Eric Heslop, a Two Men And A Truck franchise owner, joins FBR for an exclusive interview to discuss his venture into franchising with a special "mini market" business model for his territory in northwest Montana.
Read the interview below, or listen to the full conversation here:
Eric, let's start by understanding what you were doing before getting into franchising. What's your prior professional experience?
ERIC: My prior and my current professional experience is commercial banking. I've got about 20 years in commercial banking in the Southeast. That is really what I've done since I graduated college at University of Alabama.
Whenever we're talking to franchise owners, we really like to know what got them interested franchising in the first place. Understanding that part of your background, can you offer a little more information about how the idea of franchise ownership came up and what brought you in?
ERIC: We've always wanted to have a family business. We scratched our heads for the better part of 10 years trying to figure out what our family could do. My family has extensive background in banking. We knew we didn't want to do that as a family business. We actually wanted to find something that'd be interesting.
I had a lot of friends that owned some franchises in the past. Most of those have been in the food industry. I pretty much knew I did not want to do that. Being with my background in commercial banking, I had a really good client of mine that had purchased a Two Men and a Truck franchise at least 10 to 12 years ago.
I followed his growth and his development in that franchise and had an interest in that from the very beginning. That's how it all got started.
So, you had a friend that was already involved in the brand. Would you say that it was that friend's experience that drew you in, or were there other things about the Two Men and a Truck brand that seemed relevant and on target for you?
ERIC: He asked me to look at the numbers early on. He was considering buying an existing franchise. I looked at the numbers and I told him, because he was actually in banking at the time, too, I said, "Man, you've got to do this. This looks like a great opportunity." I really have followed him over the last 10 to 12 years.
We've obviously remained friends. He's acquired several more franchises in the Two Men and a Truck system. It really wasn't until I decided that, "Hey, this is what we wanted to do also as our family business," that I really got into some of the Two Men and a Truck core values and those kind of things.
A lot of that stuff lines up with how I market myself as a commercial banker. To me, it was a natural progression for us to move into that direction.
You've been open now for a little bit under a year. You're still in your first year of business. Even with being able to compare to your friend's experience, how has the business lined up with your expectations? How has that opening process been for you in your first year?
ERIC: Two Men and a Truck actually did a lot of research and actually came out with a mini market model, which are perfect for smaller markets. That's what Northwest Montana is, which is where we are. Really, we worked with them for the better part of a year trying to hammer out what the market looks like, what the opportunities are there.
A lot of it was a new experience for all of us. We had no idea what to expect. In the market, we had no idea what kind of revenue the market would generate. We had no idea how receptive the market would be to a new entry into the market. A lot of it was all new for not only us, but also for the Two Men and a Truck home office.
It's interesting that you were able to open that franchise in Montana, being in the Southeast yourself. Are you saying that that was a new process for Two Men and a Truck at the corporate level, or is this something that they've done other times for other franchisees?
ERIC: It's interesting, they created this mini market model, which is for smaller markets. Our family has long vacationed in Northwest Montana. We've owned some real estate up there. It's an area that we really love to be in. We wanted to find an opportunity that could work in the market. It just happened that all this stuff came together at the right time.
Two Men and a Truck was starting to pilot their mini market models. I think we're the second mini market to open. Both of them are in Montana. It all worked out. The timing of it worked out perfectly.
That makes sense, that you're somewhat familiar with the market, having vacationed there for several years. At this point, what would you say are the most rewarding parts of owning your franchise, knowing that in your first year you're probably still very busy with getting things up and running.
ERIC: The most rewarding thing is, and it's interesting to see this, we are running our own business. Obviously, you are working under the umbrella of Two Men and a Truck, but you do make key decisions day in, day out that impact the business. Even though you are a franchisee, you do run your own business. To me, that's been interesting.
What is really neat is you've got all the branding and the resources and all that stuff standing behind you from Two Men and a Truck. It's interesting because we go in there trying to think that we basically have to recreate the wheel and generate our own business. You do generate business, but you're not necessarily recreating the wheel.
All the stuff has been tried and true, tried and tested in the past and it works. It's just following the Two Men and a Truck model. There's always some things that we can improve on. Those are the things that we're trying to do. In the end, we don't have to recreate the wheel.
Two Men and a Truck is a brand that we at Franchise Business Review are very familiar with. We've been working with them for a while. They do seem, on a regular basis, to show strong support and strong satisfaction among their franchisees. It seems like you're in a good spot there.
Just something to add, too, if I may, on the rewards side. Two Men and a Truck does not have the presence out West as they do in the Midwest and the East and the South. We're trying to create that brand awareness in the West. It's been pretty neat to watch.
