a far better position than the haulier, because in addition to ordinary furniture removals, he usually conducts a storage business and has other sidelines. It is highly probable that none of the removers will seek to be wholly acquired, but will claim compensation for the loss of the traffic formerly carried and hand over the surplus vehicles and thus continue business in a modified form. In this way, the R.H.E. will acquire a large number of removal vans, but no breath of goodwill and not an additional potential customer.
Sir Hartley Shawcross, the Attorney-General, speaking in the House of Commons on the Sunday opening of the Festival of Britain, is reported as saying: " All religious history shows how undue enforcement by secular law of the views of a particular faith has in the end brought that faith down." That quotation is entirely appropriate to the Transport Act, but how odd it sounds coming from a member of a party which bulldozed the Act through Parliament—and how very prophetic.