The Alpha male
Housemover and salesman Chris Ellis’ star is riding high right now in both New Zealand and the United States. BY GAVIN RILEY
An unprecedented amount of work in New Zealand has not prevented Lower Hutt housemover Chris Ellis from visiting the United States to pursue sales of Kiwi-made hydraulic trailers and jacks.
American housemovers were bowled over by the efficiency of the equipment used by Ellis and business partner Murray Russell when their Alpha Specialised Movers company spent 12 months carrying out Hurricane Katrina relief work in Louisiana.
So when Ellis and the Alpha team returned to New Zealand in the middle of last year, Ellis had already decided to revisit the US in late January this year to demonstrate the equipment’s capabiltities in conjunction with the Texas Structural Movers’ four-day annual convention in Dallas.
Ellis is hopeful that giving working displays at a Dallas housemover’s yard of two hydraulic trailers, manufactured by TRT of Hamilton, and 50 hydraulic jacks, made by Manawatu Hydraulics, will add to the US sales he has achieved in the recent past.
“We sold some more house jacks and we hope to confirm another order for a trailer,” Ellis told Contractor in mid-February after his return home.
“We’re also in discussion with two other housemovers regarding two more trailers and we’ve got orders coming for more house jacks. So we’re as optimistic as we can be that we’re going to get something out of this.
“We’ve sold five trailers and about 145 house jacks in America to date. That’s not bad, considering we’ve only been selling over there for the past 18 months.
“It’s a huge investment for them. We’re working hard on it and we’ll just see how we go.”
Ellis said a new generation was emerging in US housemoving and was introducing new thinking.
“There’s a huge number of people in the industry that are second and third generation. Many of the second generation are getting up in the high end of 50-something and don’t have much use for a computer. But the younger guys, the third generation, are a lot better informed about the world because they’re computer-savvy. They can see a lot of merit in these housemoving tools that are made in New Zealand.
“In the next five years there’s going to be a real increase in younger guys in the industry. Because of that we’re going to see some real changes. You’re going to see people wanting to change the style of how they jack buildings and the equipment they use to move them.”
Ellis’s sales forays in the US are being helped by his knowledge and experience of the housemoving industry in an area that embraces Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona and California.
His wife Sheila is the daughter of a retired Californian housemover; Ellis himself worked in California in the early 1990s; he received an international award in San Diego in 1999 for Alpha’s shift of a ten-metre-tall hotel across the Wairarapa; and in 2004 and again in 2006-07 he worked alongside Louisiana housemover Warren Davie. Together Davie and Ellis’s Alpha team won an industry award for moving a 325-tonne school gymnasium.
“A lot of these people I’ve known now for going on 18 years. I’ve certainly got some good contacts, friends and mates there,” Ellis said.
Although his recent US trip was undertaken with the aim of selling equipment, Ellis couldn’t resist travelling to Alabama to help a friend shift a few buildings and take part in an educational workshop to demonstrate the safe operation of the friend’s Kiwi trailer.
Ellis will use a visit to Conexpo in Las Vegas in mid-March to have talks with housemoving contacts regarding further work opportunties and possible equipment sales.
The US federal government is about to release contracts for the moving of up to 5000 pre-built houses throughout the southern basin Ellis knows so well – “and with that comes the opportunity for these trailers to really move those buildings at speed. We’re really hopeful something’s going to come out of that for us. Three or four housemovers who didn’t come to the Dallas convention but turned up in Alabama are already very interested in the trailers”.
In addition, Ellis and his company have received three “very pleasant” offers to work in the US, and he has been invited by Warren Davie to project manage a three-week job in Louisiana – moving a large house that is protected by a heritage order.
Ellis said he didn’t see distance as a bar to taking up such offers. “It’s not a huge way to go – it’s only an extra day’s travelling. And given the size of the project it’s not a huge amount of money for the [extra] travel.”
Meanwhile, he said Alpha Specialised Movers was being “absolutely smothered” with work in New Zealand.
“I’ve never known there to be such a plentiful array of good work. And we don’t have to tout for it either.”
Through its attributes the company was recently awarded preferred-contractor status by the Ministry of Education for relocating school buildings in the greater Wellington area, including the Kapiti Coast and Wairarapa.
“We’ve worked so long with a huge number of developers, engineers and architects that we’ve got at least five months work ahead of us at the moment, maybe more,” Ellis said.
“It’s a very thankful and lucky position to be in. It’s taken us a few years to obtain, but not only have we got the work but at prices worth doing it for.
“We’ve finally got good prices for doing good work.”
Contractor Vol.32 No.2 March 2008
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