There's people, obviously -- Northwest Montana is a big second and third home area. There are some people that have vacation homes there that have used Two Men and a Truck in the past at their primary residence. There is some experience there. A lot of it is all new to the market. Part of the thing that's most rewarding about it is bringing the brand and all that brand attributes that come with it and building the awareness in the market. To me, that's been one of the most rewarding things.
Certainly, it's one thing to own your own business, it's another thing to bring a brand that you know has a strong backbone to an area that doesn't quite have that recognition yet.
That's great. In line with some parts being very rewarding, with any new business, especially in the first year, there's bound to be some challenges. What would you say have been your greatest challenges in the first year of business?
ERIC: To me, the underlying one is that we just don't know what we don't know. Obviously, brand new business in a new area in a new market for the brand, a lot of the modeling and all that stuff was based on some assumptions. Some of these assumptions do play out, they're not always 100 percent accurate, but that's part of owning any kind of business.
That's been the biggest challenge, not knowing what we don't know. To me, that's also a rewarding thing. You can take that. We're trying new things in a new market. Some of the things may not work. We can learn from those and try again.
Another thing, too, is, as I mentioned, the limited name recognition in the market. We compete against a really large van line. It also does local household moves. They obviously have the name recognition in the market. They've been there a very long time. For the most part, we're the new kid on the block.
It also, as I mention, is one of the rewards, is when you create that awareness. It also was one of the challenges early on.
That makes a lot of sense. Knowing what those challenges are, is there anything that you feel like you might've done differently with the knowledge that you have now?
ERIC: I don't know. It's hard to know that. Long term, our plan is obviously to move into new markets. I think we really do like the mini market model. We like smaller markets. We'll do some things differently on the modeling part, the budget, some projections, some startup costs were a little bit different than what we anticipated. We've worked our way through those.
I don't know if there's anything that we would have done differently. Obviously, when we do move into new markets or so, if we have the opportunity to do that, we will do things a little bit differently. I think our initial plan, I'm happy with all the research, all the work that went into selecting the market and coming up with a budget and coming up with startup expenses and all that.
I think we did it right. It just always didn't pan out exactly how we thought. That's OK. We'll learn from that and move on.
It probably goes back to what you said earlier about not knowing what you don't know. By the time you're ready to expand into another market, you'll have a better idea of what you didn't know the first time and you can make some changes from that.
ERIC: That's right.
Based on your experience, do you have any advice that you would give to somebody who is in the process of looking for a franchise for themselves, whether it's Two Men or in the same industry or not? Is there anything that might not be obvious upfront that you think somebody should know about owning a franchise business?
ERIC: I can't really speak to all of it. As I mentioned, we didn't really look extensively at different franchises. In terms of Two Men and a Truck, to me, it's do your homework. Do your homework in terms of what you anticipate, projections for revenue, those kind of things, expenses. Be honest and be conservative with those. Do your homework.
The thing about us is, on the top line, on the revenue side, we far exceeded our projections. Expenses have been higher because a lot of this has been startup cost or so, that we knew we would have, but they drug on and on and on. Even six or seven months into it, you're still having some "startup cost."
I'm really happy with the top line number. The bottom line number comes in time. I think do your homework is one of the biggest things. Like I mentioned earlier, learning from mistakes and failures. Expect that you're going to have some setbacks. Expect that you're going to have some failures and things. I always think that hard work overcomes any of that stuff.
If you go into something new like that expecting for it to not be perfect, you're going to be much better off in the long run. If you learn from the mistakes, you're going to be successful.
That's excellent advice for anyone who might be hearing this. I think you hit the nail on the head with saying you should be honest and conservative on your projections and expectations. We know that that's one of the mistakes that a lot of people make with budgeting and the financial expectations. It's just being a little bit too optimistic and running into trouble a couple of years down the road.
Thanks for that advice. I just want to close by asking what your goals are for the next few years. I know you've mentioned possibly expanding into other markets. Do you have any firm goals? What are you doing to measure that success?
ERIC: Right now, again, we're a smaller market in Northwest Montana. We're operating two trucks. We've got a couple rental trucks. We'll probably add one to two trucks in 2018. We feel really good about the budget projections for 2018. Now we've got almost a full year under our belt.
I think, long term, like I mentioned earlier, we do have an interest in expanding into other areas. I think we can take what we've learned in this market and then easily translate that into a new market and potentially have some cost save there by doing some things a little bit differently than we did the first time.
Long term, that's the plan. Something we also may get into some storage. Storage is a big piece of the Two Men and a Truck puzzle. That's obviously something that is very important in the market that we are, second home, third home areas. I think it's something that we'll probably look into in the near future.
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