A moving experience

Helping seniors downsize boosts business for A-1 Moving and Storage

Posted on Nov 1, 2016 :: Cover Story
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Through her years running a moving company, Jean Long Manteufel found herself arriving at the homes of elderly clients and realizing the kind of help they needed went far beyond a simple moving estimate.

They might be standing in a sea of unsorted stuff. Sometimes they were at a loss for how to find a painter or a handyman. Their adult children would give contradictory advice about whether to move at all — resulting in family strife and tears.

Often, they were overwhelmed. So Long Manteufel (rhymes with “Santa fell,” she jokes) would help in any way she could.

Those who know her say her approach to business is much like her approach to community work — as a quiet instigator who figures out where the needs are and leads the way to fill them.

“I’ve always been more of a helping-people-through-the-process person, giving direction and guidance,” says Long Manteufel, CEO and majority owner of A-1 Moving and Storage, Appleton. “Working with seniors, I was giving them guidance and laying out a plan and then following up. The goal is generally to quit fretting about things that don’t matter, to have Mom and Dad somewhere safe and happy and the kids still sticking together.”

Since 1999, when she assumed the leadership role of the company started by her parents 56 years ago, Long Manteufel came to realize the need to help her elderly clients was an important part of her business.

Then about 10 years ago, she read an article about a new niche market in her industry: Senior Move Management. Soon after, she went to the headquarters of the National Association of Senior Move Managers in Jacksonville, Fla., and became a certified Relocation and Transitions Specialist, a certification held by just a few in Wisconsin.

“It’s what I do professionally, and the certification gives it more authenticity,” she says.

One recent fall morning, Long Manteufel helped Boldt Company Chairman O.C. Boldt and his wife Pat sort and pack a lifetime of belongings from their Appleton home for a move to a nearby senior apartment. Both in their 90s, the couple were grateful for her help.

“If it’s possible to take the anxiety out of a move, she can do it,” said O.C., whose national construction firm has also used Long Manteufel for employee relocations.

“I was certainly thinking about the fact that this is probably the last move we would make,” Pat added. “My concern is we are moving into a much smaller space. She was very helpful at getting rid of stuff. I’m not a ‘stuff lover,’ but I like to surround myself with nice things and she has been able to find a place for things to go or to give away.

“The line I always remember from her is, ‘Whenever there is indecision, just let Jean do it.’ She is really considerate and concerned,” and, she added with a smile, “she doesn’t boss me around.”

Now, Long’s Senior Transitions accounts for a third of the business at A-1 Moving and Storage, with another third in corporate relocations and another, residential moves. Though still a small company, it has seen profits increase 20 percent in the past nine years.

The company has what it takes to offer a unique service to seniors, says Andy Kroll, vice president and general manager of North American Van Lines, the national agent used by A-1 Moving.

“Very few movers are able to offer that level of service,” Kroll says. “Jean has become such an expert with senior relocations that she has participated in training other North American Van Lines agents who are interested in growing their services for seniors with special needs.”

A mover … and shaker

The niche also gives Long Manteufel a way to feed her insatiable appetite for helping others.

“I get to do something that calls to my heart without having it hurt my business,” she says. “That’s why I really love that part of it. I like volunteering —  I’m an addict. Now this gives me a chance to do it and not be taking away from my company.”

To say she’s a volunteer is an understatement, community leaders say.

“She’s an unsung hero,” says Debra Michiels, owner of Fox Banquets Rivertyme Catering, Appleton. “Besides running a great business, she just does what she knows is right and has to be done.”

Positioning herself precisely where she could make a difference is what Long Manteufel has done since grade school, when she wanted to be a crossing guard, when she questioned why girls could not be altar boys at church or have paper routes (she subbed for her brother) and attended meetings of the Boy Scouts.

Immediately after the U.S. Supreme Court in 1987 ordered Rotary — and thus all other men’s clubs — to let women become members, she joined the Jaycees as well as Kiwanis club. Sometimes, she was among two or three women with 200 men in the room.

“I’d hear, ‘We don’t like women in our club,” and I would be like, ‘That’s nice, pass the butter.’ There were 10 years of constantly being pushed that you weren’t wanted. I just thought, ‘Well, I’m here!’” For 28 years now, she has had perfect attendance with Kiwanis.

“I have always had an issue with any group that would exclude me,” Long Manteufel says. “If they excluded me, I wanted to be there.”

If they doubted her, she proved them wrong.

“You can’t just open a warehouse!” one skeptic declared when she proposed a plan to find furniture for the relocation of 315 Hmong refugees in the Fox Cities in 2004. But she did.

