With a $12B moving industry, Unpakt sees an opportunity in price comparison

By Cale Guthrie Weissman , written on September 25, 2013

From The News Desk

Moving is undoubtedly one of the biggest headaches anyone can experience. The toils of packing all of your stuff into boxes, throwing out what isn't necessary, and then finding a proper means by which to haul it can sometimes turn into one of the worst days of one's life. And the annoyance of finding a moving service or, even worse, asking friends to help out (and hoping they actually show up) can turn into a nightmare. It's no surprise, then, that the Employee Relocation Council lists moving as the third most stressful event in a person's life.

But because we live in the Modern Age with gizmos and apps to alleviate your every woe, there are of course services now that say they make moving less of a hassle or, dare I say, fun? (No, cancel that. Too far.)

One such actor in this space is Unpakt, a New York-based startup that allows users to comparison shop for movers and gives them flat rates, not quotes. The service has been around for almost a year and a half and has been rapidly growing to reinvent what it means to book a moving service.

Unpakt was started by entrepreneur Sharone Ben-Harosh, who has lived in New York for over two decades. When he first arrived in the city, he became employed as one of those ubiquitous New York movers you see around the city on the first of every month.

This experience showed him that part of the moving industry's schtick was necessarily miscalculating how much a job will be. For example, people would call a moving service for a quote, the mover would throw out some random number, and then once the actual move transpired it would ask for more citing unaccounted details. "It's helpful to be sloppy in the moving industry," Ben-Harosh told me.

After hearing numerous customer rants about problem like these, Ben-Harosh founded his own moving company, FlatRate, in 1991. The idea behind FlatRate was simple, give people a flat moving rate before move date, so customers know exactly what to expect. He created a formula based on how many items, how big they were, and many other moving-related contingencies that FlatRate used to give precise cost calculations. Since then, FlatRate has grown tremendously, with over six locations in the US right now.

Given his first company's success, Ben-Harosh decided to start another project: Unpakt. Unpakt is similar to FlatRate, in that it provides exact rates instead of estimates for moves. But instead of only offering FlatRate's services, Ben-Harosh decided to make it a comparison site for many moving services. For each transaction made through Unpakt, it received a 13 percent commission.

Companies who joined Unpakt's listings were forced to provide flat-rate prices. According to Ben-Harosh, many companies had never used pre-planning price formulas like FlatRates, and even went so far as to show them the way FlatRate created its price-points.

Ben-Harosh told me that he wants only the best movers to be a part of his program. To make sure they are up to snuff, he incorporated a strict vetting process that checks accreditation, insurance, and customer reviews

He says that this has all paid off. Each month the website activity almost doubles, he told me. In addition, more than 1,000 clients have used the service in the last few months. Now Unpakt is looking toward expansion. It is already available in 50 cities, but is looking to increase that to 200, as well as internationally sometime in the near future. In addition, it's looking to add new features, such as options for self-moving. The moving industry was worth around $12 billion in 2012, so all of this is smart territory for Ben-Harosh to tap.

Ben-Harosh told me that he doesn't think he'll be looking for any external funding. According to him, he's happy with the progress Unpakt's made thus far, and he's okay utilizing his success with FlatRate as the financial backbone for this venture. He also said he believes it could be profitable in 2014.

This isn't the only moving service of this kind out there by any means. For example, there's Moveline, which has you videotape or live chat the staff, who then provide a list of guaranteed prices. But Ben-Harosh has high hopes for Unpakt with these upcoming expansions and more movers joining.

So the next time I move, it'll be nice to know that there will be something more reliable than hoping my deadbeat friends with Zipcar accounts won't be too hungover to help out.

[Image via Thinkstock]