Many Roads Lead to Business Ownership: Two Men and a Truck Franchise Owners Share Their Stories [Podcast]
Jason Washburn, Colin Bergeron and Brian Stern, of Two Men and a Truck, talk with FBR's founder and CEO, Eric Stites, about their journeys' from movers to drivers to successful franchise owners.
Listen to the full conversation here or read the transcript below.
Eric Stites: Good afternoon. This is Eric Stites with Franchise Business Review. Today, I'm excited because I talk to a lot of franchisee candidates and there's often a lot of desire to get into franchising and owning your own business, but the path to get there is often fuzzy.
I have three gentlemen today with me that are going to shed some light on that topic. I'd like to welcome Jason Washburn, Colin Bergeron, and Brian Stern, all of Two Men and a Truck. Welcome guys.
Jason Washburn: Thank you.
Colin Bergeron: Hey, how you doing?
Eric: Jason, I'd like to start off with you. First of all, tell us a little bit about Two Men and a Truck for those that might not know what the company is or does. Just how you guys met up and got started.
Jason: Sure. Two Men and a Truck, we are obviously a franchised moving company. We like to hold the title that we're the largest franchised moving company in the world. We are even international. Our foundation is customer service. We like to use the saying that we're in the business of customer service. We just happen to move furniture.
We have about 375 locations across the US and even international, like I said. How I became familiar with the brand? I was young. I started with the company when I was 20 years old. I had just been working and trying to see if school or a job was the path I wanted to take. Ended up being in the workforce and working some jobs in the area.
I had some friends that were working at Two Men and a Truck that had really great things to say about it. It seemed like a good niche for somebody that liked hard work, was dedicated to what they do, liked the reward, and liked to make some good money. I applied as a mover. Thankfully, I was able to get the opportunity to get the job and put my skills to use.
When I first started with the company, I saw it as maybe a stepping stone or just part of the road that I was traveling and probably move on to something bigger and better.
As I slowly found out there was opportunity. There were things that somebody like myself that was just really looking to work hard, be dedicated, and walk through some open doors. That's what I was presented with.
I was able to work my way up the ladder and become a franchise owner. There was a lot of steps that I had to take in between all that time in which we can kind of get into later. That's just how I was able to get in touch with the brand.
Eric: Can you tell us a little bit about that you started back in I think it was 2011 with the company, how you guys met each other, and how your groups grown from there?
Jason: Sure. Like I said in 2011 I started as a mover. When it comes to a mover position it's a hands on labor position out in the field. A lot of freedom, but also a lot of responsibility. Then I quickly took the steps to become a driver. The same responsibility. A little bit better pay. A little bit more responsibility.
Through those entry level type of positions you really learn the basics of the brand, the customer service, some of our core values, the integrity, the care, and some of those other things like the grandma rule.
You really learn the basics of what Two Men and a Truck is all about and that brings out that curiosity or that little bit of excitement like, "What's this all about?"
To me, where I'm from and where I grew up, a moving service wasn't necessarily a thing. Once I really learned more about Two Men and a Truck I was very, very surprised with how big the brand was, what they were about, and how they established themselves.
As I learned a little bit of those things, I started seeking out some other opportunities within the company. After about 9 or 10 months as a laborer, a position inside of the office became available as a customer service representative.
I saw that as a stepping stone. I was able to take that position, learn a whole lot more from a customer service and even the sales side of things. I started to realize that I was developing some skills and really coming out of my shell as a young adult, and learning a little bit more about myself and even a little bit more about the business.
I did that for about two years. Then some other opportunities came along on the operations side. Two Men and a Truck is in, like I said, several different cities. As a group, our ownership had multiple locations across the country at the time.
I was able to get an opportunity out in Salt Lake City, Utah managing that store in which I think I was able to display some of my skills and then bounce around between some other cities. I spent some time at our Chicago, Illinois office. Brian Stern, who's also on the call here, had gotten the opportunity to open Boston, Massachusetts.
He had invited me and offered me basically a position to be his right hand man, which ultimately led me to other opportunities and put me in the seat that I'm in today as a franchisee.
