Saturday, December 31, 2011

Happy New Year!

"The end of the beginning" is what one of my friends and colleagues in the business recently named one of his Facebook photo albums. It took me a second, but I got it soon enough. The album contained pictures of his new office building and headquarters. He was understandably proud of his achievement -- he got into the moving business around the same time we did, and our growth has been about the same. He went from renting an occasional truck -- and sleeping in it -- to having an office in which he could spread out. One phase of the business, the beginning, was coming to an end.

I feel the same way, although our office space remains as humble as before, although cleaner. My buddy has executive office space -- we have a new file cabinet, which I think is very cool for some reason. We also have four desks and a refrigerator. Starbucks would NEVER have let me bring my own mini-fridge to one of my "remote offices" back in the early days. So, in a way, this is the end of our beginning too.

Like it or not.

It's been a good year. A GREAT year. We tripled revenue over last year -- in a recession. We earned somewhere over 250 5-star reviews on Yelp, got a second Angie's List Super Service Award, got all our legal and regulatory ducks in a row, and it looks like we're going to survive the "dead zone" between September and February as long as the savings hold out. We have a budget in place for next year, a marketing plan or two, and the best guys in the industry to make some awesome things happen. A 30-year veteran and friend in the business thinks our 2012 goals are insane, and I respect him as a mentor, but I think we may just be able to achieve those goals.

This has all been possible thanks to people in the DC area. So, thank you, DC people! Thank you for your business, and for taking a chance on a new company trying to do what is typically not advisable, or even considered possible -- create a "new kind of business." Thanks especially to those of you who have written great reviews on Yelp and Angie's List. And, of course, thank you to everyone who's come back and used My Truck Buddy again and again.

I should also give a great big THANK YOU to my wife Judie, whose guidance and patience has inspired and allowed me to keep going when I thought I had nothing left.

I know this must read like an Academy Award speech, but I'm not laboring under any illusion that we've "made it." Hardly. The bills are bigger, the consequences for failing to be in compliance are much more expensive and possible, and we still have a couple of months to go before we can relax comfortably in the knowledge that whatever else happens, we know there will be jobs on the calendar. We're wrapping up a big, busy week, but next week the normal winter cycle continues -- a few jobs on the calendar because it's close to the end of the previous month, then second week, which is dead and empty, a few jobs the week after, and a mere five or so jobs in the last week.

In the past, this dearth of jobs would have me in panic mode, possibly blogging about the collapse of all my best efforts. Now, "meh." We've been here before. We survived. We will again, unless the economy finally collapses (a very real concern of mine.)

I think I'm going to take a week off, either next week or the one after that. Yesterday I think I got sick in a way I've never been sick before. It wasn't quite a cold and wasn't quite a flu. I don't know what it was, but it FELT a lot like I'd just burned the candle at both ends for 364 days, and I finally ran out of steam. I saw it coming, too. In the last few weeks, my 100 percent was more like my 25 percent of a few months ago. With great effort, I was barely able to concentrate on the day's objectives, and I was rarely able to achieve them.

It's time for a break.

Anyway, here's to 2012. We're ready to do some great things, and I hope people will continue to give us a shot. I hope that 2012 is everything you all want it to be, too. Cheers!


Thursday, December 15, 2011

My Truck Buddy lands second consecutive Angie's List Super Service Award Earns Coveted Angie’s List Super Service Award Two Years in a Row
Award reflects businesses’ consistently high level of customer service has been awarded the prestigious 2011 Angie’s List Super Service Award, an honor bestowed annually on approximately 5 percent of all the businesses rated on the nation’s leading provider of consumer reviews on local service and health providers. This is the second consecutive year has received the Super Service Award.

“We are extremely happy about the award,” said Christopher Jolma, founder and managing partner of “The business has tripled growth every year for the last three years, and while we’ve had a lot of growing pains, we’ve remained true to our core principle of service to the community. The Super Service Award is a welcome recognition of our daily efforts to serve people in the most fair, safe and efficient manner possible.”

“Only a fraction of the businesses rated on Angie’s List can claim the sterling service record of being a Super Service Award winner because we set a high bar,” said Angie’s List Founder Angie Hicks. “The fact that can claim Super Service Award status speaks volumes about its dedication to consumers.

Angie’s List Super Service Award winners have met strict eligibility requirements including earning a minimum number of reports, an exemplary rating from their clients and abiding by Angie’s List operational guidelines.

Ratings are updated daily on Angie’s List, but members can find the 2011 Super Service Award logo next to business names in search results on

Christopher Jolma founded in 2008 in response to the downturn in the economy. Initially an emergency “job,” MTB has since grown from a “buddy with a truck” to a modest fleet of trucks helping people in the Washington, DC area with its moving and transportation needs.

