Jimmy Grasso is known in the industry as Jimmy the Mover. His motto is "You call, we haul" and a loyal clientele of operators has come to rely on him over the decades to ensure their vending equipment makes it to its destination with the utmost care and professionalism.
"A lot of people think it's easy to move equipment, but it's not," the veteran equipment repair technician, refurbisher and mover commented. "It's easy to get hurt and to do a lot of damage to the machine and the location. I've been doing nothing but moving machines for more than 30 years, and my customers know they can just leave it to me to get the job done right."
Grasso determined his career track early on as a student in the vending mechanic training program at Delsea Regional High School in Franklinville, NJ. Upon graduating, he put his skills to work at Joy Vending in Cherry Hill, NJ, where he installed, serviced and repaired machines.
A few years later, Grasso's mother, who lived in Baltimore, learned of a local amusement operator, Crown Service, that was in need of a pinball mechanic. Grasso interviewed, was hired on the spot and relocated to Maryland.
It was there that his career took a pivotal turn when he met Bambi Solomon, a subcontractor who moved equipment for the amusement company. Within a short time, Solomon asked Grasso if he'd like to purchase his business.
"I didn't know much about his business and I had no money -- and my parents had no money," recalled Grasso. "He said he wasn't worried about the money. He just wanted someone to take care of his business and keep it going. He had cancer and he knew he didn't have long, and his kids didn't want it."
Grasso decided to give the business a trial run. At the time, Solomon exclusively transported and installed amusement equipment for a customer base of a dozen or so operators. Grasso enjoyed the ins and outs of moving equipment and saw potential for expansion. He assumed ownership within a few months, on July 28, 1977. Solomon died on Aug. 1.
"I didn't know who all the customers were, and what he was charging people," he recalled. "I scrambled for a while to figure it all out."
Before long, Grasso extended his service beyond amusements to vending operators. His brother, well known in the industry as "Big Frank," joined him in 1979 and remained his right-hand man until his untimely death in 2005. Two of Jimmy's three sons, Chris and Anthony, now work with him in the family business. Chris works in the shop, refurbishing equipment -- a sideline to the moving business -- and Anthony spends his time in the field, moving equipment with his father.
Together they have built a loyal following of some 200 companies throughout Maryland, Virginia, Washington, DC, Delaware and Pennsylvania. On a typical day, they serve five or six companies.
"All of my growth has been through word of mouth. Most people in the industry in this region know Jimmy the Mover -- the little man with the towel in his back pocket, because I sweat a lot!" said Grasso. "I've built my reputation on treating every piece of equipment like it's my own."
Moving equipment, Grasso emphasized, is a task many operators are not equipped to handle properly; they lack a proper truck or the manpower. Many simply don't want to take on the risk of getting hurt or damaging the machine or the location. Or they just don't have the time. That's why so many of them simply tell Grasso where to pick up the equipment, along with its destination, and leave the rest to him.
"They know, from the time I pick it up until I leave the site where I drop it, that when it's with Jimmy the Mover, it's in the best of hands," Grasso told VT. "I'm heavily insured, so if anything happens, it's my liability. With a $7,000 or $8,000 machine, my customers know they don't have to worry; I pop the door off so I don't risk damaging it, and I have dollies and stairclimbers. I know how to handle it in a way that I don't mess the floor up."
Grasso added that he has passed extensive background checks that enable him to gain entry to places with the most stringent security and that he is licensed to carry a firearm.
"People give me keys to their machines. Sometimes, if I switch out a pinball machine, I'll collect the money. I'll also run service on a machine if a customer needs it," he said. "I have customers give me their alarm codes and the keys to their shops. You can't be a thief and succeed in this business; earning my customers' trust is why they keep coming back and spreading the word."
Jimmy the Mover's clients range from the smallest one-man operations short on resources to industry giants who prefer to outsource some of their more difficult moving jobs. Canteen Vending (Charlotte, NC) recently enlisted his services to move a machine up 34 steps at a site in Delaware. Baltimore's Black Tie Services, one of the largest vending companies in Maryland, has designated Grasso as its exclusive mover.
THIS ONE'S ONLY FOR JIMMY
Jimmy the Mover beams with pride when recalling a time when Custom Vending of Beltsville, MD, commissioned his services for an installation in the White House. "They had their own team and moving truck and people, but they called me because it's my specialty; it's all I do -- and there was no room at the White House for it not to be done right," said Grasso. "I'll set up a bank of equipment and level and line them up like they should be, and people will walk in and just say 'wow.'"
Grasso emphasized that while his prompt, dependable moving skills are at the foundation of his business, a positive attitude is equally important when dealing with people in the business world. He takes great care to represent his clients in a professional light.
"I take the time to speak with people and make sure they're happy with everything," Grasso told VT. "Locations where I've installed equipment often ask their vending company to use me when machines have to be moved again, because I'm careful with the equipment and I'm friendly."
Grasso decided early on to repay his customers for their loyalty by devoting his business exclusively to moving machines for other operators and not operating his own. "I never wanted to step on my customers' toes and have them think I'm going to grab their business," he told VT. "I work with my customers, not against them."
Grasso has moved into equipment refurbishing as a sideline, which complements his moving operation by providing his customers an additional service without competing with them. "Operators will often tell me to just keep the machines that I move, or I'll buy machines from them that they don't want and we'll refurbish them and sell them," he told VT. More operators are in the market for used equipment in a down economy, said Grasso, and refurbishing what they have is an appealing alternative to investing in new machines.
He added that his moving business has felt the effects of the economy, as some customers have been forced to cut back on outsourcing the work to him. "That generally doesn't last for long because it's not something they can do easily if they're not used to it; I had one customer blow a disk out," he told VT. "That's one of my other mottos: 'often imitated but never duplicated.'"
In all his years hauling equipment full-time, Grasso says it's a testament to his careful and professional approach that he has had only one hernia. "And that was from moving a bed at my house, not even on the job!" he told VT.
Grasso added a tidbit most people don't know: along with running his business, he was a professional rodeo rider for 24 years. That career came to an abrupt end eight years ago when a fall left him with several broken bones, but he remains a professional rodeo judge on the First Frontier Circuit. He is grateful for a full recovery that has allowed him to continue to meet the challenges of a physically demanding business that has been his lifeblood and his passion for three decades.
Looking back on his 30 years as a mover, Grasso said there are two significant changes he's made that have made his job easier. One was adding a stairclimber to his bag of tricks 10 years ago, after two decades of "lugging it up and down the old fashioned way."
Another change that has eliminated a lot of headaches is leasing his trucks from Ryder instead of purchasing his own. "Now I don't have to worry about anything, and that's helped a bunch," he told VT. "I had my own truck and the DOT would stop me for safety checks and then there are things you have to fix. Now, with Ryder, they take care of everything. If the truck breaks down, they bring me another one. If I have a flat tire, they fix it. Time is a virtue in this business. If I'm not running, I'm not making money. If I'm moving, I'm happy."