Eric: That's great. Brian, how about you? Can you tell us a little bit about your background before coming to Two Men and a Truck? I know you started in the Boston Market and have grown from there.
Brian Stern: Definitely. Like Jason, I came in contact with Two Men and a Truck and became part of the team in St. Louis actually. Also, when I was 20 back in 2006, Jason I have similar stories to where I started on the frontline as a mover and worked my way up to driver.
Given different opportunities and different steps to take advantage of is what I did with those opportunities when they were presented to me as I grew as a mover and as I grew as a driver. Then cross training in the office, I realized I really liked this logistics customer service thing and making a really stressful situation not stressful.
Making great impressions on customers whenever they were most stressed out was really rewarding to me. About a year into my employment I was cross training. I was still on the front lines, but I was developing other skills. There was an opportunity. We had a franchise that we were prepping for sale, but we had about a year before that before we were going to sell it.
We wanted to get it into tip top shape and ready to go. I actually relocated to Indianapolis for about 9 or 10 months to get that ready. Once it sold, I came back to St. Louis.
Again, I enhanced my abilities in Indianapolis. Learned a lot. Trial by error, if you will, and been thrown in the fire there. I was able to develop more and more skills, take on a lot more of the company, and really see things full circle.
Shortly after getting back to St. Louis, I found out that one of my current business partners, Joel Tros, was also leaving St. Louis and going to open up a large market in Chicago. He had extended the opportunity for me to come along with him and open the doors there. I decided to relocate again and do just that. I spent about five years in Chicago.
Towards the end of my time there, Jason, like you said, we crossed paths in Chicago. The success of Chicago's what gave us the ability and the capabilities to open Boston. I was extended an offer to do so and expand our footprint, which led me to here today. We opened Boston, November of 2014. Shortly thereafter is where Jason and I met Colin, who's also on the call.
When we arrived in the Northeast, we realized there wasn't a big Two Men and a Truck presence. We realized that the market, the people, and the customers were here. Top notch service was something we could provide. We thought we can make an impact on these communities.
We've been expanding our footprint ever since 2014 in New Jersey, Portland, and an up and down the East Coast. It's been a good past couple years. We look forward to continue growing our footprint, whether it be the Northeast or wherever. Right now is where I call Boston home.
Eric: Great. Colin, how about you? I want to shift topics a little bit and just talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of franchising. I think a lot of people out there think that franchising is some silver bullet to entrepreneurship. The reality is that, [laughs] like any business, franchising is a lot of work.
Can you share some of the good, the bad, and the ugly of the franchise experience for you?
Colin Bergeron: [laughs] I think in my position obviously, they got to see a lot of it as well coming from St. Louis, Chicago, and the opportunities they had. I got to see it firsthand from them starting off like they did as a mover, as a driver, seeing what the back of the house does while we're going out in trucks and not seeing it at the same time.
When you get into the office, you notice there's a lot more moving parts than what a big percent of movers/drivers think what's going on. There's a lot of work that's involved, a lot of time that's involved. You don't see all the bad stuff until you're actually...Not the bad stuff, but you don't see all the stuff they have to deal with until you're actually in the middle of it.
When you deal with so many customers like we do on a daily basis, which translates into a yearly basis, you're going to have your ups and downs with them. You're going to have your issues with employees, with financials, with making sure all your T's are crossed and I's are dotted. It's a lot of work.
If you don't have the motivation to make sure you're running a tight ship, running a business correctly, and doing the correct things to treat your employees right and your customers right, then it is going to not only creep up on you, it's going to become a big mess. I think being able to see it from these guys, like they did, with the people they came up with is a huge advantage for us.
Having great mentors is one thing. Having mentors in the position that we were in and actually being able to witness from the positions we started in from my perspective, I can't speak for them, it was huge for me. I learned a lot really fast because of how I saw things being done. Taking that with me obviously and starting in Portland was huge.
