Atlas Van Lines, Inc.

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Atlas Van Lines, Inc.

1212 St. George Road
Evansville, Indiana 47711
(812) 424-4326
Fax: (812) 421-7125

Wholly Owned Subsidiary of Atlas World Group, Inc.
1948 as Atlas Van-Lines, Inc.
Employees: 460
Sales: $294.9
SICs: 4212 Local Trucking Without Storage; 4213 Trucking
Except Local; 4731 Freight Transportation Arrangement

The fifth-largest moving company in the United States, Atlas Van Lines, Inc., derives the majority of its revenue from helping corporate customers relocate. With approximately 600 agents in North America and 800 agents worldwide, the company generated nearly $300 million in annual revenue during the mid-1990s, a total that positioned it as one of the leaders in the household goods moving industry, ranking behind only North American Van Lines, United Van Lines, Allied Van Lines, and Mayflower Transit Co.

As they had for the past decade, members of the Independent Movers & Warehousemens Association gathered together in 1947 for their annual convention to discuss topics of mutual interest. In attendance were long-distance movers from across the country who had made the journey to French Lick, Indianathe site of that years conventionto be among their peers and discuss the nuances of their industry, the awkwardly named household goods moving industry. Over the course of the previous half century, the household goods moving industry had evolved from the entrepreneurial efforts of commercial freight operators who supplemented their paychecks by helping people move from one residence to another. Horse-drawn wagons that hauled coal, ice, groceries, and other goods were used in their off-hours to move furniture, clothes, and other household goods, marking the beginning of moving such objects as a commercial enterprise. Eventually, some of these part-time enterprises developed into full-time, full-fledged businesses.

Soon, the business of transporting household goods depended on wagons and then motor-powered trucks operating exclusively as moving company carriers. As the new century unfolded and the decades passed, a host of small, locally operating moving companies were organized across the country, collectively forming what was then called the transfer and storage industry. Moving companies were governed by a federally empowered regulatory body, the Interstate Commerce Commission, and were represented by their own national association, the Independent Movers & Warehousemens Association Inc. Despite having a national association and being governed by a regulatory commission, the companies comprising the household goods moving industry were relatively weak, primarily because each was confined to a limited service area which tended to place a ceiling on their financial growth.

For several years prior to the 1947 convention, some members of the Independent Movers & Warehousemens Association had discussed removing this barrier to their growth by establishing a national operating organization. At French Lick talk turned to action, and a small group of movers began mapping plans to create a national operating organization. The following year, in 1948, 33 movers banded together in a cooperative effort to realize their common goal, creating a new long-distance moving company named Atlas Van-Lines, Inc.

Incorporated on May 19, the newly created, agent-owned company made its first move toward acquiring operating authority throughout the country two weeks later, when its directors purchased operating authority for direct service within 36 states and the District of Columbia. With head offices in Chicago, Atlas Van-Lines began its inaugural year of operation with the ability to direct service throughout the eastern half of the United States. For the next three decades the company would strive to secure operating authority throughout the rest of the country, an objective that would propel its growth and dictate its acquisitive strategy, eventually creating one of the nations largest companies in the household goods moving industry.

The company derived much of its business during its quest for nationwide operating authority from military personnel moving from one location to another, the most itinerant segment of the countrys population during the cold-war era. This constant source of business helped Atlas Van-Lines record $365,000 in sales after its first year of operation, a total that would climb to $1 million the following year. From the outset, the companys directors implemented a recruiting program to attract more agents, hoping to increase the companys ranks and, in turn, drive its annual sales total upward. In order to gain access to additional regions in the country, the companys annual revenue volume needed to grow, which it did during the early and mid-1950s, climbing to roughly $5 million by 1957.

