The following article by Annie Braun appeared in The Roanoke Times on Thursday, March 31, 2005.
Nine years ago, Linda Balentine took the blankets off her bed and her daughter’s bed so her fledgling company could use them as moving blankets.
She was a single mother then and couldn’t afford as many as she needed.
“That’s what you have to be willing to do,” she said.
This was how the North Roanoke County woman began Crowning Touch Senior Moving Services in 1996, out of the basement of her home. Since then, the business’ sales volume has grown nearly 25 percent annually, and Balentine is ready to franchise it nationwide.
Balentine got the idea for Crowning Touch when she worked as a consultant to Southwest Moving & Storage for about four months in early 1996. Her mission was to develop a new revenue stream for that company.
As she interviewed a host of people to gauge the needs they thought the moving industry could fulfill, Balentine discovered people wanted a senior-focused moving company. Southwest Moving & Storage went out of business before it could start mining the idea, and Balentine thought it was too good to just let drop. So she got owner Jerome Strayve’s blessing to move forward with it.
Crowning Touch’s success is a testament to the power of the idea and the need for it in the community, Balentine said. This year, for the sixth consecutive year, the company received the Gold Award for best moving company from readers of The Roanoker magazine.
The answer to one of Crowning Touch’s most frequently asked questions is: “It’s not seniors doing the moving; it’s senior-focused moving,” Balentine said.
Since Day One, Crowning Touch, which was incorporated as Premiere Senior Relocation, has offered services that cater to the needs of senior citizens.
The company makes computer sketches of the new home by taking detailed measurements, including the length of closet rods, so clients can decide before moving in where furniture will go.
“The floor plan really gives people a heads-up about what will fit and won’t,” Balentine said, adding that most seniors are downsizing when they move.
During the move, workers also look for frayed electrical cords and offer to have them repaired before employees plug them in at the client’s new home. And packers will bring coolers to move refrigerated items and look at expiration dates of foods and medicine to make sure everything is safe.
“Many companies say ‘We don’t take that stuff,’ but we take that stuff because we know it’s important to them,” Balentine said of refrigerator and freezer contents.
Crowning Touch employees will even hang pictures, mirrors and shelves after their elderly or disabled clients move into their new place, which they did recently for Ann Karr.
“They did a nice job with the picture hanging. I was very pleased,” Karr said.
Before packing, Crowning Touch makes a video of the client talking about his or her belongings – including what they’re worth and where they came from. Balentine said the videos are good mementos for clients to pass on to their children.
Balentine said seniors have a hard time dividing their energy between the old and new properties, so her company also offers to clean the vacated property. Crowning Touch will even haul their trash away.
“In other words, if they need it, we do it,” she said. “It’s like the one-stop shopping” of the moving industry for seniors.
A feminine spin on moving
Another aspect Balentine is proud of is the fact that most of her packers are female.
“We like to use women to pack, and we’re proud of it,” she said. “It’s really gotten us a good reputation.”
Balentine said she feels this way because women tend to be more cautious and gentle with breakables than men.
“You can say it’s sexist,” but she said men, who are naturally stronger, can unintentionally crush such things as fine bone china. Her male employees pack the heavy-duty stuff like pots, pans, and contents of pantries and closets.
“I have nothing but praise for these people,” said Barbara Turley, 74, who recently moved from the Bonsack area to Greensboro, N.C. “The three ladies did all the packing, and I have things from my mother, antiques, and they did a marvelous job. Careful and thorough, and I would hire them anytime. They have been wonderful to work with.”
Turley and her husband, B.K. Turley, chose Crowning Touch from among three moving companies.
“When I found out the women did the packing, it made me more certain than ever,” Barbara Turley said.
Crowning Touch employees wrap every piece of furniture with a blanket and tape before it leaves the house. That blanket stays on the item until it is situated in the new residence.
“I invest in blankets to cover everything and leave it covered in storage,” Balentine said. This protects each piece from the nicks that so often happen during moves. Employees also pad the doorways.
Some other feminine touches include washing dishes, if necessary, on moving day, making the bed in the new home and providing food.
“If they need breakfast on moving day, we’ll bring it to them,” Balentine said. It won’t be fancy, she said, but they’ll bring a sausage biscuit.
Because seniors can get disoriented, Balentine has also trained her workers to pack a closet so its contents will be organized in the new closet in the same order.
“We’re just detail freaks,” she said.
A unique operation
The only service Crowning Touch has added since it began is the Estate Shoppe, a consignment shop where antiques and furniture are sold. It opened in 2004 and received the Platinum Award that year from readers of The Roanoker magazine for best new shop and best consignment shop.
Crowning Touch keeps half of the proceeds from shop sales, but before accepting items, Balentine said she encourages people to pass their family heirlooms on to their children. She counsels clients on proper prices by using Internet resources and a small collection of books about antiques.
Balentine said she kept hearing from seniors that auctions, antiques dealers, classified ads and garage sales were unsatisfactory.
“Everybody had complaints about all of those avenues,” she said.
The Estate Shoppe offers a wealth of glassware, china, silver, books, lamps, antiques, antique furniture, clocks, beds, pianos, desks and unique items. The Turleys, who were moving into a larger, five-bedroom house, bought a mahogany bedroom suite and two desks from the Shoppe before they moved.
“We have an ongoing audience six days a week” Balentine said of the shop, which is closed on Sundays.
Though Balentine said 85 percent of her company’s business is from people 65 and older, she also does moves for corporations and younger customers. The company schedules about three moves a day.
“We aren’t just a rich man’s moving company,” Balentine said. The cost of a move can range from $300 to $30,000, she added, but the company has no minimum charge. “All I do is take the minimum amount of money I need to survive. Period.”
Crowning Touch will travel about 1,500 miles from Roanoke because the company can’t perform all of its services if it goes farther than that, Balentine said.
The business has 15 to 20 employees who work full time, receive benefits and are well paid, according to Balentine. She added that in the past eight years, the company has never filed a damage claim with its insurance company.
“It’s not just strong backs. Our movers are smart,” she said.
Crowning Touch’s Estate Shoppe is open Monday through Saturday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
The company is at 6704 Williamson Road.