When Tom Watson was a child, his father and uncle bought what was then known as Armstrong Transfer and Storage Co.
The two men were able to muster $6,000 for a down payment on the company, which had two employees and one truck in 1957.
Tom Watson began working for the company in 1970, just after graduating from the University of Memphis. Back then the company had 40 employees and locations in Memphis and Louisville.
Today, Armstrong Relocation and Cos. is the second-largest mover of household goods in the United States. The company, one of the largest hauling and booking agents for United Van Lines, employs more than 1,025 full-time employees and owner-operators, dispatches nearly 500 trucks and operates more than 1.2 million square feet of warehouse space.
“It was a very, very small company when they bought it in 1957,” said Watson, co-chairman of Armstrong. “It was a down payment of $6,000 and they struggled to come up with that, and now look. It’s an amazing story, an ‘only in America’ story.”
This year, Carnival Memphis is honoring Tom Watson with the President’s Award for his efforts to help Armstrong to new heights.
As part of its 83rd anniversary celebration, Carnival Memphis will salute the Mid-South trucking industry during the annual Business & Industry Salute Luncheon Wednesday, April 30, from noon to 1:30 p.m. at the Hilton Memphis.
Watson said he feels blessed to be able to run a family-owned business for so long.
“We’re very much a family business that has run and operated this company since 1957,” said Watson, 66. “That’s really something when you think about it.”
Watson said part of the company’s success is due to what he describes as its “Christian philosophy.”
“I think that’s a big part of our success, I really do,” said Watson. “We’ve always given back to our churches and our community.”
Watson said the company, which is well-known for domestic and international household goods moving, facility moving, and move-management services, was able to become the giant it is today through steady, determined growth as opportunities presented themselves starting in the 1980s and 1990s.
“It was just a good time for business, and we expanded into different markets,” said Watson. “We had to get approval from United Van Lines to expand, and as the markets opened up we were able to go out a little further. We would invest in the city we wanted to open in, and if you do that over a long period of time, that’s how you get it going.”
That strategy continues today, with Armstrong recently acquiring Crown Worldwide Moving and Storage near San Francisco. Crown’s agency locations in northern, central and southern California extend Armstrong’s already sizable footprint to 25 cities in 14 states.
Watson said one of the challenges Armstrong faces today is finding enough qualified drivers, an issue affecting all trucking and trucking-related businesses.
“There’s a huge demand for drivers, and there’s not enough of them,” said Watson. “Our drivers have to load the trailers, so they have to be involved with satisfying the customer at a high level. And then they have to do the driving and keep up with all the rules and regulations, and quite honestly, it’s hard to find people.”
But Watson prefers to spend his time thinking about the positive aspects of the business, the only one he’s worked for since leaving the U of M.
“It’s the only full-time job I’ve ever had,” Watson said with a laugh. “Not many people can say that.”