John von Paris
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World-class moving and storage owned and operated by one family for over 100 years
John von Paris is the president and CEO of Von Paris Moving and Storage. Founded in 1892, Von Paris has helped its customers relocate their homes, businesses, and belongings for over 100 years—all while remaining under the ownership and management of one family. The company was one of the first in its category to adopt a motorized fleet, and was an early pioneer of long distance interstate and international moving. In addition to its consumer-facing services, Von Paris has handled and stored highly specialized cargo for Fortune 500 companies, museums, sports teams, and more; it is is the official moving partner of the Baltimore Orioles, the Baltimore Ravens, and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra. Aside from his role at Von Paris, John has served as board chair for the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland and the Black and Gold Foundation.
EDWIN WARFIELD: Has the company faced challenges in keeping up with the ways the world has changed since the 19th century?
JOHN VON PARIS: The business is challenging. There are many areas in the business that [my great-grandfather and Von Paris founder] Eligius would never have recognized today. The document management side, the scanning side of the business, the shredding, and just some of the technology that has been introduced to the business has really changed a great deal over the years. In order to be successful, we have to change and that means one of the challenges that we have and many businesses have is to be willing to embrace change and really reinvent your business every couple of years or as needed.
Also—the key, just like other organizations, is to make sure that the right people are in the right seats and that it gives the company an opportunity to be successful and it gives the employee the opportunity to be the most successful they can be for their family. Leading a family business has its unique challenges. I think the secret to it is balance: to be able to balance between what’s best for the business and what’s best for the family. Sometimes what’s best for the family isn’t necessarily what’s best for the business, and sometimes what’s best for the business isn’t always what’s best for the family. It may sound confusing, but you have to balance that out and you have to operate in the spirit of fairness. And really, at the end of the day, our job and my job as the CEO of the company is to represent the shareholders of the corporation.
Q. Who have you modeled yourself after as a leader?
A. I learned a lot from my parents. They had a very good work ethic. I just lost my mom recently and, you know, when you have to go over the eulogy and prepare a eulogy for example, you learn a lot more about that person, because the information comes in from many sources and things that you didn’t know. Their work ethic—they were both very dedicated to their family and dedicated to their careers. My mom’s career was raising six children and she did a great job with that. Dad was very focused on the customer; customers were sacred to him. He was a very hard worker. If there was a difficult job—if we were moving a huge warehouse or a very complex facility—Dad would usually be called in to help engineer it, and he did a very good job with that. I learned a lot from him and also I learned a lot from my brothers in that area, as well as my uncles and aunts.
Q. Can you tell us about some of the ways technological advances have changed your business recently?
A. We use technology today more than ever before to attract business: digital marketing, search engine optimization; and we drive a lot of traffic to our website and our call center. In doing that, then of course a lot of the transactions will come from the call center or from our website. It used to be, when I first got into the business back in the late seventies, customers would call and they’d say, “I’m planning to move next year,” and they would sometimes stop by the office and talk to us and talk about their planned move. Things have changed. People today will call up and they say they’re moving—this is on the residential side. They’ll call in and say they’re moving and we’ll say “When?” And they say, “Well I need to move this afternoon,” or you know, “in a week” or something like that. Often, people feel it’s like ordering a pizza or something like that. But you have to respond to the customer’s needs and we’ve been able to do that. So, technology has played a big role in our business and we’re looking right now at a completely paperless system. That’s what we are working on right now.
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