Galbraith Van & Storage Company

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Profile appeared in our 32-1 Issue – April 2015

How many businesses do you know of that started with teams of horses, wagons, and two “auto trucks” that are still thriving to this day? Unbeknownst to some, such a business exists right here in Bakersfield, and the commitment to quality and care is still evident in their daily operations. Because back in 1912, George H. Galbraith started his moving company with those very components, and in 2015, his legacy remains strong amongst his family, which currently operates Galbraith Van & Storage Company.

George Harvey (Grandfather)

George Harvey (Grandfather)

“George used to move commodities for the railroads with a team of horses and wagons when everything began. I imagine part of it may have had something to do with agriculture,” began Ben Geissel, the current owner and manager of the company. “After that, he was looking to expand the business and what he was already doing by branching out into other things. He decided to get into moving and storage.” Naturally, back in George’s day, the industry wasn’t as expansive as it is now, but they always went with the best, and started out as being agents for Bekins Van Lines. As Geissel stated, “Back in the ‘50s, ‘60s, and ‘70s, Bekins was as well-known as Band Aid or Kleenex are today, and Galbraith was the first business ever to sign on with them as agents.”
After George had managed the business for some time, he passed it on to his son, Jack Galbraith. Jack had a very interesting history, himself. He had been a prisoner of war during World War II, and was a Bataan Death March Survivor in Japan. “He had kept a Japanese newspaper with him, and he would write in between the lines of it so it served as a journal,” Ben explained. Jack was the head of the family business after his return.

During the time when Jack was at the helm, the first Geissel family member entered the picture. Ken Geissel (Ben’s father) was working for Standard Oil as a draftsman when he had the opportunity to join the Galbraith team, and he decided to take some time off from his profession to see if he could be of any assistance to help promote the company. He apparently could because he never returned to his previous job. Married to Jack’s niece, Sue, Ken really took the reins, and eventually became a partner in the company. The more involved he became, the more responsibility he accrued, and Jack eventually served more as a silent partner.

Galbraith Van & Storage Company was the first agent in history to represent Bekins Van Lines

Galbraith Van & Storage Company was the first agent in history to represent Bekins Van Lines

With Ken tending to about half of the business, Sue also joined him in the running of her family’s company. “She was the bookkeeper, and basically did anything that needed to be done,” Geissel relyed. “The same thing went for my dad. He was the president and head of operations, but he was also the truck maintenance guy when they needed it, the broom pusher, you name it. At one point, they were really the two people who were holding the business together.”
Fortunately, it didn’t remain that way, and the Geissels were able to build a strong team of dedicated members who are still around to this day. Debbie Fullerton has been with Galbraith Van & Storage Company for 31 years, and she worked with Ken and Sue before Ben took over in 2002. As an integral part of the company, she has seen a lot of changes transpire over the years. “When I started, there were only two warehouses, and now we have three. Also, while we were Bekins Van Lines agents for about seventy-five years, we became North American Van Lines agents thirty years ago. When State Farm Insurance first came to town, we moved the majority of their offices within California, which is when we had made the switch to North American. The business took off even more since then, and we have done more international moves as a result.” (The first warehouse that they ever had is now where the AIS Cancer Center now stands!)

Original Galbraith Building

Original Galbraith Building

Although, those certainly aren’t the most major changes that Fullerton or the entire staff at Galbraith has witnessed. The expansion that they experienced means that they had also taken on even more employees, from drivers to office staff like Cynthia Claiborne, who has been acting as the bookkeeper for seven years. “There is always something new to learn in this business,” Claiborne remarked, noting that they are sure to stay abreast of any changes that happen in the industry. Having been around for more than 100 years, it is hard to imagine that anything has really stayed the same with Galbraith, at all, but nothing could be further from the truth. One of the traditions that still does—and always will—hold true with this crew is that everyone is treated like family.

Fullerton knows that this mentality has been around since Ken had taken over, and even before. “Ken was really wonderful about making sure everyone was treated like family,” she said. “If anyone was struggling, he would try to get everyone to chip in to help out. Holidays and birthdays were always celebrated, and still are.” Claiborne agreed, saying, “We all know each other’s children, and we have watched them grow up together. We are definitely more like family than co-workers.” Ben Geissel said this is because his parents’ values were instilled in him from the onset. “My parents told me to run the business more like a family,” he said. “This is why we have kept employees for so long.” (Much like Fullerton, some of their employees have been with them for decades.)

Ken & Sue, Leslie & Ben

Ken & Sue, Leslie & Ben

It is common knowledge that happy employees make for happy customers, and that is exactly what Galbraith experiences daily. “When a claim comes in, it is handled immediately and the customer is contacted right off so that we can try to make them happy,” Fullerton said. “Because of this practice, we have a .5 percent claim ratio.”

Not only limited to moving, Galbraith also stores sensitive documents for lawyers, doctors, and anyone else who needs reliable and safe keeping of their records. They have even found ways to help out the community with their services. They partner up with Guarantee Shoe Center and their annual shoe drive where they transport the shoes donated to the homeless of Bakersfield. And if you’ve ever wondered what happens to all of those teddy bears that are catapulted onto the ice at the Condor’s Teddy Bear Toss, wonder no more: Galbraith is there to collect them and take them to the needy children of our community. The Police Activities League also looks to Galbraith to sponsor their race car every year, which they do with great pride.

Over an entire century of reliable, quality work is an incredible feat in any realm of business. While, as Geissel said, the moving industry is almost like a tradition, in itself, because “at the end of the day, despite any technological advances, it is still a couple of guys going into someone’s home, getting their belongings, wrapping them up, and then safely moving them,” it is evident that this business is made up of more than just the dependability of the industry.

www.galbraithvanandstorage.com

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