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Getting to grips with Brexit

An interview with Tim Daniells and Iain Adams

2021 has been an extraordinary year so far for European logistics.  On 1 January, the Brexit transition period came to an end and after 4½ years of deliberation, argument and negotiation, the UK finally left the EU.  In this article, Iain Adams and Tim Daniells, Managing Director and Client Account Director for Gosselin in the UK, look at the effect of the changes for the household goods moving industry.

It all seemed to be a bit of a rush in the end. Many transport operators, used to operating freely without borders, were stunned that it had all suddenly become real.  And for the household goods market, it was particularly difficult. “Most of the information we received was about the movement of commercial goods; used household goods were not really considered,” said Tim Daniells.

Everything changed, but nothing changed

So, in those early weeks, there was an element of learning on the job.  “But although everything changed, actually nothing changed,” said Iain Adams.  What he meant, was that the requirements for moving goods into Europe from the UK had just become the same as they had always been for moving, for example, to Switzerland, Moscow or deep-sea destinations. “Structurally and conceptually it's not been a huge shift.”

It was fortunate, of course, that the switch came in January when the industry is comparatively quiet.  This gave an opportunity to take things gently at the start and make sure everything was done perfectly as new operational procedures were adopted. If the switch had taken place in July, it might have been a different story. “Volumes were noticeably down at the start of 2021,” said Tim.  “But as we have moved through the rest of the quarter, business levels have started to ramp up.”

Managing increased paperwork, delays and costs

But the new rules have made a huge difference in those procedures with more paperwork, delays and additional costs. “In simple terms we've gone from two documents for each shipment to seven or eight now,” said Tim. “That's just to make sure that the household goods move from one side to the other.  That has created costs that we cannot avoid of around €150-€200/consignment.  That doesn’t allow for the additional time we have to spend in administration. We have to factor in these costs but have deliberately not gone for a blanket approach, we prefer to treat each job individually.”

Iain Adams said that this has forced the company to think carefully about planning schedules and communicate those plans to customers. However, he explained, Gosselin has had to do it before. “We saw changes after 9/11, then again when the C3 customs form was replaced with the TOR (Transfer of Residence) in 2015, and a whole bunch of concerns about GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations).  Each time we had to consider how we informed our customers and how we would manage their expectations.”

But in truth, those expectations have not been severely compromised.  Tim explained that Gosselin has been doing this for decades on an international basis and, as long as everything is done correctly, the customer shouldn’t notice much difference. “The small extra cost is often not important to the assignee and they are quite happy to accept that it might take an extra two or three days to arrive, so long as it is explained. We just need to make sure that nothing comes as a surprise to them.”

Focussing on communication

It is this communication that is so important, not just with the assignee but with the corporate account and, if necessary, the RMC (Relocation Management Company). “We need to explain things properly,” said Tim. “We communicate on a regular basis with the HR team or the relocation management supply chain team. It is during these conversations that we provide important updates regarding changes that affect service delivery and/or costs, including Brexit-related matters. The HR team/RMC then have the opportunity to pass the information on to the assignee.”

But there is also a second level of communication direct with the assignee. At the start of the move the move co-ordinator discusses everything with the family, explaining the process from start to finish, including important matters that might affect service delivery and door-to-door transit times. The move co-ordinator keeps in contact throughout the move.  “It’s a complete support system,” said Tim. “Not much slips through the cracks.”

Staff training

This has also required Gosselin’s staff to take part in additional training to make sure that they are fully ‘up to speed’ with a quickly changing situation.  This will include the requirements of still more regulations expected in April and July the effects of which are not, yet, entirely clear.  “We put in a lot of effort to ensure clear communication within the team,” said Iain. “We have our Academy, which is an online portal used to educate the teams about what is required in each case. It allows us to communicate our expected service levels, with any changes in regulations and their effects, throughout our organisation right down to local level.  It means we can react very quickly, in a coordinated and consistent way, across the entire company throughout Europe.”

Tim is confident that his team will be able to deal with whatever new regulations come along, this year or at any time in the future. “It’s a moving target,” he said, “but it won’t be insurmountable. We just need to communicate well, continue to stay abreast of all changes, and be as organised as possible.”

Perfect preparation

To some extent Gosselin will rely on its partners and customers to help the process along by providing everything that’s needed in good time.  “It all boils down to preparation,” said Iain. “We need as much advanced notice as possible from the corporation and the relocating family. That way we can let them know in good time everything we need to avoid any issues. When our partners and customers work with us in this way, it allows us to do our job properly.”

From a practical perspective, Iain explained that it’s essential that all the documentation is in place before anything moves. “The paperwork has to be completely watertight before the truck lets off its brakes,” he said.

Taxes and duties

Of course, this attention to detail is particularly important when related to taxes and duties. “We now have no freedom of movement,” said Iain.  “Duties and taxes sometimes apply. There is a particular problem when trying to import alcohol.  Before 1 January we didn’t need to worry about it.”  With some countries imposing combined taxes and duties of up to 40% on the value of used household goods, it’s important to get it right every time.

Europe-wide footprint

Gosselin is fortunate in that it has its own offices and facilities throughout Europe and the eastern European states. “This gives us a high level of expertise within the group,” said Tim. “Administration is much easier as we are all on the same platform. We also know our colleagues very well; we trust them and can always be confident that they are providing the right information for our customers.”    

Compliance

We are living in a time when compliance is king in the mobility industry.  With the introduction of new rules, there automatically follows the temptation to find ways around them.  But Tim said that it was vitally important that they complied with all the regulations and respected them. “Rules are rules,” he said. “They are there for a reason. We will not allow anybody in our organisation, or in any part of our supply chain, to make up their own interpretation of them.”

A continuing process

In conclusion Iain said that the three months before Brexit was never going to provide all the answers. “It’s continued to remain a dialogue at all levels between us, our industry bodies and government. It’s our job to listen carefully, interpret the rules correctly, and pass on the information down the line to our customers. That process will continue, as will our objective to provide the exemplary service for which Gosselin has been trusted for so many years.”

 

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