Tuesday, December 28, 2010

MTB helps New Mexico Rep. Ben Lujan

Driving home, I realized that I missed an opportunity to add to my "power wall." Sigh. Oh well, that's what blogs are for.

It was kind of funny, actually. Great Scott Moving was going to help him out, but they had a scheduling issue (it happens to all of us all the time), and asked if I could help "Ben" out. I had no idea I was going to move a Washington notable. Not that I get starstruck in D.C. anymore. I think that after I stood at a urinal next to former Reagan Attorney General Ed Meese, the bloom sort of came off the Washington rose...

Anyway, it was an easy job, and I did what I always do. I started asking him about himself, etc. "What brings you to D.C.?" I asked. He must have been taken aback by the question, because he said, "I'm a member of Congress."

I, feeling like an ignorant moron, scanning the mental databanks for everything I knew about Representative Ben Lujan, said, "So...for work then..."

I have to give him major credit. A lot of congressmen come to Washington just primed to be pompous windbags. (My wife worked for one of them, and while it's a great story, I probably shouldn't retell it here.) "Ben" was incredibly gracious and laughed about it. He was, in the parlance of Truck Buddy, "cool." In other words, one of those people we'd love to hang out with after the job.

Congress' approval ratings are in the toilet right now, but at least there's one guy on Capitol Hill who treats service providers with actual respect and graciousness. Washington needs a few more of them. He was such a pleasure to help that I'm not even going to look at his voting record.

Monday, December 27, 2010

MTB World Headquarters has moved into fancy new digs!

For those of you who've received e-mails from me via my iPhone, no, I don't actually have an orbital command center...yet. No, until recently, when I was able to work on admin stuff (as opposed to being out in the field lifting), I worked out of several "remote offices." Caboose Cafe in Del Ray was my favorite. PerkUp in Old Town was also a good one. If I was really hard-up for private admin working time, you might have seen me parked somewhere, balancing my laptop and a cup of take-out coffee on the side of the road.

No more! At least, now while I can afford the new office. The new place is still in the Old Town, Alexandria area. I won't disclose the monthly rent, but its very affordable (assuming the same number of jobs keeps coming in), and it's more than adequate. Four walls, a window, and great access to our main routes of the day. Home is 15 minutes away.

Here are some pics!






It's easy to get sentimental about this. Noah, our de facto marketing guy, stood here and, I swear, almost shed a tear. "This is where it begins," he said. I guffawed a little bit because it actually began over three years and about three thousand moves ago. But, yeah, this is the beginning of the next phase, whichever it is. (Phase two? Three? Four? I dunno -- it all sort of blurs together.) It started with me and a pickup truck, and occasionally a buddy. Now we have three trucks, we're trying to expand into two new states, and the summer busy season is just a few short months away.

(Yeah, I know, if you're reading this on the day it's written, December 27th, 2010, and you're anywhere Washington, D.C., you're thinking "summer is about a hundred years away." It's 30 degrees outside, windchill brings it down to about zero, and there ain't no WAY you're going outside unless the building is on fire -- and only then if you can stand close enough to stay warm... But 2010 just warped past us, or rather, we went through it at warp factor 10. More on that in a post tomorrow or so, but for now, summer is coming up...fast.)

Anyway, here we are. The office is perfect for one guy, but I can envision another desk or two in here as we really get sophisticated. For now, I believe there's a toilet somewhere in the building, maybe a refrigerator, and there's plenty of blessed peace and quiet. That's more success than I ever expected to see.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Prepare for glory!

Times are tough around MTB World Headquarters. Good, but tough. For the last six months, we've tried to prepare for the slow season. Now that it's upon us, I realize how far behind we are. We have a real fight ahead of us.

Here's the situation: We are fully licensed and insured. That costs a lot of money. From about November to March, the moving industry slows way down. I don't know why that is -- after all, don't people still have to sign leases and move in the winter? Do people actually plan to move in the summer time? I don't know. All I know is that for the third year in a row, business has increased significantly, but relative to most of the year, it's slowed way, way down.

That means we have high costs, low savings, and not as many jobs on the calendar as we need. Close, but not quite as many. And what we used to consider really busy (about four moves per day -- two moves for two crews), is what I now must consider slow. Two crews working roughly six hours per day brings in what I used to think of as a hell of a lot of money. But when you've got multiple thousands of dollars per month to pay for multiple millions of dollars of insurance, plus all the other repeating costs like gas, equipment, tools, etc., it's like a fire hose of cash going right out the back of the truck.

I'm not complaining -- it is what it is. It's business. In a lot of ways, I like it. I've been thinking of the first move I ever did lately. It was a storage unit clean-out job, and I felt horrible charging someone to do it. Even though it was a ridiculously low amount (about $35 to empty a 10X10 storage unit, lol), it seemed wrong to charge someone. No, that's not rational, but it was my first foray into wealth creation. I was timid, worried that I was going to screw it up somehow (and I did -- I should have brought two guys, a rental truck, and charged about five times as much, and even then it would have been a good deal).

Later, I bribed a buddy to help with a bigger job. And then later, I had to book four guys for an office move where I couldn't be on-site. That was a big milestone -- trusting other people to do a big job without my supervision.

Now, I'm regularly running two or three crews every day of the week, and looking to run five this summer. It's amazing! Until I started doing this, I couldn't have run a lemonade stand.

Fortunately, all this envelope-pushing has prepared me and the guys for one hell of a grueling winter. Not only are we facing a slow-down with increased bills to pay, we're losing a lot of guys to Christmas vacationing, and a couple of guys to Denver where they'll hopefully be duplicating the business out there. By the end of next week, it'll be down to me and Jimmy, pretty much (although we have a couple of new guys). That means we'll be training even more new guys while having less time to get anything else done.

And you know what? I'm excited. Nervous, of course, but excited. I don't think I've ever had anything quite as challenging before.

If we manage to get through the next few months, I'll know MTB is "the next big thing." We'll have rock-solid veterans working out there, a huge increase in business due to referrals and repeat customers, not to mention all the advertising we're doing. With any luck, we'll be able to buy a few trucks AND save a few more nuts for the 2011 slow-down.

For now, we just need to get through the holidays. One day at a time...one day at a time...

Man down...

I suppose that when you run a business where you put vehicles on the road most of the day, it's inevitable. I worry constantly about it--when's it going to happen? Will we be carrying a load? Will we have to offload a truck into another truck? Will anybody be hurt?

I never thought much about one of the guys being hurt. After all, we're invincible! We're Truck Buddies. Last Thursday, however, reality hit us, though fortunately at only about 35 mph. Jimmy, who's been with us for about a year and is one of our best workers, and a good friend, got a little banged up.

Here are the facts I was able to gather: The guys were loading a truck around noon . A 19 year old girl doing about 35 mph came up the road, which was three lanes and wide enough to sail an aircraft carrier down with room on both sides to spare, came up and nailed the truck. Jimmy was flung from the lift gate, probably hit it on the way down, and landed in the street.

He called me before the paramedics arrived, and I never want to hear that kind of fear in his voice again. Jimmy's the kind of guy who, if I were to call from a Tijuana jail cell at 3 AM, he'd tell me he'd be there by 7:00 AM. He wouldn't ask for help unless he really needed it. That day, he needed it.

That's about all I can say at the moment. Until her insurance company and my insurance company settle things, I probably shouldn't comment further. There may be some complications, believe it or not, (seems like a pretty open-and-shut case, right?), but it's actually not. More on that as we go forward.

For now, Jimmy seems to be alright, although you never know with back injuries. His spine is alright, and he's able to drive a truck, so we'll see. I knew I was leaning on him pretty hard as we push the final bit through until we see real, undeniable success, but since he's been nearly completely out of commission, I feel like the company is on very shaky ground.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dear Officer C. Mathieu

Hey Officer!

I'm sorry I didn't get a chance to say hello this morning. As you no doubt know, I was in bed at 7:30 this morning, although, to be fair, I was hitting the snooze button, and I did stay up until 1:00 processing work requests, catching up on e-mail and randomly tackling any of the thousand projects necessary to keep an operation like this going. But you know I would have sprung from bed to come out and see you if I'd known you were sticking another ticket under my work truck's wiper blade. After all, I feel a certain level of familiarity with you after all the other tickets.

