Please ensure Javascript is enabled for purposes of website accessibility

Making their move Sisters who lead Bohren’s are growing the business by diversifying its clientele

Denise Hewitt, left, and Louise Froehlich Furey are fourth-generation executives with Bohren's Moving and Storage.-(PHOTOS BY AARON HOUSTON)

Bohren’s Moving and Storage in Robbinsville started as a small, family-run, residential moving company in Princeton in 1924.

Denise Hewitt said most of that is becoming a thing of the past.

“We are not as much that today as we were 30 years ago,” Hewitt, the company president, said.

The fourth-generation family business has since evolved into a nearly $32 million business.

While it still caters to plenty of residential clients, the company also focuses on everything from office relocations and store rollouts to trade shows, exhibits and special commodities.

Diversification for the NJBIZ Top 250 Privately Held Company and Top 25 Women-Owned Company was a long time in the making, but ultimately, the best decision the 93-year-old business could have made.

The company started the process in 1955 by partnering with United Van Lines and growing to several facilities in New Jersey, including Robbinsville, Princeton and a smaller office in Parsippany, and two in Florida.

Hewitt and her sister, Louise Froehlich Furey, Bohren’s vice president, took it to the next level after joining the company in the 1990s.

“Our step-great-grandfather, E.L. Bohren, started the business,” Hewitt said. “He passed it down to his son-in-law — our grandfather. Our father took the reins after our grandfather passed away. And my sister and I have taken over with our father still active.”

Moving (wo)men
The moving and storage industry is still predominantly male.
What inspires Denise Hewitt, president, are the women who welcome that challenge.
“I recently had a woman come into our warehouse to be part of our logistics team, and she seemed to be very interested in developing into (someone like) Louise and I, and the way that we run this place,” Hewitt said. “She liked the idea of being a woman in a male-dominated business.”
Hewitt hopes that she and her sister, Louise Froehlich Furey, vice president, are good examples for other women who want to succeed.
“Women have every opportunity to be an equal in this business,” Hewitt said. “It takes a certain type of woman; if they like a challenge and they like their days to be different, this is a really interesting business to be in.”

 

Furey joined the business right after graduating from West Chester University. Hewitt found herself thinking about the family business while attending Wagner College, and joined shortly after.

That’s when business really got rolling.

“It kicked off when we moved over to Robbinsville from Princeton, I think, in the year 2000,” Hewitt said.

Their business has increased significantly in all categories — but not where one might think it counts.

“While we still have a great reputation for residential, our business model going forward is not residentially driven,” Hewitt said. “Historically, over the last 10 years, we have had a decrease in drivers interested in the residential side of the business.

“They are coming through our doors more interested in office relocations, trade shows and exhibits, and artwork.”

The market has dictated such growth as store rollouts become more frequent, Hewitt said.

“There are so many companies opening up in different locations,” she said. “For example, we handle all of the furniture and fixtures for a (fashion) company that is opening up stores all over the United States.

“That is a huge account for us.”

Moving and storage competitors, who did not expand into as many business lines as Bohren’s has now, are feeling the pain a bit, Hewitt said.

“Those of us who were fortunate enough to diversify years ago have kept our heads well above water,” she said.

For example, Bohren’s Moving and Storage created an entirely new business division called DocuSafe several years ago to manage data, records and media storage.

“New Jersey is a wonderful location for DocuSafe because a lot of our customers want to be off of the grid with us when it comes to disaster recovery,” Furey said. “We are so centrally located that we attract many clients from Philadelphia and New York City. That is a huge advantage for us in that business.”

Bohren’s Moving and Storage also handles special commodities, crating and asset management.

“The art world, for example, never saw a recession,” Hewitt said. “We have about 6,000 square feet of climate-controlled storage here, primarily storing crated artwork, that maintains museum-standard temperatures. We have managed to get a lot of customers from galleries, universities, private schools and art museums in New York, Philadelphia and New Jersey. And, it is all based on word of mouth.”

Hewitt said it is the challenge of each day that keeps her excited and invested in her work.

“I like the direction in which we are going right now,” she said. “No problem is ever the same. It is a very unique business when you diversify like we do.

“There are not a lot of moving companies that truly have their hands in everything. There is nothing that we won’t move.”

But with great success also comes new and often frustrating challenges.

“Yes, significant improvements have been made to the highways in the state, we are in an extremely populous area and everybody seems to be moving out of state, so there is always a lot of opportunity here for us,” Hewitt said. “But it is a difficult state to do business in as a mover, to be honest with you. A lot has to do with the taxes and regulations.”

Most people, Hewitt said, also think that a moving company’s biggest expenses are its trucks and real estate.

Finding balance
As leaders of Bohren’s Moving and Storage and Docusafe in Robbinsville, Denise Hewitt, president, and Louise Froehlich Furey, vice president, both said they could do better to achieve a work-life balance.
“It is not uncommon for me to have my phone on my nightstand, so that if I happen to wake up, I will check my email in the middle of the night,” Hewitt said. “I have a lot of West Coast customers, though, so I have allowed myself to be available off-hours.
“I could probably do a better job of shutting off. I just try to balance as much as I can to keep everyone at home and at work happy, including our customers.”
Furey commutes most days from Pennsylvania.
“It is difficult for me,” she said. “I work from home on Fridays, which gives me one day of relief, but I have missed a lot and I have had to adjust to that for eight years.”

“Those are towards the bottom of the list now,” Denise said. “Our biggest challenges and costs are driver retention, health care and keeping up with the IT requests for our data and records storage business.”

Hewitt said some of that has to do with a significant reduction of drivers.

“Back in the day, driving coast to coast was a glorified position. It was good money, and it had a lot of status in our industry,” she said. “Now, it is not always about the money as much as it is about being home with their families and having those experiences with their kids.

“We are no different than any other industry in that aspect. I mean, how many people want to work from home these days?”

The company has made progress in providing a handful of office employees with the ability to telecommute. However, it has not yet been able to figure out a solution for the drivers.

Furey said the focus has mostly been on how to keep from having to pass on the rising costs of health care and IT to its more than 100 employees in New Jersey and an additional 50 nationwide.

“I would have to agree with the philosophy of putting your employees first,” she said. “They are the ones that make the customers happy.”

Her biggest accomplishment, Furey said, was creating a human resources department that has resulted in very little turnover, with many of their employees working into a double-digit number of years.

“I especially am proud to watch people evolve from being movers to top salespeople later on,” she said. “I enjoy working with our people and the camaraderie.”

E-mail to: megf@njbiz.com
On Twitter: @megfry3

Meg Fry

NJBIZ Business Events