Special feature

The undercover mover

Working anonymously behind the scenes at Pickfords gave Managing Director Mark Taylor first-hand understanding of the challenges and sentiment on the frontline of his company. FIDI Focus speaks to him, and Marketing Director Lyndsey Wallbank, about what he learned, and what he did as a result

Earlier this year, Pickfords Managing Director Mark Taylor was selected as one of four managers for the reboot of Undercover Big Boss, on UK television network ITV. The company had been contacted, out of the blue, by production company Studio Lambert, which held five screening meetings before making its decision.

The company’s Marketing Director, Lyndsey Wallbank, says: ‘We were delighted to be chosen, but also nervous, because we knew the process would uncover issues that we would need to resolve, and which would be broadcast to a huge prime-time audience.’ 

However, having been involved in two series of The Removal Men, for Channel 5 in the UK, many years ago, the company felt comfortable taking part.

‘We knew we had to trust the programme-makers,’ says Wallbank. ‘They have to get the balance right between making compelling TV and ensuring it is not a boring vanity project for Pickfords. So, we embraced the subjects we suspected would come up on the “Things to improve” list.’

From there, things moved quickly during June. ‘My task was to liaise with our management team to find customers who were prepared to be filmed. We made daily calls to those that had interesting or complex moves,’ says Wallbank.  

Taylor then took off to film the disguise scene, before going undercover for a month, placed in certain teams that had been selected because they had interesting personalities or points to make.

‘The same themes came up in all four programmes [in the series] – working conditions, pay, recognition, investment,’ says Wallbank. ‘One of our challenges in 2021 was (and still is) driver recruitment, so we knew this was a theme the production company would explore.

‘The programme-makers told me they wanted to push Mark out of his comfort zone, and to bring the themes, people and boss together to create an interesting TV programme.’

When the programme aired, it attracted an audience of two million, while Pickfords saw a large jump in visits to its website.

‘The social media feedback was huge and the sentiment was overwhelmingly positive,’ says Wallbank. ‘There were some negative voices out there, but Mark has got positive feedback. He received many personal emails and letters from viewers wishing him well, and we had a sudden increase in driver applicants who wanted to work for him, too.’

Q&A with Mark Taylor

FIDI Focus: What did you learn from the experience?

Mark Taylor: After 30 years in the industry, I am familiar with the daily challenges confronting removals teams. Doing the work reminded me how hard our teams work on a move, and the skill level required. 

I learned that we have some great people at the heart of the service we deliver to our customers. The theme of pay came up. I knew Pickfords’ salaries were consistent with the rest of the industry, but to hear that young people could get the same money for picking up litter brought home to me that we need to work harder at marketing the industry as a positive career choice, with an attractive wage and structured career-development opportunities.    

Working conditions were also highlighted, as was the unhappiness of one of our removals teams that had been hastily relocated to a temporary site that simply was not good enough. This team had been vocal about this before filming began, so I went to see for myself – and could see we had made a poor decision on this site, which I was quick to rectify.

FF: Are the issues you found common in the moving industry?

MT: Absolutely. The need for decent pay, recognition, and feedback from management are common in any business.

FF: Have you changed anything in the company since your experience?

MT: I committed to fixing the issues that were fed back from our removals teams. This included implementing an immediate pay rise, raising the night-out allowance, and finding a new site, with excellent facilities, for the displaced removal team.    

Having met our youngest team members, I am now also pioneering a recruitment drive to attract new talent into the industry. I am determined to improve communication with our teams around the UK, through technology and creating working parties to give our teams a voice within the company.

Part of the programme was giving significant ‘life-changing’ gifts to the heroes that we found during the journey. I really enjoyed the final boardroom scene, saying thank you to my employees and surprising them with a gift. It was an emotional scene, and it got a lot of positive feedback on social media.

FF: Should other bosses do the same as you?

MT: I would recommend the process to other bosses in the industry – to stay close to the front line so you never lose the perspective of those people who deliver the service to your customers. 

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