You know, maybe I should address that before it sours our relationship. Do I know that I'm not supposed to park a commercial vehicle on the street outside my home? Yeah, you got me. Guilty as charged. I suppose I'm further guilty of presuming upon our relationship. After all, I park the truck there quite a bit seeing how it's 30 feet from my bedroom, and you haven't ticketed me every day. And I thought you'd looked the other way when my employees have left their cars and trucks there for days on end. If I've tested our relationship with that, I sincerely apologize.

But, if I may, please let me explain some extenuating circumstances. Again, I know -- you got me. But indulge me for a moment? I'm a big confused about some things, and it would make me feel a little less guilty if you know why I presumed to test your legitimate authority.

One point of confusion: the ticket seems to have a new offense on it: namely, that my commercial vehicle is over eight feet tall. You're right -- it is, but it's merely 10' 6" tall. In my work, this has been a constant source of trouble. See, people frequently have more stuff than indicated, or that "bookshelf" is actually from the private library of Zeus himself high atop his palatial estate on Mt. Olympus. I've long since ceased thinking of this as a "tall" truck. In fact, my guys regularly bemoan its diminutive height.

But more to the point, why is an 11' high truck a problem? I've asked all my neighbors, and to a person, none of them have a problem with the truck parked outside my house. It's clean, white, has all its lights and they all work... I imagine that it has something to do with the nearby flight pattern into Reagan National? I certainly hope my truck hasn't been an obstacle to arriving flights. If so, I sincerely apologize. I suppose I've made yet another assumption because all of the trees and power lines overshadow my truck by at least twenty feet.

I'll have to visit the ticket archive in the public storage unit I had to rent to warehouse them all, but I'm just confused as to why the height is a problem NOW. It never has been a problem before. I thought it was the mere presence of a blue-collar type vehicle that offended the public eye. And speaking of which, why the additional ticket for the "improperly" placed front license plate? Yeah, I know, it's been on the dash since the day we got it. We've had some trouble affixing it to the front for various reasons, but the new ticket makes me wonder if this was just a punitive act for my latest parking offense. Again, why is that all of a sudden a problem?

Now, please allow me to plead my case, if only to obtain just a little bit of lenience. God knows I'm just a little peon to the state, but I believe I have perhaps a legitimate point or two.

First, I would love to have a parking lot for my meager fleet. In fact, the business has grown to the point that one, single central location is more or less a necessity. The daily logistical headache of coordinating trucks, men and equipment is balding me prematurely, and what hair I have left is going white on the sides. I would LOVE to have a single, Metro-accessible location where we could all show up, coordinate the day, have meetings, and just perhaps, a beer or two. Alas, that is not yet possible. The state, in its infinite care and benevolence, has decreed that I must have more insurance coverage than I will ever need for the type of work I do. It doesn't matter that we focus on smaller jobs, or that we serve a client base that can't normally afford giant moving companies. Rather, in the interest of fairness, we have to carry multiple millions of dollars of insurance to cover the Ikea furniture we most frequently move.

Then there's taxes -- we've seen phenomenal growth in the last three years, which the state has not ignored. Our tax bills have grown phenomenally, too. And because we're approaching that magical $250,000 number that some seem to regard as "rich," (this I do not understand), I fear that further growth will be retarded as we struggle to find wheelbarrows big enough to carry all the cash to three different jurisdictions. (We'd use the trucks, but driving them costs a lot of money, and I don't think they pay you to deliver your tax haul.)

And, of course, ironically, it's tough to afford adequate, convenient office and parking space when your monthly parking ticket bill is around $500 or higher.

Why not just park the truck in my driveway? Good question, and I often DO. (I imagine you pass my little home on your morning rounds, nodding approvingly on those days). However, I get home late most nights, either from some remote park or public library when I'm doing admin work, or after the third move of the day. I'm usually drenched with sweat, or stupid with mental fatigue, and -- this is going to seem silly to you, no doubt -- sometimes the effort of figuring out the "car/truck-shuffle" in my driveway is simply too much. My wife parks her car in the driveway, you see, and in order to get my work truck in there, I have to move her car. I don't want it blocking our path if there's an emergency with one of our two young children. Naturally, we wouldn't want to risk a ticket, fine, or even jail time by packing a sick or injured child into whatever vehicle is most convenient. I know, I know. I grew up in a "cowboy" era in which we rode in the back of pickup trucks, seatbelts were optional, and expensive car seats were just for rich yuppies. It's a wonder that we survived the 70s, 80s or 90s at all!

Anyway, back to the parking situation...

There's another reason why I don't often park in the driveway. You see, my oldest son, Joseph, needs his daddy very much. And he has quite an imagination. So, when I get home, he's often sitting in the big bay window waiting for me. "Daddy's home!" he yells, and rushes outside. The road, to him, looks like a "river" in "Go Diego Go," his favorite cartoon. Daddy's truck is like a big ship, more often than not, just like a big truck. (In his world, it doesn't matter that big trucks drive on rivers.) Since he can now open the door by himself, he does so, and bolts outside. My wife can't always catch him -- particularly when she's nursing our youngest, Kolbe (who is showing signs of being even more athletic than Joseph). So, while I'd love to comply with the no-doubt brilliant law telling me where I can park outside of my own home, there's a very good chance that in doing the "truck shuffle" to arrange all the vehicles just right and compliant, I could run over my child.

Silly? Perhaps. But it's a funny thing -- perhaps you have young children and can understand -- when you have children, just beyond the periphery of every waking thought is a vivid image of some horrible fate befalling your children. At night, there are no buffers against these thoughts, and such nightmares keep my wife up every night.

One final point. (I apologize for the length of this letter because I'm sure you have a lot of tickets to write.) I hope I'm not being too melodramatic here, but it IS a point to consider: might it be worth looking the other way, at least for a little while, for the sake of the economy? You see, I started this business when I was laid off two years ago. (December 8th will be the two year anniversary of my sudden and unexpected "career change.") I had two paychecks left, and then I was on my own. Out of some desire to stay off the public dole, and a little bit of pride (and the lack of time to fill out the reams of paperwork), I didn't take any unemployment money. I built this little company from nothing, sweating (quite literally, most of the time) for every dime I've made. This is the kind of thing that makes the economy work, and what makes America great. Now, in a desperate dark time for the country, we need to remove the shackles from small business and let it thrive. I'm not asking for special favors or hand-outs, but it would be nice to have a few moments of financial relief once a month. We deal with miles and miles of red tape. The state tells us we can't do this or that, and we must do this or that, and so the parking ticket situation is, well, kind of an insult. After working extremely hard 15 hours per day, finding a little fine on my windshield is more than just a little fine -- it's the state telling me I'm a bad person for even trying.

Seems silly, I know. But that's the way I see it.

I have to run now. We're having a little going-away party for a couple of the guys who've had enough of D.C. and it's myriad tiny laws that make life just a little bit worse. I'm going to have to find some extra cash between the seats of the truck because money's tight this month (Christmas, new layers of insurance, and of course, $700 in parking tickets, among other things.) If I I don't see you tomorrow, just know that I wish you a merry Christmas!

Best,
Chris

Saturday, November 13, 2010

MTB's directorial day-bew.

Have you seen these Xtranormal videos popping up everywhere? I saw one on a message board somewhere and thought it was cute (it was about the hell a wedding singer goes though). Then I saw another one explaining some theological point, and I thought some Catholic geek really had a lot of time on his hands. But then I saw a Geico commercial using this technology, and I realized it was a trend. Having virtually no backbone of my own, I bowed to the trend, looked it up, and messed around with the software. The following is my first attempt at a commercial/video. It's kind of a hybrid -- too long for a commercial, and too commercial to be a stand-alone creative production.

Meh. More to come. Now that it's the slow season, I'll probably crank out a ton of these while stuck at home, the heat turned off, munching on any stale Trix we can find in the back of the pantry.

Monday, November 1, 2010

My wife, Moses

I had no idea -- and I live with the woman -- that my wife had such a natural aptitude for crowd control, and when necessary, crowd CONTROL. We went down to the Stewart/Colbert Rally for Sanity/Fear with the kids. We knew what we were getting into, so the insane crowds didn't put me well over the edge like they usually do, but it was still a lot like walking through snow. While pulling a cart of anvils.

