Melbourne accountants > Man With A Van

How an accounting firm is helping Australia’s fastest moving business

When a student couldn’t get a courier gig because his van was too beat up, he set up as a furniture mover instead. Now he and his partner do $9M worth of business a year. See how accountancy has helped make them Australia’s fastest and most-loved movers.

Two men, one with back to camera, push a washing machine up a ramp and into a truck. They do 20,000 moves a year. They needed a good Melbourne CPA to help keep tabs on their fast-moving business.

With their little trucks and friendly service, Man With A Van has cornered the market for inner-urban shifts.

Who is Man With A Van?

Tim Bishop, James Bowden, and their 160 staff move 20,000 households a year. Just about all of that business comes through word of mouth because, well, they’re good guys.

“Customer service is number one for us. We’re friendly and fair. We’ll help people with small moves that no one else will do. We don’t make anyone take out insurance, we cover them under our own policy. And we don’t argue if a customer says we damaged something – we just get it sorted out.”

It’s a different model to most movers, who only take big bookings. Those old-school businesses will pack a truck in the morning, take lunch (and maybe a few smokos), then unpack it in the afternoon. They don’t really do small jobs because they don’t know how to make money from them.

Man With A Van, as the name implies, use smaller vehicles, so they can do little jobs affordably. And that’s not just nice for customers, it’s great for the business. They’ve become the mover of choice for the massive inner urban market.

“Not long after we got going, inner-city living took off in Melbourne. Restrictions were lifted on developments and places like the Docklands exploded. There are a lot of people living in apartments now. They have less furniture and they’re moving shorter distances when they change address. They don’t need to book a big truck for a whole day.

“We created a far more affordable and flexible service for those people. And we make sure there’s a friendly vibe to go with it. We only hire nice people. It doesn’t matter if they haven’t done this work before. We can teach anyone who has the brains and brawn to lift.”

Small vehicles and friendly service have been a great strategy. It helped Man With A Van bring in almost $10 million last year, and they’re aiming for global expansion. And all of this came about by accident.

Tim bought the first van in hopes of picking up courier gigs while he was studying at TAFE. Unfortunately his Mitsubishi L300 didn’t make the grade. The courier companies wouldn’t give jobs to such an old banger. So Tim and his ex-schoolmate, James, used the van to help people move apartments.

They posted flyers, got their first jobs, and away they went.

“We couldn’t fit double mattresses in the van, so a lot of stuff went on the roof rack. Some of the loads were stacked pretty high,” Tim explains – though he insists they never got pulled over by the cops.

Business grew quickly. In an industry dominated by big trucks and impersonal service, Man With A Van were the friendly alternative. Anyone who used them, referred them. They’ve never looked back.

Old, slab-sided van covered in graffiti sits parked on the side of the road. A bike, wheelbarrow and shelf-set are tied to the roof rack.

The original van, a ‘well-loved’ L300 with a roof rack.

Why Man With A Van needed a good accounting firm

Tim and James first hired an accountant when they decided to go full throttle on Man With A Van in 2004. Their main goal back then was to not think about accounting. It didn’t excite them.

As the business grew, however, they realised how much they needed it.

“You can only move so many cubic metres an hour. After a while, it’s hard to get better. So how do you grow your business when you hit that ceiling? The answer for us was to develop really efficient systems. We needed to bring our overheads down.”

The guys created a piece of scheduling software to help them do that. They used it to book jobs, assign staff, and coordinate moves so staff had the least distance to travel between jobs. It became the heartbeat of the business – keeping them smart, nimble, and organised. No one could move furniture more affordably.

But the system was also an obstacle. It held all the data about jobs done, money charged and hours worked – yet it couldn’t be used to chase late payers, look after tax, or handle bank reconciliation. Data had to be transcribed out of the main scheduling software and into other systems in order to run the financial side of the business. It was a massive handbrake for a business that was desperate for efficiency.

“It wasn’t just the wasted time,” Tim explains. “Re-entering data introduced all sorts of mistakes. There were keystroke errors all through our accounting data. We really needed all our systems to talk to each other. Technology integrations were becoming critical to the business.”

In 2015, Tim and James started searching for new accountants to pull it all together. They hoped to speed up invoicing, payroll and accounting, and find out which areas of the business could be better run.

“It’s not easy to see where the weaknesses in your business are when everything’s happening so fast all the time, and your data’s in lots of different places. We can’t keep our eye on everything anymore – we needed software to do that for us“

“Check a firm's website to see how they speak to their audience. It’ll tell you if you’re on the same wavelength. Make sure you’re going to be able to communicate with them.”

– Tim Bishop, Man With A Van

How their small business accountants changed things

Man With A Van chose a big Melbourne firm to take their accounting to the next level in 2015, but it didn’t work out great.

“We’d been the biggest client for our old accountant. We were the smallest for the new guys and we could feel the slip in attention,” Tim recalls.

“And after a while we noticed they couldn’t deliver the technology we needed either. They were doing a lot of things manually that should have been automated. It made us wonder how much double-handling we were paying for.”

After spending a decade with their first accounting firm, Man With A Van lasted only 18 months with their second. They went back to the internet, searching for advisors who used online accounting software. That led them to RBK Advisory, and things immediately started falling into place.

RBK Advisory have:

  • slashed Man With A Van’s bookkeeping bill
    “They set us up with Hubdoc, which does most of our data entry for us. Our bookkeeper doesn’t have to punch in the numbers anymore. They just check the figures to make sure the software has entered them properly.”

  • helped integrate our different software systems
    “Information from our scheduling software flows directly into our accounting software, so invoicing and payroll are much less of a hassle.”

  • shone a light on business performance
    “Because job data now flows into an accounting system, we can run more analysis. We can see what’s working well in the business, and what could be better.”

What the future holds

Customers regularly ask Man With A Van for branded apparel, so they’ll start offering merchandise soon. They also plan to take their service to other cities.

“The same gap exists in other markets. We want to go interstate and possibly international. We’re building a strong homebase in Melbourne so we’re ready to launch in other places.”

They’re building a new HQ – from shipping containers, appropriately – and they’re overhauling their scheduling software, which is now eight years old.

“Our scheduling software is our competitive advantage. We’ve spent a lot of time and money on it but the dividends have been huge. We’re taking two years to update it. Once that’s done, we can take on any market in the world.”

Young man stands with arms folded next to moving vehicle. One the door behind him is written the Man With A Van slogan – I like to move it, move it.

Tim and James plan to take their much-loved Melbournian brand to new markets.

Advice for finding a good Melbourne accounting firm

Man With A Van didn’t really care for accounting when they set out, but it’s become central to their success. Here are their tips for finding a good accountant:

  1. Look for someone the same size as you
    “We know what it’s like to be the biggest client at a firm, and the smallest. Neither is ideal. It’s much easier to work with a firm that’s a similar size and that you can relate to.”

  2. Find people that use your type of language
    “Check a firm's website to see how they speak to their audience. It’ll tell you if you’re on the same wavelength. Make sure you’re going to be able to communicate with them.”

  3. Get advisors who use technology
    “Technology will save you money. We went with a tech-first firm, even though they were kind of young. It was a risk, but one we just had to take – and I’m glad we did.”

Finding the best Melbourne accounting firms

RBK Advisory is a Melbourne accounting practice with offices in Narre Warren, Richmond, Hampton and Chadstone. Like a lot of the best Melbourne accountants, they can be found on Xero’s advisor directory, which alows you to search by location and industry. Check it out.

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