Angie’s List collects consumer reviews on local contractors and doctors in more than 500 service categories. Currently, more than 2 million consumers across the U.S. rely on Angie’s List to help them make the best hiring decisions. Members get unlimited access to local ratings via Internet or phone, exclusive discounts, the Angie’s List magazine and help from the Angie’s List complaint resolution service. Take a quick tour of Angie’s List and view the latest Angie’s List news.

Friday, December 2, 2011

If only he knew what the scroll wheel on his mouse was for...

Yesterday we received the most vicious email I've ever seen in MTB history. A potential customer was enraged, apparently, that we didn't include dollar amounts in our estimate. There was an exchange of emails, and he ended up writing a bad review on Angie's List.

Here's the problem: WE DID INCLUDE DOLLAR AMOUNTS. In fact, they were in a larger, bolder font. The customer knows this, but he's apparently an unstable person and decided to slander us anyway.

I wrote a response on Angie's List, and in it, I promised to include our full correspondence. After a little reflection, I've decided against it as the potential damage is relatively minimal. However, I will post the following two images as evidence that we did, in fact, give him a complete estimate. Furthermore, this has been our standard estimate template for about a year, given to literally thousands of people. In all that time, we've never had someone misunderstand the estimate so egregiously.

Here's the belligerent response we got from the customer after sending the estimate. Please note that this was the very first response we received from him after sending a full, complete estimate:

And here's the section he neglected to read. It appears in roughly the middle of the standard estimate we send out:

When I pointed out the misunderstanding, Randy said he was "deeply offended" that we didn't send a proper estimate, and that he'd be giving us an 'F' because of our dishonesty.

Too bad for us, I guess. All of this could have been avoided if we'd simply pointed out the scroll wheel in the middle of his mouse...

Saturday, November 26, 2011

When the student is ready...EntreLeadership

When I first realized I was probably going to "have to" take this little Truck Buddy idea to whatever conclusion I had to, I wished for a manual to tell me what the hell I needed to do. There was nothing out there. Sure, there were a million books about business, but nothing that gave me the bare bones "This-is-what-you-must-do" kind of book. That's because it hadn't been written yet. Now, fortunately, it has been: it's Dave Ramsey's EntreLeadership.

Actually, I probably would have passed on the book had it existed four years ago. I was looking for a book specifically about the moving industry that didn't bore me to tears. I needed to know things like how to find insurance, what KIND of insurance I needed, what regulations applied to my kind of business, and, of course, where on earth do you find the things you need to comply with?!? (Let me tell you -- there's nothing more unnerving than knowing you don't know much about what to do, but knowing that that ignorance WILL sink you if you don't learn it fast.) EntreLeadership isn't that kind of book, but it's a must-have if you're interested in creating an authentic company culture, having some idea of where your company is going, and how to avoid letting little deficiencies turn into big, fatal problems later.

Reading it now, after four years of experience, I realize that it couldn't have come at a better time for me personally, and for the business. I might have dismissed it as theoretical fluff -- which would have been a huge mistake. It's not theory. It's as he says -- "20 years of practical business wisdom from the trenches." This is, as Ramsey says, they're playbook for their business. Four years ago I was pulling out my hair (with predictable consequences, as I'm now almost bald) trying to figure out the nuts and bolts of a new business while on a shoestring budget. (Actually, I had about half a shoestring). I didn't have the time or patience for such a book. Now, nothing is more valuable on my bookshelf.

As you might have gathered from the title, it's about leadership for entrepreneurs. It's all in there -- goal-setting, decision-making, marketing systems, personnel management and more. One theme runs through every chapter -- how to stay on target with your goals, and how to encourage everyone on your team to reach for that goal.

He stresses service in everything his company does -- service to both his customers and his staff. Not fluffy sloganeering, but actual, authentic service to everyone. As far as Ramsey is concerned, there's no other way to conduct business. I was particularly gratified to read that because I've tried to stick to the same principle with My Truck Buddy since Day 1. If you're not serving people, you may have some success, but not as much as you would otherwise.

He's an unapologetic Christian, and that might turn some people off, but he doesn't beat you over the head with the Bible. Whatever you might think of Christianity, the bits of the Faith he slips into the text are unarguably relevant to running a "socially conscious" business striving for a servant mentality.

I've been listening to the audiobook on my daily epic commute. I was thrilled to realize I've been doing about half of what he suggests. And, I was mortified to realize I'd neglected approximately the other half. In fact, some things I'd been doing I'd thought were really clever or shrewd were actually bad. EntreLeadership has re-aligned my whole mindset about my business, and business in general. We've already been busy preparing for 2012, but this book is giving us a much, much better foundation.

