Alex Corona: Making the Best out of a Bad Situation

by Scott Reid

“Deadlines” and “College Students” don’t typically go hand-in-hand. But when it comes to student housing move-in, setting and meeting deadlines is critical.

Estimating opening dates for student housing projects is an art and a science, however, and often we hang our hope on the fact that everything comes together by that immovable date — student move-in day. If we get it wrong, though, we’ve got problems. For instance…

When a missed deadline occurs, you may have 500 students sleeping in hotels. Hotels aren’t cheap, and since your company missed the deadline, your company has to foot the bill. Now, instead of watching your balance sheet improve, you’re watching profit margins shrink away while simultaneously dealing with a load of angry emails and phone calls from students and their parents.

When I was a project manager for a large student housing developer, I saw this all first-hand. Most of the time, the missed deadline wasn’t anyone’s fault. Construction sometimes just gets held up by rain, snow or other acts of God. Supplies don’t get delivered on time. Permitting issues delay construction. All I could do then was go to sleep at night and hope nothing (more) goes wrong the next day.

I left the student housing business earlier this year and went to work with some buddies I grew up with. The company is called Bellhops, and we hire students who help other students (and non-students) with their moves. Right now, we work with over 9,000 trained student movers in 136 markets across the country. When I came over, I helped start our commercial branch, where we utilize this massive supply of on-demand manpower to perform on-site furniture assembly and installations for student housing companies.

Many of our clients reach out to me about projects running over deadline, typically due to no fault of their own. One recent client, for example, called me about a student housing development that was running behind schedule, with a revised open date that was now set for several weeks after the start of the semester. When they updated their future tenants, they were suddenly faced with 500 angry students and even angrier parents.

These parents had a right to be angry. They had been planning to drive to school and help their son or daughter move in. Now, through no fault of their own, they were being told that their kids would first need to be moved into a hotel, and would then need to move again once the development was completed. You can imagine they weren’t happy to hear that they were going to need to take off another few days of work to help their kids again, moving them out of the hotel and into a new location.

The developer called us to see if we could move all of their tenants, saving the parents a trip back to the university. Because we had the infrastructure in place to activate quickly and at scale, in less than a week we had 58 of our Bellhops in place, and we were able to move all 500 tenants from the hotel in fewer than two days.

In this case, we turned a worst-case scenario into a “well, I guess that’s better than the alternative” scenario. And when you’re up against 500 angry parents, that’s actually the best-case scenario. The parents were happy that they didn’t have to move their kids a second time. The students were happy they got their parents off their backs in time for the start of school. Finally, the management company was happy to find a cost-effective solution to make the process less painful for the students and their parents.

So what’s the lesson? Be prepared. Have contingency plans. Have partners you can count on when things go wrong — because inevitably, eventually, they will, but having a backup option can make a world of difference.

Alex Corona, is director of operations for Bellhops, an on-demand moving solution employing over 9,000 student movers in 136 cities across the country. Bellhops specializes in both consumer-based moving services, as well as large-scale move-ins and furniture installations.

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