Unloading and Debris Removal

Finishing off the job.

Learn how to:

  • Plan out your unload.
  • Safe, methodical, efficient unloading practices.
  • Leaving your customer's home without a trace.

Once the crew has arrived at the customer's new home and pleasantries have been exchanged the attitude – and this is not a bad thing – is Let's get to it and do it! But before we fling those doors open and start hauling stuff off the truck we have three important matters to cover.

Planning the Unload

First, allow the customer to give you a walk-through of the home. It's helpful to know beforehand where those big and heavy items will be going – and not just which room but where in the room. No one wants to have to move things twice. Doing a walk-through also gives you a chance to ask the customer which bedroom is whose and whether that room with the fireplace is going to be called the family room or the den. You could agree to call it the fireplace room, it doesn't really matter. The point is to avoid having to stand there with a couple of book boxes or an end table in your hands while the customer tries to describe where it goes.

Having done your walk-through you should now know where your high-traffic areas will be and you can take care of the Doors and Floors. Perhaps even more than during their move out of their old home, the customer will love it when you take the time to take good care of their new one.

And finally, make sure the customer (or the friend or relative who came to help out) has copies of the inventory sheets. Have them lay the sheets on a table somewhere, near the main entrance if not outside in a spot that makes it easy for everyone to communicate each item number that comes off the truck. If you can provide the customer with a cube sheet (aka a bingo sheet) the task becomes easier and the paperwork more manageable. (And any time you make something easier for the customer is another mark in the plus column – and another reason for them to rave about you in their review.)

Fine. Now let's get to it and do it!

Okay, but don't go flinging those truck doors open. Things shake and shift in transit, remember, and even if your crew did an impeccable job on the load it's a good idea to be on the ball here. If you are on the back end of a long haul and another crew did the load then you're going to know what's in that truck – or how close to the doors those final items are. Or if they are strapped in properly. You could ask the customer if the truck is full and get an answer like 'Yeah, pretty full' – which, really, means nothing. So you'll want to use caution from the get-go.

Safe. Methodical. Efficient.

Crack the doors open and peek inside, to make sure you aren't going to catch a mattress or a barbecue grill or a motorcycle in the face. No one wants damaged items or damaged crew members. If the load looks like it held up and is still secure, great. If the load seems displaced and there's any suspicion that items might have incurred damaged in transit, get as many hands as you need to keep things from tumbling off the truck onto the ground. At this point, taking a picture of the load might be a good idea as having a picture or things could help in sorting out a claim later on. What's more, a photo might help the load crew understand how to do a better job next time. Hey, no one's perfect. And any chance to learn how to do something better helps all of us.

Okay, NOW can we get to it??

Yes. Carefully.

The first thing you will likely do in an unload is loosen a strap. With all the potential weight shifting this could mean that once that strap is gone the load will come a-tumbling down. Throughout the unload, every time you grab a strap and every time you begin to take down another tier, you'll want to keep this in mind. The same cautionary attitude applies when you move mattresses or other large items that might be doubling as walls. One ill-packed carton might now be crushed, everything on top of it teetering and ready to spill. Even if the load is still stable, there could be a mirror carton back there, placed laterally during the load to fill a narrow space, now ready to tip over once its support is gone. Never assume a tier will remain standing on its own. Gravity is always in effect.

Add to this the possibility that certain items can have other items inside them. That coffee table sitting upside down on the top of the tier could have your customer's daughter's dollhouse tucked loosely inside the pad taped carefully around the table legs; slide that coffee table off the tier and turn it over and little Suzie's dollhouse goes crashing to the floor. Dining room chairs also have spaces in between their legs, for small items like disassembled floor lamps and plastic mini-totes which may or may not survive a six-foot drop unscathed. Desks and tables standing firmly on the floor might have cartons tucked underneath them. That tall bookcase might have a bunch of items on its shelves. Check under those pads and behind those bookcases.

All these instances are common enough – and are textbook blueprints for minor (or major) disaster. In some cases, the key to avoiding accidents (aside from being careful) is to have two guys working together.

When the truck is big enough and the tiers are high enough to require the use of a step ladder, working in tandem keeps the goods and your bodies intact. While one guy is on the ladder pulling items off a tier the other guy is holding the ladder. When the guy on the ladder has an item in hand the guy on the floor takes it from him. Of course, guys climb step ladders and pull apart tiers and climb down with their hands full all the time. This doesn't make it safe, or even a good way to save time. One slip and the crew could be down a man for the rest of the day.

To the point above that the load shifts in transit and care needs to be taken when loosening straps, it never hurts to have an extra set of hands in case the mattress you just unstrapped comes rushing at you because there's a three hundred pound oak table top pushing on it from the other side. Best approach is to have that extra set of hands on the mattress when you start loosening that strap, before anything has a chance to bury you.

Separating large, heavy items safely from the load is only the beginning. Wheeling that wall unit or armoire or sofa off the truck and into the home is a much safer proposition with two men on hand. The guy holding the hand truck is always higher, whether on the truck ramp or a set of stairs. The other guy is there not only to balance that massive dresser but to be the eyes of the operation. The guy at the helm of the hand truck often can't see a thing except the dresser or sofa in his face.

So you've got that big dresser safely upstairs and into the master bedroom. If you are a true pro you'll remember from your walk-through where the customer said he wanted it. But who can remember everything? It's pretty darn tough to recall every detail about every piece the customer mentions. But knowing where these large items go means you won't have to move them a second time. Try to make a mental note.