The book isn't for everyone. If you have no intention of ever running your own business, or you have no plans or expectations to ever be in charge of "team members," you won't get as much out of it. Don't get me wrong -- you'll get something out of it -- but, it's really for people who want to be the best leaders they can in all areas of their lives. God forbid I ever become some kind of business guru, but if I were to ever give anyone instruction in that area, this would easily be the first, perhaps only, book I'd ever recommend.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

My Truck Buddy then and now

We're resuscitating our marketing efforts for the slow season, which means digging up all our old pictures in the archive. There are some good ones -- laughably naive, etc. For example, here's a picture I took in the very earliest days:

Look at me -- so proud, so slightly overweight. "Look at all these straps I have! And all these tarps! I'm prepared for anything."

Ah, stupid young Chris from 2008. How innocent you were. If someone went to a job with those things now I'd register him in the Truck Buddy "resume preparation class" by the end of the day.

Along those lines, we came across the following picture:

This was taken during the winter of '09 or so, I believe. It was my brilliant idea to go to some busy spot and hand out hot chocolate, cookies and business cards. Mission: unsuccessful, sort of. I picked the Masonic temple in Old Town to hand these things out. People were sledding down that big hill. Unfortunately, cookies and hot chocolate appealed primarily to all the children there. I gave a lot of business cards to the under-eight set. Occasionally a parent would stop by to make sure the nice man handing out treats to their children wasn't a child molester. The scary thing is that only a few parents did so.

It's too early to say because, in theory, one of those kids will call us in twenty years. But for now, that was a total bust of an effort.

Nowadays, though, we have our big trucks. I'd say we're showing signs of improvement. The next time we do an on-site marketing event, we're giving away beer. But not to children. We have standards.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Some statistics: average move times

After about four years of doing this, we're now doing some things we probably should have been doing all along. Things like, you know, keeping up-to-date customer records, doing more pro-active in-house marketing, and, analyzing data. Having never been a "numbers guy," I knew that in theory it was important to quantify and track everything we do, but there was always something more pressing to do (like fires to put out).

However, our "numbers guy" is back from a stint in Denver. In his life prior to MTB he was an analyst of some kind. My read on him is that if he's not crunching numbers, he has siezures. So, I gave him access to the database and let him go nuts. Here's one nugget of information he came up with. Some folks may be interested in what he found:

Average Job Times
N is the number of jobs observed. This data set is taken from all jobs (for which we have data) from around mid-February 2011 to now, September 5, 2011)

1 Room: 2.49 (n=21)

Studio Apartments: 2.83 (n=9)

1 Bedroom Apartments: 3.37 hr (n=64)

1 + Den Apartments: 3.25 hr (n=13)

2 Bedroom Apartments: 4.3055 (n=36)

3 Bedroom Apartments or houses: 4.72 (n=15)

What really surprises me here is how fast bigger jobs (2 and 3 bedroom places) are going, on average. We all have war stories about 11-hour jobs that usually involve the bigger places (sometimes people don't pack and a 1 BD takes all frakking day), but that is an astounding average. It makes me wonder if I need to eliminate our 5-8 hour estimate category altogether.
Questions, comments? Please, let us know!

Moving Fail: Part 1 of a series

Sometimes you can take that "can-do" spirit too far...

Saturday, September 3, 2011

The Mantis gets a makeover

Earlier this year pre-literate vandals tagged our flagship truck, sometimes known as "The Mantis." She was a beauty before the tagging -- extremely low miles, tons of power, lots of room. She was kind of plain, but the big white box was clean. Then, this happened:

Since most of the time there's no room in the budget for a simple one-color paint job, we weren't able to do anything about it. But eventually, after getting pulled over a half-dozen times or so, I realized it was just a cop-magnet and slathered the sides in white Rustoleum. It almost restored the Mantis to her original sexiness, but she still wasn't quite there.

So, I pulled some change out of the couch cushions and gave her the makeover she deserved:

We thought about doing something funny for the back door, but that duty fell to me, and I'm not that great with "planned humor." So, I went with the safe route -- basic company info for our captive audiences trapped in traffic.

Anyway, she's a beaut. Woe to the hooligans who tag her now.

Happy anniversary, beautiful!

Yeah, I try not to get too personal on this blog, but this is something I want to mention: yesterday my wife and I celebrated our 5th anniversary. Five years ago neither of us had a clue what we were getting in to, but a lifetime of life, love and a 26' International truck load with a 13' high box completely loaded with challenges later, I can safely say our relationship has been tested.

The state of our union is strong.

So, here's to my wife, who keeps me honest makes me strive for bigger and better things. And to another five years, and another five after that...

A bastard I can live with

The toughest part of building a business when you have no previous business-building experience is dealing with the things you don't know. It's a lot like a swimming hole we knew about in a little river back home in Washington State. It was lined with massive boulders probably blown there from some volcanic activity millenia previously, had a fun waterfall, and a slow-running area for swimming. The water was deep and cold and perfect on those hot summer days. Places like that inspire country songs.

But there was one little hazard (aside from, you know, the raging waterfall): about six inches under the water in the prime diving location sat a hulking, flat-topped boulder usually submerged from view. It seems like someone was killed or crippled every year diving into that thing. If you weren't with locals who knew about it, you could demolish yourself.