My wife ("Grace,") went into Momma Bear mode pretty fast, though. The boys: strapped down tight. If she'd had time, she would have gotten some of the ratcheting tie-downs from one of the trucks and triple-looped them around Joe and Kolbe. Grace took point and I drove the double-decker stroller. (Sorry about the ankles if you were on the Yellow line on Saturday.) But at one point, after being corralled into three elevators, faced with the prospect of crossing a crowd at least 50 people thick, she'd had enough. Politely, but forcefully, she yelled out over the crowd, "Excuse me! Stroller coming through!" I followed her, crimson-faced, but amazingly enough, the crowd parted like the Red Sea and were able to cross the Metro platform to the wide stroller-friendly "gateway" on the other side.

(The crowd, I must note, was incredibly friendly all day long. On numerous occasions people let us pass. I started feeling a little entitled after awhile, truth be told. Lol.)

Later, Grace said, "Bet you didn't know I could do that, did you?"

"No idea, honey."

I think I'm going to promote my wife to something like "Process Efficiency Expert" or something. After seeing how she went for the goal in the crowds, I bet she could reduce the business' complexity in about one afternoon.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Faith in humanity at all-time low

I'll remember 2010 as the year we were robbed blind. In one week in particular this summer, the following things were stolen:

* Crew leader Jimmy's personal pickup truck. (He got it back pretty fast, fortunately).
* A tool bag with about $200 worth of tools inside.
* A scaffold (which we use inside the truck for maximizing space)

In addition to those things, one customer hid some groceries in her fridge and blamed us for losing them. (Yes, I'm convinced that it was intentional). That particularly hurt because I'd given her an unemployed-recent-college grad-fiance-dumped-her discount, but before we even knew what was happening, she was demanding $100 compensation for the groceries before all the facts were in. I'd given her a break, but she couldn't even bother to pause for a moment to ask why/if/when/how we'd steal groceries. (I found the missing groceries in her fridge after gaining access to her old place with the help of her landlord. When confronted with the evidence, no apology was forthcoming.)

It was a bad week.

But yesterday, we got the hardest punch to the jaw yet. Even though all the guys know my policy regarding leaving the truck unattended (if you must, make sure it's locked, no matter how good the neighborhood), in a moment of inattention -- 30 minutes at absolute most -- they left the truck unlocked in a loading area. In that time, someone got in and stole the crew leader's wallet. That's bad enough, but unfortunately for all of us, he happened to have the accrued revenue of a week's worth of work. In this case, about $5,000, at least half in cash.

So, because some sociopath merely had an opportunity, he deprived some very good, very hard-working guys of at least half a week's worth of pay. I'll do what I can to make sure they're paid, but in late October, the money just isn't there. It's our slow season, the calendar is pretty anemic in a few weeks, and that state is going to exist for about three more months. These guys have been out there busting their butts day after day and some asshole just ripped them off.

Personally, the theft threatens the livelihood of two little boys and my wife. No, nobody's going to starve, but it means we need to budget even more carefully to ensure we have enough for diapers, food, rent and gas. For me, this was an assault on my children.

Fortunately, me and the guys come across a great number of very cool, very human people. People who appreciate the very real hard work we put into making sure every move is fast, efficient, simple, stress-free, and inexpensive. Whenever I'm on a job, I ask people if they've ever read "The Five Love Languages" by Gary Chapman. I haven't read it myself, but I've heard enough about it that I have some familiarity with it. One of these "love languages" is "words of affirmation." I tell our customers that we FEED on it. I'm dead serious about that -- in those long, hard, grueling days when the water supply runs out early, there are more items than expected, the truck's transmission is "twitchy," and the ever-present pressure of time, time, time presses down on us like a Sword of Damocles, people who treat us like human beings instead of automatons capable of lifting objects and nothing more carry us through the day. So, fortunately, I'm not about to ditch this whole project for whatever job I can find for the most secular monastic existence possible. The vast majority of people are decent human beings.

And yet...

And yet, these punches, guts and kidneys take a hell of a lot out of us. $5,000 gone in one week? Devastating. Just devastating.

Even if I had no choice but to carry on, I would, but sometimes it's much tougher than other times.

Friday, October 22, 2010

I'll remember these things

I often hear parents of older children say something like "It goes so fast. One day you're holding an infant, and the next day you're teaching your kid how to drive." More often than not they're simply remarking in wonder how unexpectedly swift life goes by, but just about as often, there's a tinge of regret in those statements. "If only I'd focused on the things that matter, I wouldn't have missed so much..."

I think I've been blessed. The pace of things has increased -- radically -- in the 2.5 years or so MTB has been in business. I don't think I've had a good night's sleep in at least three years. My list of responsibilities is loooong, and the necessary things I must do to keep us fed, clothed and housed would have turned my hair white just five years ago. (If I hadn't eased into it gradually, this thing would have killed me). Maybe that's what makes the little moments with Judie and the kids so memorable. No, I won't remember every little thing -- I have horrible recall -- but I'm not going to look back and regret not being around. It is this way and couldn't have been any other way. And so, when I'm able to set the chaos aside for a little bit, I know I'm in a Moment.

Me and Joe had one of those little Moments yesterday. We were walking away from the car in the Safeway parking lot. "Take my hand, little man?" I said. "Okay, Daddy," he replied. And just like that, this tiny little hand grabbed half of my comparatively huge hand. At once I remembered the tiny little creature who the doctor delivered to my arms 2.5 years ago. This is my son, I realized. My son, my little man, me-and-not-me. I looked down into his face, but he was looking intently to the west. "The moooon, Dadddy!" The infant was gone, and the little kid was there, but I could also see the 15-year-old. I couldn't see the adult yet, not quite, but I knew that these hand-holding days would be coming to a close much sooner than I'd like. It was a Moment.

I'm blessed because I realize these things right now, not in some not-too-distant future full of regret. There's cannon smoke all around us, but in the midst of the chaos, there's peace and more love than I could have imagined.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Advice...

His plan went something like this:

"Here's what you do," one of my guys was telling me a few months back, "Start with three crews. Pay one guy $12 per hour. He's the 'donkey.' Pay the second guy $15 per hour. He's the 'stallion.' Pay the third guy, the crew leader, $20 per hour. The donkey doesn't talk to the customers, doesn't load the truck, doesn't do anything. He just stacks boxes. The stallion is like the crew leader in the apartment. He's in charge of customer relations while in the place. The crew leader stays in the truck. Not only does it organize things, but it saves you thousands of dollars every month in payroll."

From a bottom line perspective, I supposed he was right -- the numbers didn't lie. But there was just one little problem with the idea -- it was guaranteed to fail.

How did I know? Well, after having done around 2,000 moves at that point with dozens of different guys, I had some experience with how guys work and how jobs go. For one, such radical inequality in the pay scale wouldn't be tolerated for long, especially for the guy known as "the donkey." And the "donkey" might be a vastly better people person than this so-called "stallion." And the crew leader? He isn't just supposed to hang out in the truck for the duration of the job -- he had to be everywhere at once, overseeing the guys' actions in the house or apartment, as well as loading everything securely in the truck. He had to know the customer's disposition and, if necessary, be the magic man who untangles all complicated situations -- situations which inevitably arise. And EVERYONE has to pitch in at various points of the job or things bog down fast.

In other words, he had it all laid out with a guaranteed plan complete with spreadsheets. Very involved spreadsheets. "The numbers don't lie," he was fond of saying, and that's true, but the numbers don't have all the facts.

I get a ton of advice, and I try to take it gratefully. I try to reconsider ideas that I've had years ago and rejected because sometimes, just sometimes, those ideas might now possibly work. For example, one major worry of mine is that once we start expanding to other cities, the opportunities for unscrupulous managers to rip me off increase exponentially. What if they use a company truck for "freelancing?" Several of the guys have suggested putting GPS systems or Lojack in the trucks. Okay, fair idea, but who's going to monitor the GPS data? What would it cost to hire someone to compare the mileage reports to the GPS/Lojack route? What administrative systems would need to be put in place? How much would it all cost???