Extra points: If you know where the customer wants his sofa, or his entertainment unit or his piano, you'll know not to start stacking boxes in these places, only to have to move them again. Keeping these areas clear, you'll be able to wheel each item right to its appointed spot. Still, you probably won't be able to drop it from the dolly right onto its exact spot on the floor, butted up against the wall; you're going to have to edge it into position. The natural instinct then is to give that thing a nudge with your leg or your shoulder and slide it home. On a wood floor, though, you're risking a lot; working scratches out of a wood floor can cost a pretty penny. Both guys should stick around until that piece is eased, gently, into its final resting place.

Cool, we're finally rockin' and rollin'.

Yes. But keep it steady. It's easy to get into such a groove that you forget to call out numbers to the person marking off the inventory or bingo sheets. It's also easy to forget that, even with the floor protection in all the high-traffic areas, the scant bits of dirt that get tracked in every time you re-enter the house start becoming visible. If you have the manpower to make it feasible, solve both of these potential problems by having an indoor and an outdoor crew.

Your staging area can be the garage or the front hall of the home, or any other logical place. The outdoor crew can haul stuff from the truck to the staging area while the indoor crew distributes it all through the home. Calling out numbers becomes the job of one crew or the other (decide at the outset), and no one is constantly walking from the truck to all corners of the house. A caveat to this might be the inefficiency of two guys carrying a sofa or dresser from the truck to the staging area, only to put it down so two other guys can pick it up and carry it the rest of the way. And let's be realistic; the outside guys will not spend the entire unload outside, and the inside guys will be on the truck plenty. But if you find an inside/outside system works for you and your crew, great, go for it. Each crew has their own way of doing things, and this is just one strategy to consider.

Speaking of calling out numbers, wrapped furniture items might not have a number written on the outside; if the crew used inventory stickers you'll have to pull the paper off to find that number.

No problem.

There's a chance, somewhere between 99 and 100%, that the customer will want you to unwrap those wrapped items. If you do it on the truck, fine; put all that crumpled packing paper and sticky wads of shrink wrap and used tape to the side, find the inventory number and head inside. The down side to this is that you are now carrying an unprotected piece of furniture. The up side is that the customer knows at a glance what that item is and can tell you where it goes without you having to break stride.

But keeping the padding and shrink wrap on those pieces of furniture, particularly the largest items (the sofa, the wall unit, the eight inch thick headboard), means they will be better protected until they make it to their respective rooms. At this point you can take a semi-break and unwrap the item, find the inventory number and ball up all that paper and shrink wrap and bring it right back out to the truck. Doing this will save a load of clean-up time later on. And through it all, if you forget to give the customer the number of the item, no worries. If at the end the eight inch thick headboard is not checked off it's easy enough to find.

Debris Removal: The Clean Sweep

Well how about that? By unwrapping each item you bring inside and hauling the pads and shrink wrap back out to the truck you've already tackled half the clean-up process. One idea that becomes quickly evident is that throwing all that paper and plastic and all those furniture pads back onto the truck while the unload is still going on can lead to annoying if not dangerous circumstances. Designate a spot where the crew can create a mountain of debris – next to the truck makes sense, or in the garage or some other inconspicuous place if the customer decides not to introduce himself to his new neighbors with a pile of trash (although hey, it's move day, there's stuff everywhere, that's just the nature of the beast).

We've gotten the impression over our many countless moves that, while most customers would love to get everything unpacked right away, it's just too overwhelming a job to tackle with everything else that is going on. In these cases, offer to do them the simple favor of taking their mattress boxes away for them – you will have already taken their mattresses out and set up their beds, so getting those big empty cartons becomes a quick and easy way to make the customer appreciate you even more.

Report Damage Immediately

If you open a box and find something broken, leave the box as is and alert the customer. Whether it is a PBO or a box packed by the movers, you'll want it known that the item in question was broken upon arrival. Leaving it in the box for the customer to see helps make the situation clear. The same applies to items not in boxes. Whether you notice it on the truck or when you are removing the shrink wrap and paper, let the customer know right away, letting them see the damage exactly as you saw it.

Side Note: this obviously goes for damage that looks recent; if all the legs on all the dining room chairs and all the bottom edges of all the dressers and night stands have scratches and such it's likely they were all there long before you showed up.

So you've cleared your customer's new home of every box and scrap of packing paper you could find. Now what? Obviously, it is a good idea to have a plan in place. Know where you can go to recycle all that cardboard and paper – or better yet, have a place you can store all this valuable, re-usable material. Paper pads too, if in decent enough shape, can be flattened and folded for future use. Let your next customer know you have some used paper pads you can bring for their furniture, as well as boxes with packing paper already in them they can buy from you at a fraction of what they'd cost new. They'll love you for stepping up and saving them a few bucks, and you'll be making a few more for yourself.

Unfortunately, shrink wrap is not reusable. Find a way to dispose of it properly. (Hint: The trash can outside 7-Eleven is a no-no.) If the customer used those Styrofoam peanuts to pack their dishes or other breakables, have fun cleaning them up! Keeping a broom on hand would help a lot in such a case.

And lastly, on your final walk-through of the customer's home, glance around for any stray bits of paper, plastic, tape or bubble wrap. Your last impression can leave a lasting impression. Make it consistent with the professionalism you've shown all along.