That's a lot like what this is like. Donald Rumsfeld (in)famously talked about "known knowns," "known unknowns," and "unknown unknowns." When you have a liberal arts background, virtually everything falls into the "unknown unknown" category, often with painful consequences.

Take a recent licensing issue I had. I'd paid a lawyer an enormous sum of money (for me and this little business, anyway) to "take care of it." Have you ever tried to get simple, actionable information from a government website? It's ridiculous. And if you actually get a hold of a somewhat knowledgeable human in whatever government office, what they tell you seems to contradict everything on the website. So, for me, paying the lawyer was a great investment. "Here's money: make the problems go away."

Well, for whatever reason, he didn't take care of our City of Alexandria license, which resulted in a somewhat aggressive call from the city. "Come down here and fix it or we're going to charge you [$basically as much as the company grosses every day] every day until it's handled." It would have put us out of business which, the bureaucrat couldn't have known, wasn't exactly a threat. After four years of 14-hour days, my body beat to hell, my mind sludge, and finally, my oldest son asking whether he even had a daddy, I could probably live with packing it all in. But, out of some sense of duty and stupidity, I went down to City Hall for what would turn into a bi-weekly ritual probing.

Long story short, it's handled. We're fully licensed and insured. But the government worker mentioned that the licensing issue came up when one of my office neighbors informed on us. ("Bureaucrat" now seems too loaded a term for someone who, in the end, was very pleasant and helpful as long as I did exactly what she wanted immediately or sooner), It didn't take long to figure out who it was -- MTB World HQ is right next to a bigger, more established moving company. They've been in business for about 40 years -- and for most of it they've been in the same location.

I thought she was mistaken, because when I moved in to this office, I went next door to shake the owner's hand and introduce myself. I had a couple of goals:

  • First, I wanted to let him know that I probably wasn't a direct competitor, so please don't slash my tires. 
  • Second, I wanted to extend to him the same courtesy I do with several "partner-competitors" in my Trusted Mover Network. We receive far more requests than we can handle, and I (perhaps naively) happily refer people to other companies I trust. They do the same. Even with five or so companies working together, we all STILL can't do all the jobs people need us to do. Since I needed another "big company" in my Trusted Mover Network, I thought my neighbor would be an excellent candidate. 
So why would he just hand us over to the city like that? I needed to find out.

Surprisingly enough, I met the big guy (who I will now call "Big Guy") himself. Big Guy is older, and a gentlemen from the old school of business. Unlike us Truck Buddies who prize informality and a laid-back way of doing things, Big Guy wore a suit WITH jacket on in his office which, by the way, was immaculate. That alone astounded me. How could anyone run a brutal business like this for 40-some years and not have a bottle of Jack on his desk, an empty shot glass, and a clean revolver in his hand?

We had a good, but stiff meeting. His desk was high, and his chairs were low, which meant I felt like a four-year-old supplicant asking for a lollipop. He was cordial and polite, if uninterested in what I had to say. I chalked it up to the fact that this industry isn't exactly dominated by affable, friendly people. Based on recent events, I now realize he probably regarded me as a naive idiot.

I proposed my idea about sending him the big jobs and him sending me small jobs. "Do you do commercial moves?" he asked.

"Nope," I said. And it's true -- we don't like them.

"Well then, we're not competitors," he said. "Welcome to the business!"

And that was that.

Nine months later, the guy reported me to the City of Alexandria because of that licensing issue.

I took care of it, but the narc situation didn't sit well with me. I extended a hand of friendship and came back with nub. So, perhaps still idiotically naive, I went over there yesterday to ask him what the problem was.

I caught the Big Guy outside while he was walking his gigantic poodle-type dog. "I got a call from the city," I said, and I think there might be some mistake, but I think it was someone in your company--"

"It was me. I called."

Surprised, I tried to explain that it was an honest mistake, it was fixed, and that I was a little miffed that he'd call the law dogs on a company doing everything it could to A) stay in business, and B) stay in business legally. He didn't even care that this business came out of a need to provide for my family when I was laid off from my last job.

I would have gotten farther with the poodle. "So, what's the problem?" I asked.

As it happens, the problem was exactly what I deal with on a daily basis. He had just shelled out tens of thousands of dollars in taxes to the city. He has a bigger fleet both in size and number of trucks. The economy sucks, business is down, and people are finding alternate moving methods. However, the tax-man still cometh regardless. He didn't like the idea of an up-start company competing against him (even though we don't, which I tried to explain) and not paying their fair share.

That was it: "Everyone has to pay their dues, everyone has to pay their fair share."