At this point, Atlas Van-Lines was making enough money to finance another acquisition and continue the pursuit of its goal to obtain operating authority in the 48 contiguous states. With the acquisition of Howard Van Lines in 1958, which was renamed Atlas Van Service, Atlas Van-Lines gained access to Utah, Nevada, Arizona, New Mexico, and California, extending the companys service territory from coast to coast. On the heels of this acquisition, the company moved its corporate headquarters in 1960 from Chicago to Evansville, Indiana, where the directors of Atlas Van-Lines would orchestrate the geographic expansion of the agent-owned company into the 1990s.

At the time of the move from Chicago to Evansville, annual sales were discouragingly stagnant, hovering around $8 million for the preceding three years. In order to boost revenues for the continued expansion of the company, Atlas implemented a public relations campaign, the highlight of which was a New York Times article in 1962 that described Atlas Van-Lines revival of Evansvilles economy. Two years later the company took further steps to draw public attention to Atlas Van-Lines: the companys board of directors voted to double from one percent to two percent the advertising and sales development fund deduction taken from agents settlement accounts, thereby enabling the company to expand its advertising program to include national print media.

Although the acquisition of Howard Van Lines in 1958 had extended Atlas Van-Lines service territory from coast to coast, areas within the United States still remained where the company maintained no operations, particularly in the Rocky Mountain region and in the Pacific Northwest. During the early 1960s, while advertising efforts were increased to cover the entire country, the companys directors set their sights on obtaining operating authority in those regions where Atlas Van-Lines held no operating authority. In 1962 the company purchased the authority owned by Golden Van Lines of Colorado, giving it the opportunity to add new agents from the independent moving companies located in Idaho, Montana, Utah, and Wyoming. In 1964 Atlas Van-Lines acquired various interstate operating authorities by purchasing three companies that added Washington, Oregon, part of Idaho, and part of North Dakota to the companys growing map of regions served by Atlas Van-Lines vehicles.

Much had been achieved during the 1960s toward extending Atlas Van-Lines geographic coverage across the United States, but the company also established an international presence during the decade, beginning with its acquisition of Torrance, California-based International Sea Van Inc. in 1959. Through this subsidiary, Atlas Van-Lines began shipping household goods overseas, then in 1960 began shipping to international markets through the air, giving the company two conduits for its service to foreign markets.

Late in the decade, the directors of Atlas Van-Lines made another pivotal move when they organized and hosted an industry forum for corporate traffic and transportation managers. Held in 1967, the Forum, which became an annual event, focused on tailoring moving services for relocating corporate clientele, a small but burgeoning market that 20 years later would provide the bulk of the companys business. Since its formation, Atlas Van-Lines had subsisted primarily on relocating military personnel, a market that would continue to drive the companys growth as it entered the 1970s. However, during the 1980s and 1990s, moving employees of major corporations would overtake military relocations as government defense spending waned. Eventually, corporate relocations would account for roughly two-thirds of Atlas Van-Lines business. By addressing this new market in 1967, Atlas tapped an essential source of future revenue, gaining an early lead on its competition as the company entered the 1970s.

In 1974, the day arrived when Atlas Van Lines (the company dropped the hyphen from its name in 1971) could finally boast that its authority extended throughout the contiguous United States. On September 13, the company achieved its goal after 26 years of pursuing operating authority throughout the contiguous 48 states. Hawaii and Alaska were added to the companys service territory in 1976 and 1981 respectively, making Atlas Van Lines one of the few genuine national moving companies in the country.

Atlas Van Lines achieved its long-sought-after goal of blanketing the country with its moving vans a few short years before the household goods moving industry was dramatically reshaped by federal deregulation. Until 1980, the Interstate Commerce Commission wielded extensive control over moving companies like Atlas, dictating whether a moving company could go into business, what goods it could haul, where it could operate, and how much it could charge for its services. When the federal government deregulated the household goods moving industry through the Motor Carrier Act of 1980, the industry underwent radical and sudden changes. The number of moving companies in the country nearly doubled during a four-year span, jumping from 18,045 in 1980 to 30,481 in 1984, an increase that greatly intensified competition and sent service prices cascading downward.

