Senior News: Linda, tell me why your company is changing its name from Premiere Senior Moving Services, Inc. to Crowning Touch?
Linda Balentine: Well, after being in business for four years, we fulfilled our business plan of establishing franchise operations. We are now franchising and could not go into all the other cities with the name Premiere because there are too many out there. In choosing another name, we wanted to pick a name that represented the height of our effort. So we selected Crowning Touch, because we feel we provide the Crowning Touch. By the time we get done, a signature mint is on the pillow. The people’s entire new home has been set up – the kitchen, the bathrooms, the clothes in the closet, the knick-knacks out, the china closet set up. Everything is done.
Senior News: That leads to my next question, which is tell me about Crowning Touch’s service.
Linda Balentine: We do services that nobody else in the United States does. Services that no other moving company has, at this point and time, ever thought to offer. The first thing we do is have family members call our toll-free number and ask us to help with family members who are making a decision to move. So at the very first stages we get involved. A family member will call and ask us to help a senior family member find a home.
Senior News: I know that you do more than just move the couch from one location to another. Tell us about that.
Linda Balentine: The next step, after we decide to get on board with the move, is to help them decide what to take and not to take – because most seniors are downsizing. We go in and do a complete floor plan for them. I’ll measure everything on their wish list. They don’t have to decide what will fit and what won’t fit. We do that for them. We give them a guarantee. Measure everything in their house. Then we go to their new home and measure that. We take into consideration things that are not on a floor plan that is handed to you by a realtor. We measure the windowsill height, which way the door swings, measure the closet space available and the cabinet space in the kitchen. We determine where the air intake is and exactly which walls to put furniture against and how high the light fixtures are and where the cable hook-up is. And then, we put it together in a computer program so that we can render two or three different working versions of a floor plan. And it shows them what works. They can come to my office or I go to them. Then we review what they can take. We guarantee placement. That’s the time that they can make the substitutions. Then they know with sureness what to send to family, what to sell or give away. We put numbers on the furniture to correspond to the floor plan then they don’t even have to be there on moving day. A lot of our clients come at the end of the day and their apartment is already put together.
Senior News: It sounds like a totally unique service.
Linda Balentine: It is. It’s very, very unique. We have also added another service this year. Crowning Touch Estate Shoppe. That’s where we buy all of the things that they are not going to use. In other words, they’ve got leftover pieces – they’re not sending them to family, they don’t want to put them in storage. We do offer storage. But I’ll go and give them a price for everything that’s left. Including all the things that in the end I may give to Salvation Army. But included in that price is the cleaning of the residence so that it is ready for the realtor to walk through.
Senior News: Fantastic. Tell me about your plan with franchising the business.
Linda Balentine: We’ve established a benchmark of service here in Roanoke. There is such a need for that service. Our intuitions have been confirmed by the fact that we grew 40% last year, we put 20% to the bottom line after taxes and yet all our clients believe they have been fairly charged for the services rendered. We get testimonials every day from clients assessing our service for them. There hasn’t been anybody who doesn’t believe that we provide an excellent service at an excellent price. So we thought this needs to be cloned. If it’s valuable to the citizens of Roanoke, it will be valuable to the citizens of Richmond, Charlotte and New York City. We’re trying to be a one-stop shop. To take all the worry out of it. They make one call and they’ve got somebody basically standing in as family to get the job done. They can really trust the entire course of the move. We have seen people trying to handle aspects of the move on their own. We show up to move stuff in and they forgot to have the electricity turned on so we were operating in the dark. Trying to move stuff with flashlights.
Senior News: You do everything like that?
Linda Balentine: Yes. We synchronize the disconnections and connections. Moving is very, very stressful. A lot of our clients have been in their homes 40 years. And so, they just aren’t used to following up on a lot of the details that need to be done. And they have a lot of things going on in their life. Some have a sick family member and that’s why they are moving. Or they are by themselves. And this is something we do every day.
Senior News: What do you think is the most important thing about your business?
Linda Balentine: I think the most important thing that we do is to build a bond of trust between our company and the people we serve. It really came home to me yesterday. I had a call from a client we moved before. She wanted to tell me that she was coming back to Roanoke and she was excited to tell me that she was coming back. She hadn’t even found a place to go. But she wanted me to assure her that I would be the one to help her. I can’t imagine her calling any other van line with that level of relationship. She achieved something with us. Once we move someone, we become the mover of choice for every other member of their family. We do office moves, and we move young families because we have moved their parents.
Senior News: In order to have that kind of loyalty from your clients it is apparent that the people that work at Crowning Touch are also part of this vision that you have. Tell me about the people who work here.
Linda Balentine: I interview 15 or 20 people before I choose somebody. We need people with ability but also with character. We assess their integrity before we give them an invitation to join us. We have a full benefit plan and we offer stock options to all of our employees. We are trying to build a team that will see us through the course and across the finish line before we take this company public. We need those people now at this stage so we can have people wedded to this company. We don’t want to be out there looking for people all the time. We believe that that cohesiveness translates to a depth of awareness of responsibility to our clients.
Senior News: Is there a specific story that you can think of with a move that will illustrate the type of service that your provide?
Linda Balentine: Yes. There are two sisters. One was very disabled and had not left her apartment in a year and the other had infrequently left. They had a lot of in-home care. They were moving into a local retirement assisted living facility. We did all the packing for them, moved them in and unpacked. And we provided the floor plan. We did our full service menu for them. When they got in the retirement community, one of the sisters was nervous about trusting the very retirement community they had moved into. They turned to one of our employees who had helped them move in and were talking about to spend the night alone, even though they had each other. My employee offered to stay and spend the night with them at no charge. Her husband brought her a pair of pajamas and she spent the night with them and basically held their hand through that first night in their new home. And that is the type of employee that we have and the service that we provide.
Senior News: How did you get the vision for Crowning Touch? How did your start?
Linda Balentine: I was a marketing consultant for a moving company and I developed this idea for them. They couldn’t afford it. After I developed it, I realized what a winning idea it was. I decided to do it myself. It was a service that just was not being done by anybody else. It was in May of 1996. Then we incorporated in August.
Senior News: Is there anything else you would like to add?
Linda Balentine: Yes, there is one thing I would like to point out. There are a couple of things that distinguish us from any other moving company in town other than the fact that we focus on the senior citizen market. One is that we are the only company that includes in our hourly rate a full repair/replacement insurance for everything they move. I feel that anybody in the moving business should stand behind what they do 100%. The state law simply requires movers to insure people’s household goods at a rate of 60 cents per pound. We go way above and beyond that. The other thing is that we are the only company to have the employees as owners of the company. That makes for an unmatched service. So the people that move you are the owners. That sets us apart and guarantees a much finer level of service. The third thing I would like to mention is the degree to which Senior News has been instrumental in the growth and success of our business. When we first started out – our very first year – the phone book left us out totally. We had no listing at all. It was their omission. It was a nightmare for me being a brand new business. Senior News was there to provide a safety net for us. If it hadn’t been for my monthly ad, I wouldn’t have survived and gotten to where we are now. So we really appreciate our relationships.
Senior News: Linda, we appreciate your business and thank you very much.
Linda Balentine: Thank you, Jeff.