Byron Home, 20 Years: Remembrances

Twenty years ago (that sounds like a long time, even to me) I started Byron Home. Friends said, “Gosh, you’re an entrepreneur!” And I said “Please don’t say that. “ It sounded too risky.

People ask me how I even thought of a business like Byron Home. They’d say, “Wow, I guess you saw a need–seniors needing assistance with downsizing and moving–and built a business to meet it.”

That DOES sound good.  Like I was intuitive and then did market research to test my assumptions.

But it wasn’t like that.

What actually happened was I made it up. Pretending I could do whatever I wanted, I made a list of things that I was good at and enjoyed doing:  helping others (I’d worked as a counselor and volunteered for years for a crisis line), moving (I especially liked unpacking and setting things up in the new place), creating furniture layouts (my dad was an architect), staying physically active (getting older made me appreciate my health), working with seniors (I’d volunteered at a senior center). And I hoped that when I pulled these ideas together, someone would hire me. But then I realized that if I wanted to do all these things, I had to create the business.

My previous work history had been first in a “helping profession” (rehabilitation counseling), and then in corporate America. I’d worked my way up into higher level management positions. Was even on the cover of the annual report.

But before Byron Home I didn’t love what I did.

So I made that list. And when I got downsized (ironic, huh?) out of my corporate position, it was ok.  I had already developed my idea. And when my outplacement package gave me several hours with a small business consultant to develop my business plan, I knew it was meant to be.

It started out with just me. And then, amazingly, I got my first client. Luckily the recent widow was very patient with me (and with the fact that my compact car wasn’t ideal for bringing packing boxes and materials to her home). We took our time as we did her floor plan, she selected her contents and I packed her belongings for the studio apartment at the senior community. She was nervous about her move but felt better because we were doing it together.

It turned out well. For both of us.

She found that being in a new location was better than being in her home alone, and that being with others helped ease her sorrow.

I learned that I had to get a bigger vehicle to transport my boxes and packing materials. And I needed to add staff so we could handle larger moves, and multiple moves on the same day. Byron Home grew to meet the needs in our community, developing as we went along. In the beginning I did all the initial consultations, floor plans, packs & unpacks, pretty much everything. But as we grew, we added team leaders and moving specialists. And that was (is) such rewarding work that several of my early employees are still working with us today.

But even though I was an industry pioneer, I found I wasn’t the only one. In October 2002, four years after I started my business, a small group of us, 22 people from 16 companies who had independently sprung up in different states, got together in Arlington, Virginia.  How might we support one another? What were our goals  and standards?

That weekend we formed an association, optimistically called the National Association of Senior Move Managers. (There were probably ten states represented, max.) But we knew one day we would have members all over the country. We’d have educational conferences. We’d create a website. We’d raise awareness so that people could find out that help for their downsizing moves was available. I became a founding member and a board member.  We did those things and more. Now the organization has more than 900 members, with about 400 attending our annual conference.

But my real love was always working day to day with Byron Home clients and with my co-workers. Helping families understand that they didn’t have to do it alone. Watching their faces when they entered their new place, everything unpacked and put away. In their new home.

So why did I call my business “Byron” Home? Byron is my middle name, a family name, my great-grandmother’s middle name. It’s personal. And what we do is personal. We help people create their new home using the most important pieces from their former home. We ease their stress, and help take a load off their families.

Byron Home has continued to be about family. My son, Jared, who joined us 5 years ago, is now president of the company and doing a terrific job. He has made many improvements in our operations while keeping our quality of service high. Employees also want to bring their family into the business, and at least six of their daughters or nieces have worked with us over the years.

Which brings me to the strength of Byron Home and what makes me so proudly nostalgic about our history and excited about our future.  It is the people.

They are hard-working, patient, and kind. They’re terrific team players who enjoy helping others, using their experience to smooth a process that might otherwise be daunting.

Ours is rewarding work. The interactions and experiences we have are as valuable to us as to the families we assist. We meet wonderful people. We learn about them and from them. We have incredible co-workers. And we go home at the end of the day knowing we made a difference.

In closing, there are many I want to thank for believing in Byron Home over the years: the clients who trusted us with their moves, gave us hugs, and then told others about us; the communities who let their prospects know that help was available for their downsizing moves; and the other senior service professionals we’ve worked alongside.

And last, but never least, I must thank the amazing people of Byron Home. Jared and I are fortunate to know and to work with each and every one. With this team, we know the next twenty years will be even better!

Donna Willmann

Founder and President Emeritus

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