I knew if I did it correctly, if I put the time in and I had the work ethic and the mindfulness that they did, and did it with my own twist on it, you'll be successful. You just got to make sure the time that's needed to feed the businesses is put into it to make it the correct way, or else you're going to be putting more time into it trying to fix that.
Eric: Now that's a great point. A lot of franchisees that I talk to often tell me that their job as a franchise owner is the hardest thing they've ever done, but they love it. I think there's a misnomer out there, just a misunderstanding that, "I don't have the energy to start my own business, so I'll buy a franchise because that's somehow easier."
Eric: Some successful franchisees like yourselves, can you guys talk a little bit about what kind of hours, especially at the beginning, did you have to put in? What kind of sacrifices did you have to make to make that business successful?
Colin: It definitely depends on how big your unit is, how big your market is. I think the basis of it all is you need to have it set up the way you want it run, the way it should be run with everything being done the right way whether reporting and all this other stuff with financials. You can't just sit back and let it run itself.
You got to set an example for not only your staff but partners and everyone else involved. I think, if you don't put that time in, you're going to spend a lot more time backpedaling, like I said, fixing those issues.
When we opened Portland I say this all the time. One of the partners said to me, "You set this up the right way, you can run this from your pajamas."
Obviously, I'm not going to be sitting at home dispatching from my pajamas, but the mindset is if you get everything set up, policies, procedures, everything set up the way you know it should be run and running smoothly, then once it's set up and you have the right people in place and held accountable for their actions and your actions, it's going to be running itself in no time.
Obviously, with still some input, work, and time on your part. In the beginning, you're going to be putting in a lot of hours, especially our busy season is April and May through September, end of September. We're balls to the walls. We're going nuts in those months. You're obviously going to put in time during those months.
You start up a franchise in these slower months, you're still putting in those hours you would for busy season, anywhere from 60 to 80 hour weeks, on average.
Eric: Can you guys talk a little bit about – Brian, I'll have you start – the actual startup, the timing of that. What kind of time frame did it take to get the business up and running and actually generating capital?
Brian: It depends on the size of the project. Boston, itself, took some time. We just started making capital probably a year and a half ago as far as turning profits and everything. It took us about a year and a half, maybe, two years, but we're a large, large metro market.
Now, when you look at a smaller footprint...Boston, also just to put it into perspective, we purchased six different franchise territories, if you will. We're a very, very large market. We have about 3, 3.5 million people in our market.
When you look at New Jersey or Portland, for us to get started, we look at the size of the project. We work off of a line of credit. Our goal is, for the smaller type franchises, which do turn a profit much quicker, our goal is to have that line of credit paid down with all your startup expenses. You're looking to be profitable within 8 to 12 months.
Again, there's this risk reward to both Bostons, high risk, high reward, with a larger market, a lot more moving parts. Then you have these other markets that are very, very affluent. They can be very profitable, very good franchises, such as Portland and our New Jersey markets.
It depends on the size of the project that you're looking at and what direction you take. Both require the same amount of dedication. Both, they involve risk and reward. Running a business isn't easy, but if you put the time into it and you come in with a clear set of goals within reason, you're profitable within the first year.
Eric: Colin, just to jump back to you for a minute, one of the things that a lot of people don't realize is how much support the home office franchisor provides, especially those first couple of years though.
You mentioned having to get all your ducks in a row and get set up and make things really hum, I guess, out of the gate. Can you just talk a little bit about how much support Two Men and a Truck gave you from the corporate level to ease that pain?
Colin: I think as we discuss this, we're part of a much bigger group, a big picture group. We have a bunch of entities. Even coming from that home office, even knowing that and then being comfortable with the partnerships here, they still extend the same opportunities and the same, let's say, fallbacks for any new franchisees.
Even before you're jumping out in that location, we had a group of people who were constantly being in touch with us, making sure we had what we needed done before we needed it done. They basically followed us through that process until about the third or fourth month we were open, about through the first quarter.
Then after that we'd get our designated FBC, which is our Franchise Business Consultant. Along with that comes a whole team of people who are in charge of marketing, are in charge of recruiting, are in charge of customer service, accounting, so on and so forth.