One of the guys is a veritable idea factory, but he's more of a "quantity" idea generator rather than a "quality" idea generator. (You know who you are buddy, and keep 'em coming. ;-)) One of his worst ideas aimed to solve the perennial problem of scheduling a largely voluntary workforce. "Limit everyone's hours to a certain maximum so they don't hog all the available slots."

Yeah, like I'm going to tell the most ambitious, productive and careful guys that they have to give up income for the guys who only want to work when it's convenient...

Still, I try to remain open to all the advice. You just have to when you run a business. Only exceptionally gifted people come up with great, new, profitable ideas on a daily basis by themselves. And I'm sure that even they start to believe they have some divine gift, only to slip into an echo chamber where the only good ideas are their own ideas. I want to avoid that at all costs, and I think I do, for the most part. It's easy when you know you've only had one good idea in your life (for me, it was MTB.) Lol.

Some days, though, I hear something like "What you need to do is hire more crews and make more money," it's all I can do to keep from slamming my head in the truck door repeatedly until I go nigh-nigh.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Blogging may be even lighter...for the next couple of months...

I had really intended to turn my new managerial role into an opportunity for more writing -- serious writing -- but also blogging. This is not possible right now. Even with the help of a fantastic new assistant, I'm still killing 50-60 e-mails per night. What were once helpful, even funny emails are now brief to the point of incoherence. "Yeah, that'll work. C."

When people receive e-mails like that from me two days late, they may not know what the hell I'm talking about.

At any rate, we've learned a lot this summer, but perhaps the best lesson of all is that A GOOD ASSISTANT IS WORTH ANYTHING!

See you in the fall. (Just kidding -- I WILL turn this into one of D.C.'s funniest, most useful blogs!*)

C.

*See what I did there? That's SEO, baby.)

Saturday, July 31, 2010

Now I know why people join suicide cults...

I had that feeling this morning. That feeling that there was a message waiting for me on the phone telling me of some new crisis. Sure enough, Jimmy, one of my crew leaders, texted to inform me that one of the guys had said it was "too early" and he wasn't going to come to work. Now, granted, it was a new guy and he doesn't know the deal, or all that goes into streamlining a series of moves in a weekend, but still. Crisis.

Here's what happens when guys bail on us at the last second:

1. I call/text/e-mail everyone in the crew list for backup. This is now about 30 guys.
2. I prepare to go to a job and act as backup myself.
3. If it's a weekend, particularly a Sunday, I tell my wife and older son that I won't be able to do all those things we'd hope to do after all. There's usually crying.
4. I get maybe three responses from the 30 or so guys I contacted. Two can't make it. One can, but needs a ride from another time zone.
5. I call my partners in the industry. "Got another guy to spare?" To their credit, yes, they usually do.

The guys who have been with us the longest get one or two basic things down -- they know that if they want work, they have to show up. These are the guys in whom I entrust the entire reputation of the business, and I can't express my gratitude enough. The rookies never get beyond rookie status until they've proven they can show up on time, ready to work. Then they wonder why I never call them for work anymore. A catch-22? Maybe, but if you don't show up for work -- kind of an "Employment 101" thing, I used to think -- even one time, I'm far less likely to call them again.

I used to be very tolerant of no-shows. Lord knows we all have problems, or there are snags with Metro, or cars break down, or babies are being born. But after 2.5 years of this, I've come to realize that guys who bail on you at the last second will ALWAYS bail on you, with rare exceptions.

And this is just one of many daily crises.

I spoke with my friend and colleague Brian at Suburban Solutions this morning. He and I kind of treat each other's text inboxes as psychological dumping grounds. He called me after getting yet another "Can you effing believe this?" text from me.

"Chris," he said, "What keeps you from swallowing the barrel of a shotgun?"

"Right now?" I replied. "My wife and kids need me. Otherwise I'd go for the sweet release of cordite and gunpowder."

Needless to say, the slow season can't come fast enough.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

A symptom of a larger problem?

I was working at the Martha Washington public library yesterday, and I had to mail some letters. I figured they'd have a mailbox, so I went to the Information desk.

"Hey -- do you have a mailbox I can drop this into?"

The librarian, a middle-aged lady who looked very tired, looked at the other librarian. She was concerned, or so it appeared.

I raised my eyebrows and tried to maintain my smile. I was impatient. Another crisis had taken me away from the computer again, and e-mail was piling up.

The librarian finally said "we don't have a mailbox you can use here, but there's a drop box down by the road."

Somehow, I figured as much, thanked her, and set out for the road-box.

If that thing was still in use, then people risked tetanus every time they dropped letters into it. Rusted and crumbling, it probably first saw service in 1942. There was no way I was going to drop a letter into it.

Back in the library, I tracked down a different librarian. He too appeared irritated to have to talk to me.

"Can I just drop this into your mail?"

"I...don't think we can do that..." he said, and vaguely trailed off.

I wasn't feeling very smiley, but I tried to keep it light. "Hey, this letter doesn't have the hantavirus or anything. I just need to get it out and on the way."

"To be honest," he said, "I don't know how we'd do that."

I believe he was being honest -- the question seemed to be frying all his synapses.

"Okay," I said, "Let's say you had to mail a letter from the library. What would you do?"

"I'd put it in an envelope and send it to headquarters. They put a stamp on it and it takes about two weeks to get to the destination."

I gotta say -- I wasn't expecting that. It was horrifying. I know that my administrative duties suffer because I'm the only guy in my "office," but damn. They have to send the letter away to HQ so somebody can put a stamp on it? What do they have to do if the librarians need to use the bathroom? Fill out a requisition form for toilet paper? Do they streamline the process so it only takes a week?

This was just one little library in a D.C. suburb, but I suspect it's just a microcosm of the waste and inefficiency in Washington. Actually, when I worked for the TSA, it was a little MORE efficient than this tiny little library with the eco-friendly ethos. I'd have to get ten people to sign off on a press release, but at least I could usually get it done in one day. Two weeks for a freaking stamp, though?

Sheesh.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Sometimes you can take the simple pleasures too far...

Yeah, shrooms, I think. Everyone agreed? Shrooms?

Is this a hard job? Is D.C. a political town?

Occasionally, when I find it difficult to dive into the 100+ e-mails for the day, I like to procrastinate by reading traffic sources to my website. (What--like you don't do the same thing...) Oddly enough, the vast majority of MTB's traffic is from people typing the URL directly into the browser and hitting "enter." Still, though, I get the occasional "organic" source.

I've gotten some good ones. Among them: somebody once type into Google "Yes, this is my truck. No I won't help you move." (Got a huge number of people to MTB with that one.) I've also had not a few links from porn sites (at least they looked like porn sites -- I didn't check. If they weren't, then some people made some horrible website naming choices...) I always wonder about those -- what, people surf for some naughty pics and then line up a mover? I guess -- if there's anything I've learned doing this, it's that human beings are...odd. Odd and screwed up, very often. I won't divulge any details, but I have seriously -- seriously -- considered adding counseling services to our resume. At the very least I should be referring people to some good counselors.

At any rate, I got another funny search link to my site today. It was "Is being a mover a hard job?" I lol'd at that and sent it to my crew leaders. No matter how you look at it, yes, this is a hard job. Definitely the hardest I've ever done, not even including all the administrative nonsense. A typical day might involve moving a glass-heavy china hutch up a three-floor walk-up in the middle of a July heat wave. Or, sometimes we have to take a mattress out of a basement apartment, the customer forgot to get a mattress bag, and the entrance to her place is covered in black moss and/or mold. It's kind of like playing "Operation," only instead of setting off a buzzer, we would have to buy a new mattress. (This has never happened, fortunately).

On the managerial/admin side, let's just take the last two days, for example. I realized fairly early on that I was likely to be short-handed for six jobs this Saturday. I began the usual regimen of calling all Truck Buddies, only to realize that about half the work force would be gone. For the first time in two years, I was looking at the very real possibility of having to cancel at least one job -- a total rookie, half-ass maneuver. In the meantime, I have literally 21 voice messages and dozens upon dozens of e-mails coming in, some requesting work, some having to reschedule jobs at the last second (unfortunately, no reschedules for Saturday), or panicky messages about parking issues. I handled most of that and got to bed before midnight for a change, but my first thought this morning was -- after ensuring our infant son was still alive and breathing, a practice I got into with our first son and have never stopped doing -- "I wonder what this morning's crisis is going to be..."

