The leaders of Bellhops, a national startup with new branches in Davis and Sacramento, think they can use technology and an army of smiling college students to transform the experience of moving.
Already operating at UC Berkeley, the Davis and Sacramento branches have been officially open since May 1. The UC Davis bellhops just handled their first move in early June, said campus director Ryan Perkins, a managerial economics major who just finished his sophomore year.
Customers use a slickly designed website to book the moving service. Before the day of the move, they receive an email with photographs of their "bellhops" -- local college students paid on commission for each move they choose to handle -- and information about where they're from and what they're studying. At the appointed time, the bellhops show up in the company's trademark green headbands, ready to move boxes and furniture while chatting about their classes.
Like ride provider Lyft and housing rental site Airbnb, Bellhops is a player in the "sharing economy," using technology to connect people in need of a service with amateurs willing to provide it at a lower cost than professionals. It's designed as a hip approach to the banal and boring business of moving.
The company got its start moving in students at Auburn University in fall 2011 and now operates in 121 cities across the country. About 50 percent of their clients are college students, said Matt Patterson, chief operating officer of the Chattanooga, Tenn.-based startup, but anyone in need of assistance on a small-scale, local move can hire Bellhops.
"A lot of people traditionally have done small moves themselves or asked for help," Patterson said. "This is sort of like inviting your friends for help."
That is, if you had a few dozen friends at Cal, Sacramento State and at UC-Davis who were eager to lend a hand with your move. Nationwide, more than 8,000 college students have signed up to work for Bellhops. The company hopes to expand to every American city with a college by 2016.
Bellhops hired Perkins in January, and he recruited aspiring movers from UC Davis fraternities and other organizations.
The primary qualification was not moving experience, but the ability to engage in "normal conversation." Because the moves are small, Perkins said, employees are prepared to handle them after viewing the company's training videos.
Matthew Gold, a UC Davis computer engineering major in the class of 2017, found the training videos straightforward and even entertaining. Gold signed up for Bellhops because the moving job offered "flexibility and simplicity."
"As a college student, it's not like I want to be on payroll or something," Gold said.
Gold worked his first move Thursday with classmate Bryan Hoang, assisting a UC Davis student leaving his apartment for the summer.
Perkins thinks Bellhops will do a lot of business with students who don't consider more established moving companies because they're too expensive, pricing their services with long, large-scale moves in mind. While most local moving services have a three- or four-hour minimum, Bellhops takes jobs as short as 90 minutes and charges $80 an hour for two movers, plus $135 for truck rental. Other area companies average around $130 an hour, though that price includes the truck.
But Perkins believes Bellhops' most unique selling point, its movers, will appeal to nonstudents as well.
"People in the town love the college and people who go to the college," Perkins said. "At Bellhops we're not just moving people, we want to make sure they're comfortable with us."
Chris Higdon, chief executive officer of California Moving Systems, which employs 45 full-time movers and was founded in Sacramento in 1967, said customers should be cautious entrusting their belongings to movers without significant experience and licensing. Because Bellhops owns no property in California and technically contracts its movers instead of employing them directly, it does not need to be licensed by the state Public Utilities Commission, Patterson said.
Higdon thinks Bellhops could fill a niche in the local moving market.
"I wouldn't call them to move the piano," Higdon said. "But if I had a kid at NYU or somewhere and was moving them across the street, this might be a reasonable way to do it."