When she saw what a hit Quarry Quest was for families, she quietly organized an invitation-only preview night for children with disabilities, which delighted kids and their families until the event ran its course.

This month, she will receive the 2016 Athena Leadership Award from the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce & Industry, presented in communities nationwide to individuals who exemplify professional excellence, community service and for actively assisting women in their attainment of professional excellence and leadership skills.

Growing up in the business

Long Manteufel says her grandmother, Alice Long, set an example for her. The family’s first moving business was started by her grandfather, Harry H. Long, who in 1917 was the first in Wisconsin to own and operate a moving van. When he died in 1948, Alice took over the business, Harry H. Long Moving. (She ran that company until she died in 1990 and an extended family member took it over; it specializes in shipping intermodal containers.)

“Grandma ran the company and ran it well with an iron fist,” Long Manteufel recalls. “She did anything any man did in the business, and she did it well. I guess we always grew up admiring her for her strengths.”

“We” includes her five sisters and two brothers. When their parents, Jerry and Gladie Long, purchased an Appleton moving business called A-1 Cartage in 1960 (and later changed the name to A-1 Moving), everyone pitched in to help as needed.

Long Manteufel attended UW-Fox Valley after high school and moved to Green Bay. After marrying and starting a family she began working for a moving company there. Soon, she was questioning the way the company operated.

“I would call my dad and say, ‘Is this the way you do things?’ and he would say, ‘No.’” She asked if she could take a job in sales with A-1 and did that in 1987, while taking classes at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. In 1989 she received a bachelor’s of business administration degree in human resource management from UW-GB.

Ten years later, Jean and her brother Gary bought the company from their parents. (Although semi-retired since 1999, Jerry kept an office at the company until two years ago.) Jean bought out her brother Gary in 2006.

Today her son Michael, 35, is director of operations, has taken on part ownership of the company and is preparing to one day take the helm as successor. (Her husband, Randy Manteufel, is a truck driver for Schneider National.)

Long Manteufel has held leadership positions in the traditionally male-dominated moving industry by serving as president and on the board of directors of the Fox Valley Traffic Club, as well as the Wisconsin Movers Association.

A-1 Moving & Storage has received the “4 Star Quality” Award from North American Van Lines for the past eight years. Long Manteufel is proud to maintain the company culture established by her parents.

“My dad always said that moving is a really challenging time for people — there is so much going on in their life. To him, all that mattered was the customer.”

When you consider the greatest stressors in life, they often involve a move, she adds. It’s a given that when people call a mover, they’re already stressed.

“It may be a new job and move, a new house and move, the death of a spouse and a move, divorce and a move, loss of a business and a move. So it really means that you have to be thoughtful and helpful.”

Helping seniors — a unique niche

Working with seniors is a niche that complements the rest of her business in many ways, Long Manteufel says. They typically don’t want to leave their long-time homes in the summer, the most popular moving time for families with children. They don’t generally need to move at the end of the month to coincide with a closing or lease.

The niche also gives her an edge in a competitive industry. The other licensed movers in the area are much larger companies, and the non-licensed skirt the rules and regulations, since they don’t register with the state.

“There are a lot of random people that just get a truck and put their name on it — which is half the movers,” Long Manteufel says. “You are required to be regulated, but they don’t put any teeth in it. They don’t understand liability insurance, skills, safety. There are a lot of folks who want to do cash deals, but then if somebody turns their ankle or something happens, you can put the homeowner at risk.”

For the past seven years she has written a monthly column, “Transitions,” for the Appleton Post-Crescent, about life changes associated with aging.  In 2015, she published a collection of her columns in a book, “Transitions:  Stories of how to help Mom and Dad with their stuff.” It’s available on Amazon, Kindle or her website.

Gretchen Whitcomb, 85, who recently hired Long’s Senior Transitions to help her move into a retirement home half the size of her former home, says she remembered reading Long Manteufel’s newspaper column and decided to hire her. She owned a collection of brass sculptures and other items from India; Long Manteufel helped her decide which to give to family members and which to sell at an estate sale, which she also helped arrange by hiring professionals.

“She did not pressure me at all,” Whitcomb says. “She was very kind and she knew what she was doing. I couldn’t have done it without her help.”

It’s a people business, says Long Manteufel, and it helps to have a good team working for her.

“We’re really blessed to have such nice people working here, because it makes working fun, which makes things go smoothly and keeps customers happy.

“I love my job,” she adds. “When the phone rings you never know what it’s going to be.”

About Margaret LeBrun

Co-Publisher, Executive Editor View all posts by Margaret LeBrun →