I couldn't have agreed more. There are somewhere over 500 legal and semi-legal moving companies in the area. Competition is fierce. It's a ridiculously expensive industry. Overhead is way, WAY over head, which makes it difficult to pay for excellent people. We compete directly against hundreds, if not thousands of what we call "Craigslist Cowboys." You know exactly who I'm talking about -- guys who offer a ridiculously low rate and promise you the moon. But on move day, if they show up at all, they're late, they hit you with all kinds of hidden fees, and forget about getting compensation for damages. Even some the best ones have a fundamental dishonesty at the core of their business -- they present themselves as real companies, but the rates they charge can in no way cover the overhead. But they don't need to charge anything close to industry-standard rates -- they're not paying for workman's comp, cargo insurance, general liability insurance, taxes, etc.

I understood where the Big Guy was coming from. That he saw us as some of those "Craigslist Cowboys" (or move rustlers?) stung quite a bit, especially since I struggled for YEARS to get fully compliant, all the while trying to keep us in a home WITH enough food for two growing boys. And, of course, the dozen or so guys depending on the success of the company.

So, it was a real bastard move to simply inform on us instead of walking the 50 feet from his office to mine to mention his concern, but I understand. He's seen 'em come and he's seen 'em go. At some point, I'd love to buy the guy a beer and thank him for "raising my awareness" about the matter.

Monday, June 13, 2011

Please forgive our tardiness

Hey everyone (assuming anyone actually reads this blog...),

We're very sorry for the delay in processing your work requests. I have literally worked six months to prepare for the summer rush to avoid exactly this situation, but it appears I've failed to anticipate just how many requests we'd get. Thank you! And, of course, please forgive us!

I have more work to do today than I ever did in the 15 years of previous work experience. Nonetheless, I'm going to fix this today. From now on, you'll receive an estimate within 24 hours. In the near future, we hope to provide instant estimates. We have all the data we need to figure out how to do that, and we've got a rock star coder waiting in the wings to do the project.

Thank you for your patience, and for your business, of course. We're working to serve you better.


Thursday, June 9, 2011

Moving: I now feel your pain

The rental market is so tough right now that THIS is a viable option.
As it happens, some of my marketing isn't just fluff. I remember reading somewhere that moving is in the top five most traumatic life experiences for a person. It's right up there with a break-up or losing a loved one. Public speaking may still be the number one traumatic experience in a person's life, but moving is still up there.

I bring this up because we have to move again. Our landlords decided not to renew our lease, instead opting to give the house back to their son who, by the way, they kicked out to put us in there.

I. Hate. Moving. Ironic, no? I actually love what we do, which is essentially acting as the Special Forces of the moving industry -- we drop in in our Huey (or 16' box truck, whichever is available that day) -- assess the situation, load up and roll out before the echo fades. (A line I've always loved from Patriot Games, which I've never gotten to incorporate until now). That part is fun. But actually moving myself? It's a horrible, horrible experience.

As you know, first you have to find a place. You have to sort through hundreds, if not thousands of potential listings. You find yourself looking at former meth labs and trying to convince yourself of things like "You know, with the right curtains, that nest of black widows doesn't look so bad." When you go out to see the potentials, you have to be nice and friendly with all the other irritated, often desperate people looking at the same houses.

"We could put the crib over here," you might say. "And this room could be the office."

The other couple might say "Oh, wow, this room would be perfect for a landlord gift-making station!"

Then there's the personal and financial probing -- the credit checks, the background checks, the reference checks... Thankfully nobody asks how many parking tickets I've gotten, otherwise we'd be homeless.

And then, when it's all settled, and you've found a place that will suffice with some new curtains and a toxic spread of Raid and bleach for just $100 or $200 over your top-end budget, the packing begins. Oh, the packing! Great Odin's Raven, the packing! We haven't even gotten to that point yet and I'm already about to curl up in the fetal position on my office floor. I could take a six-hour bath with scented candles and the collected works of Colbie Callait and I'd still be tense. (What?) Yes, I know that kids make you accumulate an astonishing amount of crap, but really? 50 boxes of kids stuff? Yeah, probably.

At least I'll be in complete control once the new place is secured, the house is packed, and we're ready to load the truck. I've done THAT part about 2,000 times. Until then, oh buddies, it's misery.

On the bright side, we now have an unprecedented opportunity to film every aspect of the moving process in order to show people some best practices. What to do about to pack wardrobe boxes...what to do about lamps...etc. It'll be instructive. Maybe even fun! Keep an eye out for those.

Anyway, enough of this. I have to go find a crack house for my family.

Wednesday, June 8, 2011

Not Truck Buddy Material: Steve

How could I have forgotten Steve? He was one of the first really shocking burn-outs of the modern MTB era.

Steve talked the talk like they all do. "I'm 100 percent reliable, a fast learner, a hard worker, etc..." Blah, blah, blah. He responded to an ad where I noted -- in some detail -- that I didn't want guys to come in here thinking they know everything about moving and refuse to learn our way. "No problem," Steve said. "I'll do it your way."