One of my crew leaders, Jimmy, called to tell me about half an hour later: someone had crossed a couple of lanes of traffic, nearly cut him off, and hit our truck's rear bumper while he was on the way to a job.

My reaction: "Oh, that's today's first crisis. Next!" (Everyone was okay, btw, and our truck is fine.)

So, yeah, being a mover is hard work. If the guy who Googled that phrase decides to apply for a job, I might have to direct him to something a little more his speed. I hear the florist down the street is looking for a daisy tender...

Hah!

Monday, July 5, 2010

Our Independence Day

Two years or so ago, we realized we'd made some cataclysmic miscalculations regarding mortgages, expanding the family, etc. Pretty much all the big stuff. My wife's car was dying (although it held on for quite a while longer), she was pregnant, couldn't work, I hated my job, and eventually was laid off anyway. We call that time of our lives "Crisis Mode," because almost every single day brought some new crisis, some new disappointment, some setback, some new challenge. So many times I thought we were done. Just done. But somehow, likely because of my wife's encouragement and level head (most of the time-- heh!), I summoned just enough strength to get through one more day.

Lately we've been able to breathe. Once, we even had some money left over at the end of the month! (And we're not big spenders -- I won't tell you our monthly budget, but friends and neighbors, it ain't much). I still pretty much work around the clock, but now I know that, even if a good chunk of everything were to fall apart, we'd be okay. Not "let's go to the Hamptons next week to brainstorm about which private jet we should get" okay, but normal people okay.

Last night we went to a birthday party / Independence Day party with our boys. We had to leave early because, well, they're both young enough to be confused about where the bathroom is (not the pants, boys), but on the way home our oldest reminded us in very clear terms that we'd promised BIG FIREWORKS. (You really need to hear how he says it -- he deepens his little voice with something like gravitas). "See...BIG FIREWORKS!"

There was still some light out, and there was no way in Hades I was about to drive into the city on the 4th of July with two babies. However, there was a long stretch of open road along the GW Parkway just south of Old Town, though, with a big grassy expanse teeming with fireflies even in the low light. Might work.

Little Joe and I killed the remaining daylight minutes chasing said fireflies. (Our newest little Truck Buddy kept my wife busy in the car with his 87th feeding of the day). "Geh...lie..buhs" Joe kept yelling, which roughly translates to "Get those punk-a$$ lightning bugs!" Which we did. En masse. With Joe riding on my shoulders. With Joe on my back. With me chasing after Joe after he chased the bugs toward the very busy GW Parkway. 

The sunlight finally gave out, and the field by the side of the road (golf course, actually) was positively illuminated by fireflies. (Avatar fans might get a "Pandora" reference, were I to make it). And then, almost so perfectly that I wondered if Michael Bay was directing the scene, a bald eagle swooped in low from the Potomac and over the highway, right above our heads. He held a fish in his claws, or, as I thought about the fish, one of America's enemies. Hah!

The fireworks began a little bit later, but little Joe wasn't as interested in those after all. It was all about the fireflies. We all walked down the pathway (except for Joe, who, with complete disdain for anyone's safety, including his own, sprinted down the dark bike path amidst the legs of strangers and who-knows-who-else), and watched the night sky along the Potomac explode with color.

About that time I had what might be considered an ungrateful, or even self-centered thought: One could consider this our Independence Day too. I've been catching up on a little historical reading lately, and I'm very aware of the staggering risks and cost that bought America its independence. I haven't exactly pledged my life, my fortune (lol, "fortune") or property in defense of the nation. There are guys doing basically that right now in faraway hellholes where the people can't even conceive of an existence with true liberty. But this I know: we've been enslaved to a great number of fears, doubts, and even modes of thought. At least now, for hopefully a couple of months, two-and-a-half years of back-breaking labor have yielded a little reprieve from doubt and worry. Two-and-a-half years of risk and sacrifice allowed me to finally find some time to catch fireflies with my son, and take a little walk down a river-side path with my wife on a hot summer night.

Thank you God. And thank you to those who take the really big risks to ensure we civilians can have such summer night firefly walks.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Some people need to realize they're really not that important...

An alternate title for this post might be "Anti-mover bigotry still strong in D.C. area." There's clearly an arrogance surplus in this area, but it shocks me at how some theoretically "tolerant and open-minded" people treat us like something on the floor of a gas station restroom. I suppose people think that we're a group of college or even high school drop-outs. After all, who but a drop-out would be working for a moving company in D.C.? What they don't realize is that most of my guys are professionals or on their way to being professionals. Byron, one of my crew leaders, is on his way to a Ph.D. in economics, for example. There's also a future Naval officer (he ships out in September), some journalists, and quite likely a PGA pro on the team (that's Jimmy, another crew leader.)

The only college drop out on the crew is me, and I've been a journalist, editor, PR guy for the government, and a staff writer with a couple of D.C.'s more well-known think tank/non-profits! And now I run this little company I built from scratch. Not bad for a guy who failed out of Latin class, huh?

What do I mean by "anti-mover bigotry?" Well, most of the time it's hilariously rude a-holes whose problems with us range from the petty to the nonsensical. Occasionally, I'll admit, we get a little cowboy with our parking jobs (you just have to sometimes), but we ALWAYS move the truck if we're in a bad spot, blocking people in. Other times, however, I respond with both barrels loaded for bear.

The latest incident happened yesterday. I got called out on a Sunday for an emergency job, so right there I was in no mood. One of the guys nearly had a diabetic seizure or something, and had to go home. No one else was available, and even though my wife wasn't one bit happy with it, I had to go out to the job.

We were coming to the end with the piece de resistance, a 200 pound armoire top. We had it on a dolly because the walk from the truck to the front door of the apartment was loooong. And, there was a garden hose in the way. I had moved the hose earlier, thinking that it had been shut off. (It sure looked like it to me). But as we approached the coiled up hose with the armoire, an older (not quite elderly) lady came walking by.

"Did you move the hose?" she asked the three of us.

Jimmy and I both replied affirmatively. "Just a few minutes ago," we said.

I continued, perhaps sensing what was about to happen, yet unable to stop: "It looked like it was off, but anyway, we had to roll this thing through here, and the hose was quite a speed bump."

And just like that she laid into us. "You can't turn a hose on full blast or you'll dig a huge hole!"

And just like that, my tolerance for rude idiots got the best of me. "It was an easy mistake," I said, not bothering to try to regulate my tone. "Look -- there's just a trickle from the hose."

"What would you know about watering trees!?!"

My exact response, I believe, was "Unbelievable! What is wrong with you people?!?" "You people," of course, meaning "All of you rude jerks who get bent out of shape over insignificant, pointless little things that shouldn't even register on the irritation scale."

She did an about-face and huffed to the spigot on her building, and that was pretty much that. It was a relatively tame incident, but still had all the characteristics of these inexplicably hostile, bizarro-world encounters. Another one happened a few months back where the rear-end of the truck was slightly over the cross-walk. A man walking by asked if there was any reason why we parked "in the crosswalk." I told him there was -- we were told to park RIGHT THERE by the building's management, and that another car had been in front of us.

"That's the stupidest thing I've ever seen," he said, and then thought he'd chew me out about it, even though there was literally probably 300 yards of open sidewalk available to him. I, of course, returned verbal fire.

Back in February, a young guy gave us all kinds of eyeball rolling because he couldn't fit his car into a ten foot wide space between the truck and a pile of snow. We dug half that pile out for him (which we'd already created by digging someone else out as a courtesy) and he didn't once bother to get out of the car to help. And he had a problem with US? We'd already parked the ten ton truck too far down an icy embankment so as to leave space for the greatest number of cars to get out of that particular parking lot.

The other day I was accused of extortion by someone who couldn't figure out the booking system on the website.

Another time, we stopped in traffic by a guy loading his car on the side of the road. He asked if we "provided the lube" for our services. I'll let you figure that one out. There's more to the story, but let me just say it sounds like he...ah..."got screwed" by his movers in the past.

