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!