DoD-dependent movers seeing rebound in revenue, but uncertainty lies ahead

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The worldwide coronavirus pandemic is doing strange things to where people are deciding to live, and it might be keeping moving companies afloat and saving the Defense Department a lot of stress.

After a disastrous spring, moving companies are bouncing back and seeing revenues above average for August and September.

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That’s good news for the military, which makes up about 20% of the household goods moving market with about half a million moves every summer.

“Most companies actually have managed to come out of this and it looks like we’re trending in a positive direction now,” Katie McMichael, director of moving and storage conference at the American Trucking Associations, told Federal News Network. “The losses that the companies suffered back during peak season, the revenue now is still not going to make up for what they lost. Overall, we’ll see how the rest of the year plays out. If the trend for the rest of the year continues that the months stay busy that normally aren’t, then potentially things might end up positive, but we’re what the final impact is going to be.”

Moving companies took a big hit when DoD implemented a stop-move order, which was in effect from mid-March until the end of June. The order was intended to prevent the spread of coronavirus, but also interfered with peak moving season.

McMichael estimated the industry lost hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue.

Moving companies did at least $311 million in business with DoD in May last year and $422 million in June.

U.S. Transportation Command tried to keep some funds flowing by providing moving companies to avoid decimating the industrial base by paying 10% of the cost of previously scheduled moves that were canceled.

McMichael said original estimates suggested the industry might lose a quarter of its businesses; however, she said she’s only heard of one-off closings as revenues have increased.

Even though DoD lifted the stop-move order, some sanctions are still in place. Only 45% of DoD’s 231 installations are approved for permanent changes of station (PCS) without a waiver. To lift restrictions bases must show a 14-day decline in coronavirus cases, meet criteria to lower health protection conditions below Charlie and make sure proper health services are available to deal with the infections.

The list of bases that are without restrictions constantly changes depending on localized infection rates.

So far, nearly 56,000 people in the military or DoD-related have been infected with coronavirus.

Besides a continuation of some PCSing, unusual migration patterns in the civilian world are keeping revenues up for moving companies.

“Residential moving is actually picking up and very busy right now. A lot of people are like, ‘This is very weird. We have a lot of work,’” McMichael said. “What’s probably playing into that is companies are implementing permanent work from home policies. Some people living in more expensive metropolitan areas are realizing, ‘If I’m permanently working from home, do I need to live here? Could I move somewhere cheaper?’ We’re actually seeing people leaving those metropolitan areas and living wherever they want to live, essentially, because now their job allows us to do that.”

If that will keep up is the question on movers’ minds. McMichael said there is a lot of uncertainty going forward as the coronavirus continues to buck many of the nation’s trends.

“I think we movers weathered the storm of COVID very well,” she said. “People seem to be more comfortable with moving. So I think for us, it’s really taking a look at ‘OK, as more companies are instituting this work from home how long are we going to this trend of people relocating?’”