Examples abound. I've tried to understand where the rudeness comes from, but I recently gave up. So, just a fair warning to my neighbors in the Washington, D.C. area: if you have certain insecurities or particularly warped sensibilities concerning your "rights" that may lead you to take it out on men who make it their daily mission to make people happy, think twice before you open your mouth. We extend all the warmth and amicability we have toward normal people. We'll do just about anything ethical, moral and legal to ensure our customers' happiness. But if you feel duty-bound to rip into people you've never met over something as trivial as where we move a dripping hose, we will explain your faults to you, probably with pithy one-liners dripping in sarcasm and disdain.

And if you want to return fire, we'll come back and move your hose when you're not looking.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Foundational Truck Buddy Principle as explained by Dan Kennedy

I was in the only place I can get any reading  done the other day, and the book of choice was “Time Management for Entrepreneurs.” (Longer title: “The Ultimate No Holds Barred, Kick Butt, Take No Prisoners Guide to Time Productivity and Sanity.”) It’s by Dan Kennedy, who has a series of harsh but awesome books on marketing, entrepreneurship, etc.


He had a chapter called “The Number One Most Powerful Personal Discipline in All the World.” I’ve excerpted some relevant bits below, and I’ve got to say, it’s right on. Sometimes there are unforeseen factors that makes it impossible to always be punctual, but it reminds me that there ARE still processes we can employ to avoid those unforeseen factors.

I’ve said it again and again: half the reason we get good reviews – more than half, easily – is that 1) We show up, 2) We show up on time, 3) We show up on time ready to work. I can’t tell you how many calls and e-mails I get from panicky people whose movers failed to show up, or called the night before to cancel. Now, my record isn’t perfect, but knowing how low the bar is, it’s easy to shine.

***EXCERPT***

I'm sure there are exceptions somewhere, but so far, in 25-plus years of taking note of this, everybody I've met and gotten to know who devoutly adheres to this discipline becomes exceptionally successful AND everybody I've met and gotten to know who ignores this discipline fails. Is it possible that this one discipline alone is so powerful it literally determines success or failure?

The discipline that I am talking about is PUNCTUALITY. Being punctual. Being where you are supposed to be when you are supposed to be there, as promised, without exception, without excuse, every time, all the time. I cannot tell you how important I believe this is. But I'll tell you some of the reasons why I believe in its indescribably great importance.

First of all, being punctual gives you the right--the positioning--to expect and demand that others treat your time with utmost respect. You cannot reasonably hope to have others treat your time with respect if you show little or no respect for theirs. So, if you are not punctual, you have no leverage, no moral authority. But the punctual person gains that advantage over staff, associates, vendors, clients, everybody.

It is my conviction that a person who cannot keep appointments on time, cannot keep scheduled commitments, or cannot stick to a schedule cannot be trusted in other ways either.

Fundamental dishonesty expresses itself in many different ways, but this is definitely one of them. I think it is significant that the man I consider to be the most frequently and consistently dishonest and disreputable U.S. president of my lifetime, Bill Clinton--famous for his tortured deconstruction of the word "is"--was also notorious for being on "Clinton Time"--meaning anywhere from 20 minutes to two hours late to everything, thus being disrespectful to everyone.

There is a link between respect for others' time and respect for others' opinions, property, rights, other kinds of agreements, and contracts. A person reveals a great deal about himself by his punctuality or lack of punctuality. So, as a general rule of thumb, I use this as a means of determining whether or not I want to do business with someone. And, when I violate this, as I occasionally foolishly do, I always get burned.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Happy Birthday, Benjamin Gray!

Congratulations to long-time Truck Buddy Brett, Liz, and their second son, Benjamin Gray. (Or is it "Grey?") They actually had Benjamin the day after we had Kolbe.

Can't wait to see the little guy!

Monday, June 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Kolbe Alexander

Our second child, Kolbe Alexander, was born at 8:30 this morning. He was 7lb 1oz, and 21 inches.

And that's all I have to say about it for now. Sooo tired.

C.

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Five days and counting until Baby #2 arrives...

Occasionally I'm able to look up from the computer or stack of boxes and armoires and realize that we're about to have another child.

Another. Child.

Today it really hit me as I was scheduling jobs for next week. "Let's see, we can move John Smith at 2:00 PM on the seventh, and...HOLY COW! WE'RE GOING TO HAVE A BABY THAT DAY!!!"

It's one of those common, everyday miracles, I suppose, but it still tends to throw a fist right into the gut.

So, the countdown is almost over. Next week, life changes again. Amazing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

I could take 25 Justin Biebers in a fight

I just learned about him, but this is a fight I'd be willing to take on.

Monday, May 31, 2010

Remembering heroes...

Memorial Day. Until I moved here about a decade ago, this was always just a day off. But since I've been here, I've gotten to know a lot of guys who have either served, are serving, or will soon ship out to places known and unknown (or places they can't tell us about) to serve. Nowadays, Memorial Day is nearly a holy day for me. Not because I love war or some such nonsense, but because just the close proximity to some of these guys takes the abstraction out of their service.

It's almost always a humbling experience to know that the man (I actually only know military men) standing next to me has been to war and has, in all likelihood, seen things we have never and will never see. Sometimes horrible things, sometimes noble things. Things out there on the edge of human nature.

Standing next to guys like that take the abstract out of this day and war. It's real. People die. People kill. 

For the most part, the soldiers I've known have been clear-eyed, honorable men. I don't idolize them or raise them to an impossible standard -- they're human beings afflicted with the same nature as the rest of us. But they've gone to war knowing full-well that their lives may end in some faraway place for a particular cause they may or may not agree with. Many of them serve a higher cause than the particular reason for their deployment. Either way, they put their lives on the line so most of us don't have to.

So, thank you. Thank you for doing what most of us have either never thought to do, or were too afraid to do. Thank you for keeping America safe so that the highest ideals to which we aspire can flourish. Thank you.

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

My wife and I are both pregnant, due about the same day...

My wife and I are, if all goes well, about to give birth to two healthy babies. Hers (ours, I know), is a human child. Mine is a big monster of a beast of a complicated business, at least for me.

One of the big differences is that my baby has been gestating for about two-and-a-half years.

I launched Phase I of MyTruckBuddy.com before I had any idea it was "Phase I." I just needed some extra cash so that "Grace" could stay home and take care of little Joseph. You could say that this business was "born" the same time he was. But now, just weeks away from the arrival of our second son, MTB is about to be "born again." Lol. I guess you could say that this a religious experience as well.

The goal for the last eight months has been to make the business as self-sufficient as possible, or rather, to automate enough of it so that I could stay home with Grace and the kids and help out more. We don't have any family in the area, and while we have numerous friends willing to help out, we aren't entirely comfortable relying on our busy group of friends to do so. Ideally, I'd be able to manage the business from my "command center," send reliable guys out to the jobs, and rest somewhat easily knowing that everything will be okay.

This is much easier planned than done.

There are so many details to take care of: regulatory issues, taxes, manpower, truck rentals, scheduling, scheduling, scheduling... (As I write this, I'm avoiding about 40 e-mails, most of which are new move requests). At some point, hopefully soon, I'll write a "typical day-in-the-life" page for the website. For many people, it would be horrifying. If I were dropped into this three years ago, the demands on my time and intellect (not to mention my body) would have turned me into a puddle of molten goo.

That said, after a lot of planning, hundreds (perhaps a thousand) moves, I've positioned the business to this point, the culmination of a LOT of work. In just a few weeks, I'll likely be able to manage things from my command center, confident that I have capable men of integrity running crews and/or moving people. Thanks to Suburban Solutions, we have the trucks. Thanks to the solid friends I've recruited, I've got an army of stand-up guys eager to work. Thanks to a handful of insurance agents, franchise consultants, and many others, I've got all my regulatory ducks in a row.

I still have a lot of work to do, but it looks like all the stars are aligning.

Thank you, God. It couldn't have come at a better time. I'm exhausted and the contractions are killing me.

Zen of Truck Buddy II

In the moving industry, the bar is set so low there's no reason you shouldn't rock a customer's world.

Hell, half the time the bare minimum is just showing up...