On his third job he showed up, took a look at the job, and declared that it was really more of a "two-man job." It may have been, but if I tell a customer three guys is likely to be better (as in, it'll save them money by completing the job more quickly), then that's what they expect and that's what they get. But not only did Steve decide to re-negotiate the terms of the job while on-site, he told the crew leader to "put him down for two hours" even though he'd only worked for a few minutes or so. And then he left.

So, by "I'll do it your way," he really meant "I'll do whatever the hell I want, and oh, by the way, I'm going to steal from you."

Thanks Steve. Good luck in life.

Not Truck Buddy Material: Kenneth (an update)

Here's a hilarious update about Kenneth, one of our recent NTBM inductees:

Last week he was a no-show to an interview. I didn't think much of it at that point because that's what people do. We schedule interviews, and people just don't show up. That's the reality. Me expecting people to show up is me expecting a different reality. It would be like expecting it to rain donuts, or the Khardashians to become icons for style, taste, modesty and virtue.

Kenneth surprised me, though. He called yesterday and said he was coming in.

"Who is this?" I asked.

"Kenneth. I'm coming in to talk to you about the job."

Panicked, I checked the calendar. Maybe I'd screwed up. Maybe I'd put him on the NTBM Wall of Shame unjustly.

"I have it down for 10:00 AM last week, buddy," I said. "Did I make a mistake?"

"Something came up."

Something. Came. Up. Not even a "I had to take my grandma to the hospital," or "I was abducted and brainwashed by an al Qaeda sleeper cell. Allahu Akbar, by the way."

"You probably should have told me that," I said. After all this was one of the guys who responded to the latest ad on Craigslist. It was about 10 percent job description and 90 percent "Do NOT waste my time with unprofessional BS."

I told him not to come in, but he got testy. "But I'm already on the train!"

I told him we had it covered, "best of luck," and hung up. While it would be a fun exercise, I don't have the time to try to understand such a mentality. "Hey there! I'm a week late, but mind if I drop by anytime without an appointment for that interview?"

This kind of thing happens every single time I go on a recruiting jag. I fear for our country.

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Not Truck Buddy Material: Kenneth

Scheduled an interview with "Kenneth" for today between 10:00--11:00. It's now noon.

Kenneth, if you're reading this, please hit yourself in the head repeatedly until you pass out. When you wake up, repeat the procedure.


Tuesday, May 31, 2011

NTBM: Not Truck Buddy Material -- a series

This is the first of what will undoubtedly be a long series. I should have seen the bloggable pattern years ago, but it was only after being hit in the face with it so many times lately that I realized we have a real problem here.

Here's the problem: thousands of people move in the DC area every year. With just a tiny bit of marketing, we could be their movers. IF, that is, I could find enough halfway decent guys to do the work. The guys currently in MTB's employ are all fantastic. They embody the philosophy we're going for around here--they have brains, ingenuity, and the brawn to get it done. But in order to grow the company to a point where we're not just living paycheck to paycheck, we need to do more jobs or radically raise our prices. It's an expensive business to run, but I don't want to price ourselves right out of our target market. So, the plan is to make it up on volume.

Buuuut, how do you do that when new guys don't show up? Hell, I'd be somewhat happy with guys who just showed up to interviews.

In the last few weeks we've had some doozies. There have been a few losers in the past who've come our way, but comparatively speaking, not many. I think it has to do with simple numbers -- the more potential new guys we need, the more potential problems we'll have. We've NEVER had staffing issues like this before, and while our standards are high, they're not THAT high. All you need to do is show up on time, work hard and fast, be friendly and careful. It's that simple. In fact, that last sentence runs across the top of my whiteboard in the office. Every. Single. Guy who comes in for an interview (the ones who actually show up, that is), laughs and says, "Yeah, man, that's so obvious. Who can't do that?!?" Well, 75% of new candidates, apparently.

Some of the recent lowlights:

Scheduled for the first of three interviews in one day. No-show.

Showed up for the interview, we hit it off, and I was thinking "Crew Leader material, all the way." On his first job, he showed up to the site, went to look for parking, and we never saw him again. Later he said his phone/GPS ran out of juice, and then he got lost. I gave him a second chance, but he never responded. Goodbye.

Scheduled for third interview of the day. No-show. I got an email from him later in which he claimed to have lost a family member in a head-on collision that I'd actually heard about in the news. Maybe it's true, maybe it's not. I told him to come by whenever he felt up to it, but so far, no word.

He was actually referred by one of our best guys who knew him through a Bible study. A Bible study!!! He was a decent enough worker (I didn't have a chance to observe him personally), but on his fourth job he went to the pizza place next door looking to pick up some delivery jobs. Cash was always tight for this guy, apparently, a situation I attribute to being unemployed for a long time while still owing money for a new Chrysler 300. Since the owner/manager had his own no-show that day, Jeffrey got the part-time job.