If I can't get the answer from one of our partners or individuals who've been in the system for 15 plus years, we have a home office to go to. They want to see you succeed because they're not going to succeed unless everyone succeeds, just like all of us are stronger than one of us mentality. They really take that to heart.
They're very good on normally communicating, but getting back to an unreasonable time frame or finding someone who can.
Jason: Something else to add to that as well. Like Colin said, the support of home office is great. The network that we have access to as a franchise system, there are a lot of brilliant individuals within our system that now we talk to at our annual events, our quarterly events, whatever the case may be, conference calls, webinars.
You really have a lot of untapped information and just information or experience, which is also key. We have folks that have been in our system for 15, 20 years. Just to be able to have the access to that network, that knowledge, and that experience is really crucial and a huge benefit to our franchise system.
Eric: Now that's a great point. When I talk to franchisee candidates, I often tell them how important it is to go out and talk to franchisees and understand that culture because not all brands have a open and transparent sharing culture. It sounds like Two Men and a Truck obviously does. That's critical to understand. That's part of what you're investing in. I think it's almost as important as the brand itself, is that network of franchisees and the experience that they bring.
Eric: I want to talk a little bit about one of the biggest challenges that people have is just trying to figure out, "OK." [laughs] They're doing whatever they're doing today in their job most likely. They're trying to figure out how to own their own business. Funding and financing that opportunity is step one.
Then also trying to figure out if this is something that they can make a livelihood at. I'd like each of you to comment just a little bit about how you figured that out on your own as far as the financing part on the front end. Then also how you got comfortable with the financials long term and the impact that you see that it's made on your life. Jason, why don't we start off with you?
Jason: OK, sure. I have a bit of a unique path of getting to where I am today, especially on the funding side of things. Two Men and a Truck, for me the theme in my eight years with the company has been opportunity. Those opportunities came regardless of what my worth was or the experience that I had. It was an open door.
Really, anybody has the opportunity to walk through those if you put yourself in the right position. I was in a position to where I've had some experience in a lot of different areas of the business. Then corporate, I had started a scholarship program. It was named the "Mary Ellen Sheets," which is the founder, "Moving People Forward Scholarship." It's exactly what it is.
It's moving people forward, giving them the opportunity. For me it was a year long program. I had the support of my franchise group. Brian Stern, my other partners, and the other stores helped me with covering expenses for travel, lodging, and being able to do all these different things and even allowing me to take the time to execute this program.
I went through it for a year. Did a variety of different things from visiting other franchises to doing some college course type of work, webinars, assignments, building business plans really the whole nine yards. It not only sharpened a lot of my skills and I learned a lot, but I won the program. The program awarded me with the $50,000 towards our franchise fee.
That's how I started off and how I was able to get the franchise rights specifically. Then, when it came to future funding, being a part of such a successful group played a important factor in that being able to have the backing of our successful business partners. That really helped with some of the funding. Having good credit was important.
Then obviously in the short term of the business cycle just being successful as quickly as possible. Not getting in over our head, not having a lot of overhead when it came to expenses, just being very hands on. I also think our timing of when we opened specifically here in New Jersey played a huge factor in being successful when it comes to a financial position.
We opened our doors in March. We walked right into that busy season and didn't really dig ourselves into a whole lot of debt. We were able to remain positive and become profitable in that 8 to 10 month time frame that Brian mentioned earlier. That's how we got funded and then what we did to stabilize ourselves in the short term and now hopefully to set us up for that long term success.
We've got that line of credit that we established before we opened the business as our security net and our safety. Really, we want to take our cash flow and use that to operate our businesses as successful as we can.
Eric: Awesome. Brian, anything you would add to that?
Brian: I think the most important thing is to understand that there are many different roads to owning a business or owning a franchise. It all starts with a good foundation, a good work ethic, and making sure that you work in the business. I've been part of Two Men and a Truck for a long time now. I'm going on 13, 14 years.