Monday, May 10, 2010

Zen of Truck Buddy I

A Truck Buddy doesn't need a list of procedures and policies. All that a Truck Buddy needs to know is summarized thusly: "Don't be an idiot."

If a newbie Truck Buddy finds himself asking any questions whatsoever, let him first refer to Zen of Truck Buddy I.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

MTB: not just a buisness

The business is getting to the point that people expect it to act like, you know, a business. Every now and then -- and more often than usual -- customers say things like "I called your office," or "Where are you based out of." They also ask if I have an assistant from time to time. Pretty soon, I may indeed have to get an actual office, assistant and the other accouterments of a "real" business. But for now, it's just me and my wife, supported by numerous buddies and their buddies.

What I'm trying to say is that there's a very bright, clear line from what I do for customers and our material well-being. There are virtually no layers or cushions between the service we provide and whether we eat or pay rent. This is a huge reason why I strive to keep getting five-star reviews on Yelp.com. It literally pays our bills.

What's this got to do with anything? Well, today we bought a car, and I can't help but be astonished and extremely grateful for this common event. I won't get into it too deeply, but the short story is that the last few years have been hellish. My wife and I have called it "Crisis Mode" during this time. It started when we realized that we'd bought too much house when we first got married, which coincided with the news of our first child. The numbers didn't lie -- we had been stupid, and unless something changed, we were going to go under.

And then I was laid off from my day job. And that was just one of many setbacks...

MTB was nowhere near ready to support our family, but through generous applications of literal blood, sweat and tears, we eventually dug ourselves out, and "Crisis Mode" gave way to something more normal. Everybody struggles, and at some point during the last few months, we realized that we were, in fact, going to make it.

At least until the next giant roadblock/hurdle/kick in the teeth. Lol.

Buying a car is huge. HUGE. And it's not a luxury expense. With Baby #2 on the way (due June 7th), we absolutely needed a new car. For one thing, the old car was falling apart. I had to refill the power steering fluid reservoir more often than changing the oil. The lights had long since given up any form of reliability. I think we replaced the axel on at least one wheel at least twice. And then there was the space -- two adults and one child filled the little Nissan to capacity. Throw in another child and a bigger stroller and, well, it just wasn't happening.

Until today, I couldn't even think about it, and I was worried that "Grace" was going to be stranded with little Joe somewhere. And now my pickup is showing signs of age...

Being able to buy a new (used, actually) car means that, for a little while, at least, we get a reprieve from one gigantic stress. If all else fails, at least we'll have reliable transportation for another 100,000 miles or so.

This is thanks to the many people who have used MTB over the last year, and who have told others about us. So, thank you. Thank you so much.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

MTB partners with Square 3 Ventures to help get rid of your unwanted stuff!

I get a lot of stuff from our customers. A LOT. More than half my house is furnished by discarded couches, bookcases, beds, etc. It got so bad recently that my wife had to sell off all the excess inventory cluttering the baby's room. (The future baby, that is. I didn't stock little Joseph's room with discarded merchandise.)

For awhile, I would sell this stuff through my web store. But as business grew, my time to manage the web store shrank. Fortunately, I now have a way to help people get rid of their stuff!

A former co-worker of mine and her roommate started a neat little "micro-consignment" company called Square 3 Ventures. They "simplify your life by making you money for items you no longer need nor want, all while keeping useful goods out of landfills."

And they do it at a really good rate, keeping only about 20 percent of the profit. The rest goes to you. You don't deal with Craigslist no-shows, haggling, etc. Just give them your stuff, they market and sell it, and give you cash.

Check out their site here if you need to get rid of some of your clutter. It could be gold!

An apology to all my past employers...

Customers often ask me how I got into this. I usually give them this short version of the story, but sometimes I simply shake my head and say "I don't know. I have no business running any business more complicated than a lemonade stand."

And that's absolutely true. I never took a business class in college, and was never promoted higher than Third Assistant Urinal Scrubber at a pizza joint I used to work for.

So, the majority of the work I do is a learning experience. While the proverbial School of Hard Knocks is a fantastic educator, the mid-terms are brutal and I fear whatever the final is going to be. So, I look for educational resources wherever I can find them. one of these is Dan Kennedy's book called something like "The No B.S. Guide to Ruthless Management of People and Profits."

What an eye-opener. And to say it makes me a little uneasy would be a huge understatement. I've built this business on a few somewhat nebulous principles like having a "service mentality." Or, we Truck Buddies strive to do anything and everything you'd expect a good buddy to do for you on moving day. (Or any other day -- you need a tire fixed on the freeway? We'll be there if we're not on another job.) I've tried to find the right kind of guys who embody these principles. Fortunately, I have a lot of buddies who do. But, in order to handle the growing work load, I've had to go beyond my immediate circle of friends and bring "strangers" into the network.

I wanted this to be the "anti-job," a way for guys between jobs in this crappy economy to be able to live, or at least to be able to make a few extra bucks.This meant joyfully throwing normal professional conventions out the window. Of course I insisted on punctuality, a clean, if not professional appearance, and casual days every day. (Kind of tough to keep a suit clean in this biz anyway). Things I didn't insist on: regular schedules (I have a big network that ensures extra help is almost always available); uniforms; no taking personal calls when on the job, etc. Institutionalizing "slacker tendencies" may seem counter-intuitive, but it's not slackers I'm trying to cultivate. Anyone who's invited into the MTB network knows the deal -- we're here to work hard, wow customers, maybe even make them laugh, and get lots of referrals. It hasn't been easy, but it's worked.

Unfortunately, it's worked at the expense of my sanity and free time. That's why, gradually, bit by bit, I've moved from "Hey man, want to work tomorrow?" to "Yo -- I'm going to need you to meet me at the job by 9:00 or you're fired, even though you don't technically work for me..."

In a million other ways, I've gone from "cool (I hope) guy to work with," to "no-B.S., give-me-an-answer-now" BOSS. I'm not exactly comfortable with the transition, but hey, I just don't have the time to walk lightly anymore.

So, in reading Dan Kennedy's book on management, I find myself cheering at all the advice, and not a few times, nodding in agreement based on experience. For example, here are some of his No BX Ruthless Management Truths:

1. Employees are employees. I flagrantly violate this. My "employees" are my buddies! These are guys I BBQ with, golf with, ask to watch my son so my wife and I can have a date night occasionally. Nonetheless, I'm coming around to a more "stable" business model, and despite all my resistance to the idea, I may have to actually get employees. Sigh.

3. When food is no longer edible, it must be thrown out. When an employee is no longer profitable, he must go. I've had to disassociate with a few guys over the two years I've been doing this. One, because he hit on some of my customers, and while I'm not the morality police, I couldn't stomach working with a guy who would do such a thing because A) it's ridiculously unprofessional, and B) he was engaged. I had to let another guy go because his whole appearance and attitude made customers so uneasy they even said so.

5. Any broken window is one too many. ("Broken windows" refers to anything that makes a business look bad. It can be a literal broken window in a business' store front, or it can be a cluttered show room, disheveled employees, etc.) My "broken windows" are messy trucks, helpers who look like they just got out of prison, bad attitudes, etc. That's why I tolerate very few of these. (See above).

As I read through this book, I realize that I've been "that employee" all my life. I expected everything and offered nearly nothing in return. Oh, sure, I have some talents and skills which eventually translated into a little bit of experience, but now, I realize that I was coasting on my own sense of wonderfulness. What I thought were irrationally uptight supervisors were really frustrated bosses who couldn't understand why their carrots and sticks weren't working.

So, many apologies, former bosses. You should have fired my butt long before I quit. And for those of you who actually did the right thing and gave me the pink slip, good job! I get it now.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Oh yeah -- MyTruckBuddy.com had a makeover

Check out the new site! www.MyTruckBuddy.com. I finally threw in the towel and quit trying to build a new site by myself. I would spend days, literally days (if you spread out the few minutes I'd have to tweak it over weeks) trying to figure out how to move a box, or add a new background or whatever. So, I went to Elance.com, found someone who had experience with my system, and paid him a couple of hundred bucks. The result, I think, is pretty sweet. It's been getting lots of good feedback, too.

Of course, if you found this blog, you probably came here through the site, so you already know. Lol.

