Passion & Integrity
Commerce & Creativity
Equality Not Hierarchy

Emma Lanman - United Kingdom
The Elizabeth Grant Entrepreneur Award
Emma Lanman
Van Girls Ltd
Emma Lanman is the recipient of TheWIFTS Foundation Elizabeth Grant Entrepreneur Award 2017. Lanman, founder of Van Girls, created and established a first by recognizing a gap in the industry of logistics. Van Girls demonstrated that women are equal to men in an industry previously dominated by men on the basis of physicality of gender. Van Girls was the first commercial removals company in the world powered by women.

Emma Lanman’s first two vans.

Emma Lanman started London-based Van Girls, at the end of 2011, to provide a reliable alternative to the traditional ‘man and van’ service. Their drivers and movers collected and transported whatever clients needed to move, whenever they needed to move it – from domestic removals to commercial moves, trade fair and exhibition transport and moving art. Emma appeared on Dragons’ Den earlier in 2015 seeking investment to expand. Sadly in late October 2017 a fire in the complex where the company was housed occurred and the business had to create trading.

However in spite of this, which is hoped to be a hiccup, the team at TheWIFTS Foundation felt that for her innovative work in recognizing a market that had not been catered to, TheWIFTS Elizabeth Grant Entrepreneur Award recognizes and celebrates Emma Lanman.

Before setting up Van Girls, Emma Lanman worked as a crew manager in the London Fire Brigade, where she had started as a firefighter five years earlier. Prior to that Emma worked at a theatre in administration, following a History of Art degree and various internships in galleries.

Working as a firefighter Lanman noticed that often there was an excited reaction from people when a woman turned up in a fire engine. So, when she began to think of something to supplement her income on her days off, she thought, “Let’s turn man and van on its head, people might like it.”

Lanman spent about a year procrastinating and thinking of names for the company and settled on Van Girls and bought a van.

What immediately differentiated Van Girls and set it apart from the competition was: it was in an industry that had for so long been dominated by companies that were set up by men and where the work force facing the customer had been 99.9% male.

There are a number of women working in the removals industry in different roles but Van Girls and Lanman worked to create an environment where women felt happy, comfortable and motivated to work. The company aimed to be a leader in creating a positive work environment for women as it was something new in the removals industry.

The Team at Pride London.

Amongst the girls employed were firefighters, police officers and paramedics, ex-army and RAF, premiership rugby players, ex-England footballers. But that was not the only pedigree that made a great mover. Other previous jobs of the girls employed included carpentry, painting and decorating, running a café, IT sales. The employees all shared a love of sport and physicality, endorsing a feeling of camaraderie.

Van Girls had a strong emphasis centered on customer service and customers responded to that ethic with overwhelming positivity. The customers of Van Girls covered the gambit of home and industry, with the largest demographic being young families. The company enjoyed a broad spectrum of clientele and the people who booked Van Girls was a wider clientele than Lanman had expected. Men, women, couples, the elderly or their children on their behalf, parents on behalf of their children, the LGBT community, all liked the idea and booked the company.

The idea of Van Girls had appeal for two underlying reasons. Most often voiced was that they wanted to support companies offering women that kind of work and that they have a perception that women will be more sensitive and take more care of their possessions than men might. That is not something Van Girls themselves endorsed, but it was a perception that brought business to the company.

Emma Lanman part the team on the job.

The company was not solely powered by women, it employed a male mechanic and accountant who were both very dedicated to making Van Girls a success. Lanman said: “Whilst it might seem unfair that you can’t choose to only employ women when you are trying to provide both an employment option and a service option in an industry that doesn’t currently offer it, sex discrimination employment law is there to protect us all and can’t be got around. Removals work is not exempt from this legislation. People often read our brand name as an employment policy when they would never assume that a company with ‘man’ and ‘van’ in the title could avoid employing a woman, if she met their selection criteria. Our brand name represented how the company started and what it was always able to offer, but it didn’t mean that men who wanted to work for Van Girls, as it grew, wouldn’t have been given a fair chance to form part of a mixed crew, if they matched our ethos and fulfilled our selection criteria. There were scenarios where people would specifically request an all female crew and we will always maintained ratios of staff to be able to meet that need.”

Emma Lanman’s tips and advice for other women looking to set up in male dominated sectors is: “Be strong don’t feel you have to justify your existence to anyone. Provide a good service and customers will flock to you. Have the confidence to stand up for what you believe in and stand up to things you disagree with, regardless of what people will think of you. I personally reached the stage where I felt able to do that and I created my own work environment to enable me to feel confident enough to do it.”



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