The franchises that I see that end up not being successful usually have an owner that is not part of the day to day. Sometimes they might live in a different city. They really don't have anyone with skin in the game, if you will, running that particular operation. That was one of the big reasons why I'm here in Boston.
We were looking to get into another large project such as Chicago since it was so successful. I had what I believe was the experience and the capability to run such a franchise since I was an integral part of getting Chicago up and running. I was lucky enough that my business partners realized that, one, to take a chance on Boston and take a chance on me.
Like I said, Chicago helped fund along with a line of credit and everything, the large project that we have here that is Boston. Just understanding that your success is really going to depend on what you put into your project no matter what size that project is. There's so many different roads to getting to where you want to be.
You really just have to set your mind to it, have reasonable expectations, and work for it. I think the sky's the limit for whatever you're looking for as long as you work for it.
Eric: We'll put an underline underneath that "work for it."
Jason: I agree. That's a fact.
Eric: Colin, how about you? Anything that you would add to that part?
Colin: I think they pretty much hit it on the head. From my perspective, coming up the way I did with them to where they were at, it was extremely, extremely contagious seeing how they worked, their skin that they put in the game. That just made me more hungrier for what I wanted to do once I got that opportunity. Believe me. You said it before. It's addictive.
I love coming in every day. I love putting in the hours. It's like mowing a lawn. Once you're done with it and it looks good, you're like, "Damn. I did that." It's weird, but it's addictive. I enjoy coming every day in that work ethic and that mentality of putting the work into it. Like Brian said, you know what franchises are doing well and why they're doing well as opposed to the ones that maybe aren't because of the work being put into it and seeing it from the outside looking in. They hit it on the head. These guys were doing it from day one when I was there. I can just hope to just continue to do that as I'm in the position I'm in.
Eric: Any final comments for the people listening that are thinking about getting into franchising or thinking about considering even the Two Men and a Truck franchise? What advice do you have for a prospective franchisee? Anything you can add?
Colin: I think one thing Brian mentioned is you've got to make sure you like the logistics side of it. You got to make sure you can deal with the ups and the downs of all different customers. You can't just jump into it thinking it's another just franchise. [laughs] It's a different beast. You have slow seasons, busy seasons. It's not consistent with what kind of customers you're going to get. You got to make sure you like it. If you don't, you're just going to drive yourself miserable. No, if you like what you do, it's a lot easier to do it right.
Jason: I think from my perspective, it's very hands on. Like we touched on a little earlier in the call, it requires a lot of time and a lot of effort. As you put in the time, as you put in that effort, there is light at the end of the tunnel. There is reward to be head. It's not the type of business that you're going to be able to just be around and oversee from afar.
You really got to get in and get your hands dirty. Just like with anything, there are pros and cons. You see people like yourself or like myself. You see them walking a similar path. You can help guide them. Just the reward of developing other individuals, providing other individuals that are like us with that same opportunity.
Just see that smile that gets put on somebody's face when they get rewarded with their paycheck, or they help somebody out, or they get a nice tip, or a nice piece of furniture. There are really a lot of feel good stories out there when it comes to our business. Then, like these guys mentioned, you do work long hours. There are high stress days. There are low stress days.
There are situations you get in, and you're like, "How am I going to get out of it?" as you navigate through it. It's a tough business. You got to be mentally prepared for it. You have to be mentally sound. You got to be ready to go to battle. Like with anything, you get out of it what you put into it.
Eric: Awesome. Well, I thank you guys for taking some time out of your busy day and sharing your feedback with us. I wish you the best of luck going forward. Obviously, if anybody is interested in Two Men and a Truck, they can find more information in their report on Franchise Business Reviews' website.
They can also visit the franchise section of the Two Men and a Truck website, which is twomenandatruck.com. You just click on "franchising" in the upper right. Jason, Colin, Brian, again thanks so much and best of luck to you.
Jason: Thank you.
Colin: Thank you. Thanks for having us.
Brian: Thank you.
Announcer: That's it for this edition of FBR Viewpoints. For more information on today's top franchise opportunities, please visit franchisebusinessreview.com.
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