What do you think about it?

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

MTB gets its first one-star review

I knew this day would come. How ironic that I was just talking about this with the guys last night at a rare "summit."

"I've been very lucky," I said. "I don't have to rely on marketing while I have good reviews on Yelp. It can't last forever, though..."

And it didn't. Less than 24 hours later, I get my first one-star review.

In a way, it's a good thing. Last summer was brutal, and I didn't have the resources or infrastructure to deal with it. By late August, I almost lost my mind. In fact, I did break down once. Let me tell you -- I had to go to Confession for that one... However, we've been doing summer-level work for about two months. What was hard last year is now what I consider standard. So, this review makes me realize that I still have some work to do to get ready for the summer rush, particularly in the area of customer communications.

Anyway, here's the one star review (found here):

After reading all the reviews on here I was pretty excited to contact this company. Unfortunately it took them 2 days to get back to me and then I asked them to contact me by phone and that was the last I heard from them. The 1 bedroom move was more than a month away so I'm not sure what the problem was. I quite disappointed but on the other hand glad I didn't schedule and then have this much problem with communication the day of the move.

Yelp allows only 600 character responses, so here's what I wrote:

Lance,

Many apologies if we've had a miscommunication. I've searched for a record of our correspondence, but as I haven't found anything, I wonder if you have the right company.

That said, it's entirely possible I dropped the ball here, but let's keep in mind what a typical day looks like for me: Up at 6:30, on the job by 8:00, work a grueling 12 hours or so, come home, spend an hour with my family, then work until midnight e-mailing and scheduling. Six days per week. That I only drop the ball once or twice every six months is miraculous.

At any rate, many apologies.

Chris
And that's just a sliver of what I do. I'm not complaining -- even though this "job" was thrust upon me, I've since chosen to take it as far as I can go several times. Every time I update my resume and look for jobs, I realize what a great thing I have here. Yes, I work around the clock. But I set the hours. I also get to choose my co-workers, the direction of the company, and sometimes, when Truck Buddy Brett lets me, I get to choose where we go to lunch.

Heh.

I've never been happier doing what I do. As Truck Buddy Jimmy frequently says, "Words of affirmation" make our day. Yeah, we usually get really good tips, but even if we don't, "You rock!" and "You guys are awesome!" make our whole day. Maybe I should be concerned at just how much we need that kind of compliment, but the reality is we LIVE for them. Personally, I've received more praise like that in the last two years (the MTB years) than in my entire professional history. It's addictive.

As for Lance's dropped communications, I truly regret that. I can't find any record of our correspondence, but I don't doubt I lost track of him. I often put "Call so-and-so back" on my calendar, forget to set a 15-minute reminder, and then let things pass by. Fortunately, I almost always catch those missed appointments when I check the calendar at the end of the day.

My response to his one-star review, which is my first ever? Well, it's totally unnecessary and probably not a little bit vindictive, but here's the fact: it's a one-star review for pre-move communications, NOT services rendered. I'm sorry I made him mad (no, really!), but I didn't make him mad by doing a crappy job, overcharging, or anything like that.

Communications and other organizational/admin stuff will be a priority going forward, and not "forward" in some distant future. I need to streamline the process NOW, and I've already been working on some things. I can't hire anyone yet, and that's not off the table, but like I said, I'm working on some things. In fact, I should probably get to it. I've got another job in about an hour and a half...

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Going out of my mind with emails...

Please be patient, everyone. I'm trying to get through a hundred or so e-mails going back to Friday, the day we had a total of 15 hours worth of work. (Two four-floor walk-ups, among other things...)

I'll get to your work requests. Let me just pop another top and get through 'em...

C.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Golfing for sanity


Yesterday MTB went "off the grid" for most of the day. Oh, I was monitoring electronic chatter, as our Langley buddies might say, but for the sake of my mental health, I stayed off the phone and out of my inbox. I was golfing.

Normally you wouldn't expect that golf would be a good, relaxing diversion from hundreds of e-mails and complex scheduling duties, but it was. In fact, not to complain, but for a guy with limited cranial resources like me, running through a gauntlet of flaming chainsaws would be less stressful than keeping on top of administrative duties. So, 18 holes of golf was cathartic despite my bowling-like score.

<--That's a rabid, three-legged fox sneaking up on Jimmy, by the way.

I think I'm going to make bi-weekly golf trips mandatory for the "core" group of Truck Buddies. That would include Brett, TJ, Jimmy, Gary and David. But if possible, I'd like to include the golfing members of the extended network, too. This job makes it easy to forget that there are other things in life, at least for me. I'm the guy organizing everything and doing nearly 100 percent of the moves. I do enjoy the work, for the most part, but it is a time-consuming gig. If I let it, I could easily work 24 hours per day moving, e-mailing, answering questions, answering phone calls, scheduling, etc. The few hours I forced myself to take off yesterday reminded me that I can, if I choose to accept that mission, have a life.

And no, Facebooking doesn't count.

Yeah, this is a rambling, mostly non-sensical post. Many apologies. I'm still just a little euphoric after breathing free air again. Lol.

Friday, February 5, 2010

I now officially know everyone in the DC area

Yesterday me and my crew were unloading a truck at an apartment complex in southwest. As I was handing an armoire off to someone (I can do that now) I recognized a woman walking a couple into the building.

“T.!” I said.

“Sweetie!” she replied.

It was the same woman who got us into our last apartment building. She’s some kind of rep for the parent company. Very cool chick, very nice. It was good seeing her again, even if she chided me for not networking with her. Hey, I’ve been swamped for nine months…

On the second job of the day, I ended up moving the couple into an apartment I’d moved someone else into. Kind of a sad situation, though — the previous tenants broke up and I was supposed to move him to a new place. We couldn’t get our schedules to sync up, though, so he kind of drifted away.

This is beginning to happen a lot now. Not only can I tell you what the loading docks are like for 99 percent of the city’s buildings, I know who lives in half of them. Is this success? Maybe. The U.S. Census Bureau ought to talk to me.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

What's up with My Truck Buddy in 2010?

Lots!

Perhaps I should expand on that, but first a little background...

If you've read much of my website, you know that MTB is an accidental business. I didn't come to Washington looking to start a moving business ("moving assistance service!"), or to become an entrepreneur, but for other reasons. I came here to become a columnist...or something. I don't know, I never had well-defined goals before I got married and had a child and had to become responsible. And anyway, it turned out that they're not handing out columns to politically ignorant guys with strong opinions, particularly in a time when journalism as we know it is dying.

Anyway, one thing led to another and I found myself lifting couches for a living. Surprisingly, I found I enjoyed the honest work. (It's particularly honest when compared with some of my other jobs -- fundraising, PR for the government, etc.) So, instead of treating it like a "lifeboat job," I decided to make a go of it late last year. In 2010, MTB will become a more deliberate thing, a planned thing. Or so I hope.

What will it look like? Well, in broad strokes, something like this:

  • I'm going to end up getting a box truck. For the vast majority of apartment moves, a box truck just makes things easier on everyone and cheaper for my customers.
  • I'll be expanding my network of reliable "Truck Buddies," i.e. guys who I trust to provide the same level of customer service that I do. I have a couple of guys in the network already who've become big believers in the "service mentality" of MTB. That is, they understand that they succeed only when they go far above and beyond the usual moving credo, which seems to be "bitch and moan when the work gets hard." These guys are buying their own trucks and trailers and getting ready for the busy summer to come.
  • Redesigning the website to both look better, and be more "fun." I have no illusions that transforming a website whose primary focus is moving to something fun and interesting will be easy, but hey, I like challenges. I'd love to make MyTruckBuddy.com a place where people can go to discuss things happening in Washington, get tips on the best restaurants, etc., or find guys with unique talents and skills that they need.
That's just a couple of ideas I have. But basically, I need to get this thing automated so that I'll be able to spend more time with family, particularly because in June, we've got another baby due, and my wife is going to need me at home. We don't have any family in the area, and it therefore feels like we're on the frontier. Everything we do, we do almost alone (although we've been building quite a network of good friends lately).

I welcome any ideas you have about how to make MTB more useful, fun or interesting. We're here to serve!

Thanks,
Chris