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 work...how?!? 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.