Well, on his fourth delivery, he decided to pocket the cash for change and the customer's payment. It was a stupid crime he attempted to cover up with numerous additional layers of stupid. The details are unimportant, but he was caught in a lie, and I fired him immediately. He never did understand why something that had "nothing to do with MTB" should get him fired. Yeah, goodbye.

Another referral (and the last) from the same guy who referred Jeffrey. (That same referrer now refuses to refer anyone else). I liked him immediately. He was friendly, personable, and looked like he could lift 300 pounds and carry on a conversation like it was nothing.

Mark had to bail halfway through a job because he needed to get to a job interview he didn't mention. He actually left the guys hanging to interview for a job where, I was told, he'd drive drunks home late at night from bars. Yeah. That was better than our!? He also said the commute was too much -- 30 minutes from his place to the office. I had to laugh at that one. I live five miles from the office and it sometimes takes me twice that long to get here. It's actually faster to bike, which I do all the time.

So, buh-bye, Mark.

The most recent example was another guy I was thinking might make a decent Crew Leader. He came over from one of our partner companies, and while there were some questions about him, I figured everyone deserved a second chance. After all, he'd been laid off and hadn't worked in 30 days...according to him. I told him we needed him on Thursday, Friday and Saturday. This desperate, hungry-for-work guy said Thursday was out because of finals. Friday was fine, but he had something to do on Saturday -- the NCAA final four.


Mike made it through most of the Friday job, but he got a migraine (allegedly, but plausibly since we were working in an alley under a vent that was spewing some sort of chemical that made us all dizzy). He had to leave. So, I booked him on a couple of jobs today. He did the first, but then, just...disappeared. No word, no text, no call. Nothing. So, he's gone.

I don't want to be overly dramatic about it, but I don't think this bodes well for our country. Is THIS the typical American worker? In a time of at least nine percent unemployment, guys can't be bothered to show up to interviews -- or even complete a single day's worth of work? It blows my mind.

So, we're in permanent hiring mode. My inclination is to stop hiring altogether, but if not for the fact that we NEED to expand to survive, I'd give up entirely. Therefore, if you're looking for work, or know someone who is, please send them our way. Just make sure they can show up on time...

Sunday, May 29, 2011

We do mighty deeds

This weekend was a doozy. But then, so were the last 40 weekends. There was a time when I thought running two crews independently of my direct supervision was an irresponsible, greedy endeavor. Two crews making money while I sit in a coffee shop somewhere and work on the website? Where's my latte?

Eventually I realized I needed a third crew to help pay the bills. Then I realized that four crews was really the bare minimum necessary to break even. But then this weekend, I got a series of panicked emails from my wife and CFO (same woman) wondering when/where/why/how we were hemorrhaging so much cash. As far as I knew, I hadn't purchased any gold-plated flat screen TVs (TVs are among the most-donated items to MTB World HQ), and I still drive the same little Ford Ranger I started this insane project with, so all the money must be going back into the business. And as if I needed any more proof, I realized that no, five crews isn't what we need, it's more like ten.

Donald Trump I am not. But even I should have realized that paying guys what I do while charging customers as little as I do is a recipe for financial ruin. (Don't get me wrong -- I don't think I pay our Truck Buddies enough. They're among the best guys all-around in the industry.)

So, we've got a bit of a crisis here, which makes me question everything we're doing, where we're going, and if we'll have a company by the next slow season. It's made me a little reflective. I've got about five hours before I have to/get to go back to the office in the morning. I'll figure out what we need to do to survive then. But right now I'm thinking about all we've accomplished. What have we accomplished? Well, let's see...

* I built a million dollar business off of two paychecks after I was laid off. We may not have grossed $1 million yet, but the potential is there with just a little more effort.

* We've earned about 200 five-star reviews on a very popular review website. (Granted, as of this writing, the latest review is a one-star because we failed to answer a request in time. I'm not happy about it, but it's not a bad review for services rendered, so I can live with it -- for now).

* I've built a network of like-minded professionals I consider brothers-in-chaos.

* You name it, we've done it -- sleeper sofas up and over balconies, jobs completed despite overwhelming technical difficulties (tiny trucks, huge over-filled apartments), impossibly heavy entertainment centers carried a quarter mile around properties, jobs successfully completed despite one of my eyes being caked over in blood from an errant bungie cord coming loose... I could go on.

* Building all of this while still raising two little boys, and being at least an adequate husband.

Yeah, no matter what happens, we have done things we can be proud of. Through snowstorms, summer humidity, standstill traffic, and whatever else a city can throw at you, we've helped thousands of people move from one place to another. I may end up taking a job at Starbucks when it's all over with, but I can look at the last five years and be damn proud. Truck Buddies are the best, toughest guys in the industry.

Monday, March 28, 2011


According to the city, one side of the street outside my office is zoned commercial, and the other side is zoned residential. Take THAT parking Nazi!

