Chris Willems, Franchisee of Two Men And A Truck
When Chris Willems decided to seek a new business venture, he was looking to limit his risk, having already dealt with starting a business from scratch and spending years trying to make it successful. When he found the Two Men And A Truck franchise, he was cautious and on the lookout for red flags... but he didn't find any.
Listen to the full interview here or download the mp3 version.
Can you tell us what factors led you to enter into franchising?
Chris: One of the biggest factors was I was previously an owner and creator of a business that had been successful, and we were able to transition and sell it off. I was in a period where I was looking for other opportunities to get involved in entrepreneurial adventures and/or opening up a new business.
I wanted to minimize some of the risks that are associated with starting from scratch, and franchising really appealed to me in that context.
Could you actually elaborate a little bit about the risks that you feel, having started a business from scratch, that people face when they do so?
Chris: One of the biggest things is identifying that you have a product that people are willing to purchase, and that there's a real demand and market for what you think people want. That's not always known. Your concept of what you think everybody needs isn't always the same as the marketplace.
What Two Men and a Truck had was a 30‑year track record of having exceptional moving experiences and success so that kind of risk is taken out of the equation. You can focus on really developing and growing a business rather than worrying about whether you're even in the right kind of market.
You mentioned that Two Men and a Truck have a 30‑year track record. What else led you to invest in the brand?
Chris: As I was doing my due diligence, what really attracted me initially was the reputation and the brand awareness. As I started digging in more and more, I could quickly identify with the core values that guide Two Men and a Truck. Those really matched up well with my personal values.
As I moved down that due diligence path, as I mentioned to my wife, I would just keep getting these green lights. I kept looking for stop lights to tell me, "No, don't do this." Quite the opposite happened.
Can you tell us a little bit about the core values that resonated with you?
Chris: The core values of Two Men and a Truck are integrity, giving back to the community, the Grandma Rule – which is basically you'd want to treat everybody like you would your grandmother – caring for others, and being your best and having fun. And then, being inclusive.
Those are really simple, but they really ring true as any kind of business owner having that kind of value set is only going to really provide a good backbone for what you're building as a business.
It wasn't anything that you had to look to try and convince yourself that these are a good set of values. It was pretty easy to see that a lot of this was taking place, and I wanted to be part of that.
What else about the Two Men And A Truck brand appealed to you? Was it the kind of support you'd be getting, anything else?
Chris: The support was good. Also, even in the due diligence phase when I talked to other franchisees, they were very candid and very open with the struggles and the successes they had while they were growing and building their businesses.
Every single one of them at the end of the day they said it was challenging, but they circled back and said, "I would do it all over again." To me, that put the stamp on. Everything takes hard work to be successful, but if you're willing to go through that, look back and say, "I'd do it all over again," that's pretty powerful.
The other key to me was that the home office really had a tremendous support system for the franchisees. In every functional area of your business, they have a team of people that are literally there to help, consult, and guide you and assist you when you have questions.
They're not going to do the work for you, but you always have somebody to turn to. Just having that advice and that availability is huge.
Has the speed at which you were able to get off the ground vary a lot working with Two Men and a Truck versus when you started your own business from scratch?
Chris: There's absolutely no comparison. We're on a trajectory that took us probably five years to get to when we started our own business. We'll probably be there in a year, year and a half.
We grew quite successfully beyond that in the original start up, but the ability to actually create revenue and have a stable business quickly is much, much easier in a franchise setting.
You mentioned, obviously, the franchisor has assisted you tremendously, but what about the fellow franchisees you said you spoke to a lot when you were doing your due diligence. At this point in time, do they also help you with your business?
Chris: They do. Just a month ago, we had a regional meeting here where a lot of the local franchisees got together. We were able to discuss issues that affect all of our moving businesses, where the brand is headed, things of that nature in a more laid back and informal setting.
It was really awesome. The franchisees are very non‑threatening. Everybody is looking, obviously, to develop their territory to the maximum. The competition really isn't among franchisees, it's really us growing the brand so that we can compete with the other movers in the industry.
What advice would you share with someone who's considering entering franchising?
Chris: My first advice is to have a serious talk with your significant others and family and assess your personal goals and make sure it's a good fit because there's going to be sacrifice, no matter what, when you start up a business and get into something new. It's going to take a lot of hard work, and it doesn't always fit into your calendar exactly how you would like it, so having those open communications is really key.
Also, if you like to build teams and you're really motivated by creating opportunities for others and you believe in the mission, the service, the brand, and the reputation of the company, then I'd go for it. Just make sure that all the people that are very close to you are onboard with you so that you don't have any conflicts.
How do you manage to find that work/life balance with your family? What does that involve?
Chris: Those are good points. I've been in the entrepreneurial arena for about 20 years and my wife's had a successful career as an executive in a large corporation, so we're kind of at opposite ends of the business spectrum.
We've been able to manage and do it by working closely together. Like you said, communication is the number one thing, so there's a lot of constant communication between us.
We share calendars so we know what's going on, and then it's about prioritizing. It's not always a one‑way street with who gets the priorities but for what you should work on. You've got to figure it out and that's why circling back to making sure everybody's onboard.
If you have a partner that's understanding of that and you guys can communicate well, there's no better way to go because there's a lot of work‑life balance that you can have with a franchise,
You have to be smart about it, and you have to communicate so that it doesn't become a problem.
What is your average work week like when it comes to hours work done, when you work?
Chris: That's an interesting question because with us being seven months into the startup, I'm probably putting in around 50 hours or so to the business.
As any business owner will tell you, you probably never turn that off. There's times where I'll hit the pause button, and we'll do different things as a family or whatever else life throws at you.
When you're a business owner, the best advice I can give you is to fully immerse and be involved in it. The hours aren't that relevant, it's more that you're making progress and you're improving your business.
When it comes to improving your business, what do you think are some of the key things that franchisees, such as yourself, should be doing to help ensure the success of their business?
Chris: The number one thing is identifying good people and building a good team and creating a culture where people are having fun, but they're enjoying servicing the customers, especially in the moving business. Finding good people is by far the number one thing that you need to do to be successful.
You have to be pretty agile and willing to switch directions with things, especially in a startup. As much as you may plan, surprises will happen and how you react to those and readjust your plan based on what's happened, that's key.
If somebody were to say to you, "Hey Chris, are you glad you went into franchising?" What would you say knowing what you know now?
Chris: I would say yes, absolutely. I've gone the other way where we started up from scratch, and I never regretted that in the end whatsoever. But this is a more clean‑cut path, and the opportunities are just as great and, maybe, greater without the same kind of risk.
Being able to be part of the community, being part of a brand that's got a great reputation like it does, being able to build a business. I've created opportunities for people. To me, it just doesn't get any better than that.
If you focus on growing a great business, a lot of people are in it for the financial rewards. To me, those are just a consequence of doing things right.