Thursday, September 16, 2010


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.

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