The inaugural year of deregulation also marked the beginning of a new era at Atlas Van Lines. Since its inception in 1948, the company had been privately owned and tightly held by its agents, who had watched over its development from a fledgling enterprise into the sixth-largest moving company in the United States. In search of capital to finance further expansion, however, the agents decided to offer Atlas Van Lines stock to the public in 1980.

Four years after going public the company became the object of a hostile takeover. Contrans Acquisitions, Inc., a Toronto, Canada-based company led by a former Atlas Van Lines president, announced its intention to purchase control of Atlas Van Lines in May 1984. The hostile takeover attempt came as a shock to Atlas directors, forcing them to act quickly if they were to keep Contrans from gaining control. In October 1984, the potential takeover by Contrans was avoided when Wesray Transportation, Inc., an affiliate of Wesray Group, purchased Atlas Van Lines for $71.6 million., thereby thwarting Contrans unsolicited advances toward Atlas Van Lines.

Forced into the arms of Wesray, Atlas Van Lines now found itself owned by another company after 36 years of independence. The transition was difficult for Atlas directors, agents, and employees, who struggled with Wesrays focus on the profitability of the company rather than the service and support it provided. Exacerbated by contrary operating philosophies, the relationship between Wesray and Atlas soured, formally ending four years after it began when Atlas Van Lines agents purchased the company in a leveraged buyout.

Returned to independence and private ownership during its 40th anniversary year, Atlas Van Lines attempted to put the troubled years of the 1980s behind it. The dramatic changes in the household goods moving industry engendered by deregulation had proven to be a formidable challenge to many moving companies across the country, but Atlas Van Lines, despite its difficult years in the middle of the decade, had emerged from the first ten years of deregulation buoyed by encouraging success. Transportation and handling of trade show exhibits and sophisticated electronic equipment had developed into a promising business that complemented the companys mainstay business of relocating corporate clientele, giving Atlas Van Lines the means with which to build a strong business for the future.

Financially, however, the companys performance was discouragingly lackluster, a problem the directors of Atlas Van Lines hoped to solve as the company entered the 1990s. Despite an economic recession during the early 1990s, Atlas recorded stable financial growth, becoming the fifth-largest moving company in country early in the decade. Annual revenue jumped from $217.5 million in 1992 to nearly $295 million in 1994, the year shareholders agreed to establish a new holding company, Atlas World Group, Inc., for Atlas Van Lines and its seven subsidiaries.

Encouraged by the success recorded during the first half of the decade, Atlas Van Lines exited the mid-1990s firmly positioned as a leader in the household goods moving industry. In 1995 the company recorded its fifth consecutive year of record earnings, a feat that harkened back to the robust growth registered during the 1960s and 1970s and fueled hoped for success in the future.

Principal Subsidiaries

Atlas Terminal Company; Atlas Van Lines International Corp.; Atlas Van Lines Ltd. (Canada); Atlas Van Lines of Texas, Inc.; Atlas World Class Travel, Inc.

Further Reading

Atlas Soars in Customer Poll, Evansville Press, September 29, 1994, p. 18.

Atlas Stockholders Agree to Form Holding Company, Evansville Courier, September 22, 1994, p. 6C.

Atlas Van Lines, Atlas Van Lines: Moving On, Phoenix: Heritage, 1994. Atlas World Posts Record Profits 5th Straight Year, Evansville Press, March 8, 1995, p. 20.

Kroeger, Mark, From the Home Office in Evansville, Heres the List, Sunday Courier, January 2, 1994, p. 1E.

Muller, E. J., Encouraging Carriers to Go for the Gold, Distribution, August 1992, pp. 82-88.

Relocation: Things Companies Pay For, Inc., January 1993, p. 42.

Sword, Doug, Gee Whiz!, Indiana Business Magazine, February 1992, pp. 11-15.

Jeffrey L. Covell