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Who's the biggest threat to small business owners?

I’m now officially more worried about government officials than the thousands of thugs in the area wielding everything from spray paint to AK-47s.

The other night our flagship truck, the “W3,” was “tagged” by someone. The street side of the truck was barely touched – just a few signs (symbols?) The other side was worked over hard, and it looks like the miscreants were interrupted. I discovered the vandalism Sunday morning and tried to make a report around 8:00 AM. It must have happened between 11:30 and 7:30 AM. When I tried to make the report, I was told that someone would call me back. I didn’t expect a call and didn’t receive one.

I stopped by the office Sunday night to check on the trucks just before dusk. Both of the trucks outside the office had tickets on the windshields.

So, to sum up, the cops won’t call you back when your business has been vandalized, but they WILL take every dollar from you they can get in parking violations. ALLEGED parking violations (more on that in a second.)

This was the straw the broke the camel’s back for me. I now fear the guys in police cars more than the gang-bangers who probably tagged my truck. (In fact, I’m thinking about making a deal with the vandals. As long as they can do good work and use my logo somehow, they can use the truck as a canvas. Might even be cool.) As for the authorities? I’m always scanning the road because I’m afraid I’ve forgotten some detail, haven’t gotten some sticker, might be driving six miles over the speed limit, missed a “no trucks” sign, etc. The state nickels-and-dimes my business to the point where I can’t afford necessary expansions or to hire to guys. I’m not even talking about taxes.

I don’t see myself as a victim here, but I know that I don’t have any friends out there. We’ve been robbed at least five times that I know about for sure, and probably many more times that I’m not. Employees have left the trucks unattended for mere minutes only to discover that customer checks, their cash and personal items were stolen. The last time was a few weeks ago. I’ve had big, hard-to-lift equipment stolen right off the deck of the truck. We’ve filed reports but, naturally, never heard anything again.

However, if our bumper is slightly over a crosswalk, some city or country drone will write us a ticket. I once got a ticket while stopped – NOT PARKED – in front of one of my guys’ houses the night before Thanksgiving. I was writing him a check for the day’s work, and the vigilant meter maid wouldn’t give me 30 seconds. Those 30 seconds cost me $75.

A couple of months ago, a girl slammed into the back of our truck and put one of my guys in the hospital. The truck was parked, and the guys were loading it. Jimmy hit the lift gate on the way down. I’m not sure if the cop gave Jimmy the ticket for parking in the “wrong” place as he was lying in a pool of his own blood or if he waited until he was safely in the ambulance, but that was another $50. We were told by the apartment complex to park on the street. The customer said we should park there. A random poll of residents indicated that EVERYONE was told to park on the street. But, because I wasn’t able to get an affidavit to Fairfax County in time, my LEGITIMATE case was completely dismissed by the county. I tried to press it, but like all government functionaries, the gatekeeper just kept repeating whatever lines were on her script. The thing is, THEY SENT ME THE FORM TOO LATE. I even have a recording of the front desk person telling me they tell everyone to park in the street. 

The other day I stopped a meter man from writing a ticket for an “abandoned vehicle.” Someone had complained that one of our trucks was “abandoned,” and out come the authorities. This was for a truck that I use EVERY SINGLE DAY, that had been moved less than 12 hours previously, that was in perfect working order. But with no evidence, the city was going to issue a citation for an abandoned vehicle.
The funny thing is that I was hesitant to call the cops about the tagging that morning. I didn’t want them to show up and cite me for having too small of a DOT number on the side of the truck. (Got a citation for no DOT number the other day even though we have one). But I figured what the heck? Maybe someone at the station will care.

If I’d been thinking clearly, I wouldn’t have bothered. Number of times I’ve been vandalized or ripped off? About a dozen. Number of parking tickets and other citations I’ve gotten? Probably hundreds. Who’s the bigger threat to legitimate business owners? 

This raises all kinds of philosophical questions, but you know what? I’m not sure I even care anymore. I never thought I’d say this, but I think some fights are too big. I think law-abiding citizens have gotten far too used to “living in the city” or have made peace with diminishing civil liberties and crime. “It’s just something we have to live with” or something. Until last weekend, I would have said that’s insane, but I suppose there really is nothing we can do. You almost have to put yourself at risk of jail time just to get past the bored government gatekeepers whose primary duty in life seems to be to keep their days as effortless as possible.

For one reason or another, my wife and I have been talking about Arizona a lot lately. We’ll see how the business does this year, but we seem to be way past the point of diminishing returns. The better the business does, the more we’re ripped off, both from dirtbag passers-by and city officials.

Update: Alright, the “telephone reporting division” of the Alexandria police department finally got back to me. They took my report and said they’d have a unit patrol the area and be on the lookout. Heh, yeah, no doubt. I’m sure we’ll be within five inches of the legal distance from the fire hydrant and they’ll “tag” me for that, too.