August 2020 Chairman’s Column
By: John Chipman, Jr.
What is happening to the American Moving & Storage Association?
AMSA, the moving industry’s largest trade organization, is merging with another association. This is nothing new to our industry. In fact, for the last 30+ years, van lines have been consolidating. Deregulation and the competition it sparked created mergers and acquisitions. United and Mayflower tied the marital knot in 1995. North American joined forces with Allied (1999) and Global (in 2000). AMSA was created by the merger of the National Moving & Storage Association and American Movers Conference in the late 90’s. Venerable Bekins was purchased by Wheaton in 2012. Most recently Stevens and Arpin also joined Wheaton.
During the past several months AMSA, headquartered in Alexandria, VA, has been seriously considering joining forces with two interested suitors. On the one hand was the large and respected American Trucking Association (ATA). AMSA also considered merging with the International Association of Movers (IAM), which has members throughout the world that specialize in relocating military families. In July, both IAM and ATA offered compelling proposals to AMSA Board Members to join their respective organizations.
IAM’s leadership presented a comprehensive 17-page proposal and detailed PowerPoint. IAM stressed what both organizations shared in common. In essence, IAM said, we are movers, just like you, with the same values and objectives. In point of fact, many movers are currently members of both AMSA and IAM. According to IAM, combining organizations would reduce structural redundancies. And, it “would bring together over 5,000 member companies in more than 170 countries” and include “all strata of the moving and storage industry.” IAM President Chuck White thoughtfully summed up the potential union as a “merger of two equal partners into one organization with one heart–moving.”
During its presentation, ATA dispelled the notion that its bigger members, like FedEx, would eclipse AMSA’s smaller sized companies. The size of a member’s hauling fleet doesn’t matter at ATA. An active ATA member with 5 tucks can have just as big an influence on ATA’s goals and direction as large companies, like Old Dominion and ABF Freight. According to ATA’s CEO Chris Spear, AMSA’s voice would matter at ATA, and would help shape its strategy.
Why did AMSA even need to consider proposals from ATA and IAM? AMSA reached its current predicament because of several challenges. AMSA struggled with poor industry growth; a consolidation of membership (as noted above); and a lack of resources for advocacy. Not a recipe for success.
AMSA also faced two other significant challenges. AMSA lost its powerful rate making ability about the same time as Joe Harrison retired, which was less than 20 years. (Yes, as incredible as it might sound, our van lines, under the auspices of the Household Goods Carriers Bureau, sat around a conference room table and agreed upon interstate rates!) The other challenge is the uncertain future created by our industry’s largest national account, the Department of Defense. General Stephen Lyon’s decision to outsource control of military moving from TransCom to a single source has divided AMSA members. The GHC could dramatically reshape our industry starting in 2021.
In early August, AMSA board members voted to join ATA as a “conference”, a sort of independent mover group within the much bigger trucking organization. AMSA will keep its committees, events, board, certifications, and educational programs. However, dues will be paid to ATA, not AMSA. ATA will be in charge of budgeting and staffing. AMSA will have representation on ATA’s governing boards.
The decision to conference within ATA was primarily based on ATA’s lobbying power in DC.
While AMSA members go to Capitol Hill just once a year, ATA members have a continuous lobbying presence in DC. They can get things done quickly, even during tough times. For example, ATA was instrumental in keeping interstate rest stops open during the Pandemic. ATA’s track record of influencing legislation also extends to both sides of the political aisle. Given the uncertain future of the Senate following the November elections, having a stronger voice in Congress could provide better protection for the moving industry.
AMSA board member and former CMSA Chairman Chris Higdon summed the merger decision up this way, “The bottom line is advocacy, and we need help.”
AMSA’s next step is to sort out its obligations, and to create a new governance plan. One thing is for sure: everyone at AMSA and ATA looks forward to making the merger a success.