Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The MTB Moving Guide -- it works.

People call all the time asking for tips and tricks to making their move go as smoothly and painlessly as possible. These are code words for "how to make it as cheap as possible." (Come on -- we both know it's true...) That's alright, because I want it to be as cheap as possible, too. This may seem counter-productive, but when people don't pay a lot for a great move, they're happy. Happy people tend to tell other people about their experience. Then people call! And in a business where if your client base is likely to use your service once a year, at best, we want as many people coming back as possible.

Also, offering a great, fair rate is just the right thing to do.

So, I wrote the My Truck Buddy Moving Guide. It's based on our experience of several thousand moves, and summarizes all the best practices we've found to help things go as quickly and affordably as possible. It's just a summary, mind you, because every job is different, and there are literally hundreds of factors that can make or break a move.

We had another motive for writing it -- to make our day easier as well. Despite my most strenuous efforts, the guys still want "a life." Having sacrificed my social life about five years ago to the gaping maw of the moving industry, I only vaguely remember what it's like to sit on the porch with friends, have some beers and not worry about a thousand variables...

But I digress. Or whine. Or whine-gress...

Anyway, the guys like to get their jobs in a reasonable amount of time with minimal hassle. It's a tall order in this industry, but not crazy. That's the other reason I wrote the Guide. And now that it's been out there for awhile, it's been downloaded and used hundreds of times. We're starting to get a lot of feedback about the Guide, and it's mostly positive. (Some people say I try to hard to be amusing in it...) People who actually follow the advice in the Guide report great results. Their moves go faster, there's less hassle, and the final price is very affordable. The guys get to have a life!

Conversely, people who don't use the guide run into trouble. For example, today I'm dealing with a situation that happened yesterday. The apartment wasn't packed, there was random stuff all over the place, half of the items to be moved weren't listed on the estimate request form, etc., etc., etc. It's not fun.

I'm actually surprised that the Guide is as useful as it is. Working with the maxim that one shouldn't let "the perfect be the enemy of the good," I had to cut vast swaths of verbiage out of it to keep it short and useful. I thought I was leaving out a lot of good stuff, but just had to get it done. But now that the results are coming in, I might give it a couple more rewrites and offer some sort of guarantee. For example, "If the Guide is followed to the letter, we'll guarantee a Do Not Exceed amount, or the labor after the high end of the estimate is free." (Obviously that'll take some work...)

Anyway, check it out. IT'S ABSOLUTELY FREE. And it could literally save you hundreds of dollars on your move. (If you're completely unprepared, of course. Please don't do that...)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Got a financial plan? You should!

As long-time readers know, (haha--"longtime readers?"), I'm a big Dave Ramsey fan. Not so much for the financial advice stuff, but for the EntreLeadership counsel. Still, he seems to know what he's talking about.

This is from The Power of the Plan: Tap into the power to save yourself heartache, time and money. Basically, American debt (personal debt, that is -- we'll avoid talking about the national debt) went up by several billion dollars from April to May, according to the Federal Reserve. Most of that was credit card debt.

I know financial woes. In 2007, we bought too much house (ironically packed into about 950 sq. feet.). One thing led to another, I lost my job, credit card bills EXPLODED as we scrambled to survive. It's why I started this business. We pretty much made the wrong decision whenever we could.

We paid for it. Me in a very acute way -- our debt and related woes sentenced me to five years of hard labor in this industry. Day by day, grueling hour after grueling hour, I worked to climb out of the hole.

Anyway, that's a story for another day. My point is that far too recently, my wife and I sat down and made a plan. The business is starting to show signs of life, and now that we have reasonable confidence in getting another few years out of it, we're starting to dare to hope and be optimistic. The plan we outlined is ambitious, and it will require a year of "rice and beans," as Ramsey puts it, but it means we have a shot at actual financial peace.

There were immediate unexpected benefits of having a plan: even though we are nowhere near our goal of buying a house by this time next year, we're on the same page, have the same goals, and are speaking the same language. We've always worked well together, but our priorities were somewhat incongruous -- she wanted stability, and wanted numbers, projections, accounting, etc. I just wanted to make sure we had adequate crew coverage and a few working trucks to get through the next day. It was like that for years. With our master plan, it's almost easy. Hah -- well, not exactly easy, but at least clearer.

Check out the link and Ramsey's free online tools. Might be helpful.

Question: what kind of budgeting and money management tools do you use?

In the tangled garden of chaos, a rose...

Just got this in. After Saturday's hour-by-hour crises, THIS makes for an unusually good Monday. (And it's a financially staggering payroll day, too!)

Thanks, J! We appreciate it!

Dear David - Can you stand to hear from another satisfied customer??  8 )   First, the online information was very helpful as was the estimate form and packing guide.  Second, your response was prompt. Third, you were quick to respond to questions and very helpful when I requested a change in the move time. Forth, according to my son who experienced the move, " these guys are amazing, they are so fast and so good!".  And last but not least the estimate you gave was spot on.  My son was so happy for the assistance in the hot and rainy weather on Saturday and I was very happy with the professional level of service you provided. Thank you so much.

Friday, July 20, 2012

My 20th high school reunion: past and future collide

So...tomorrow the Class of 1992 is celebrating our 20-year reunion. I can't attend because I'll be working and I can't afford to charter a jet to transport all of our kids, but I'll be there in spirit.

Running a moving business has made me decidedly less...sentimental...than I used to be, but I suppose I should pause a moment to reflect on what I've learned since graduating high school.

Let's lessons...

I'm struggling here. The absolute first thing that came to mind is that you're probably better off to carry a bottle of Lysol with you if your work requires you to use a lot of public restrooms. I'm not kidding. That's the first thing I thought of. The second was:  "pockets are temporary storage--at best."

There must be something more transcendant in there, right? I suppose. Here's one: "Put others before yourself." Yeah, that'll work.

Another one: shut up. Seriously -- unless what comes out of your mouth is useful, positive or otherwise builds people up instead of tearing them down, just shut up. That's especially true -- at least for me -- if you feel the impulse to be funny all the time. I now have more experience than I'd like to confess about how words can kill.

Kind of makes blogging impossible...

Anyway, the last 20 years are a blur, and I imagine the next 20 will be much of the same. Listen up kids: it goes fast. Think you've got an endless life of boredom and/or suffering ahead of you? Well, you might, but it actually goes pretty fast. Don't sweat it.

So, here's to the Battle Ground High School Class of 1992. Me and Dennis will raise a glass to you tomorrow night (well, probably tonight, too.) I'll be there with you in spirit -- seriously, don't sit on me. I'll be at the back table, third chair from the right.

And keep your pockets clean.


Monday, July 16, 2012

"Is being a mover hard?"

That's the number 12 search string on Google that led people to our site last week. That tells me that I must complain a lot on the blog and website a lot.

To answer the question, my sensitive friend, yes, being a mover is a piece of cake. In fact, it's like EATING cake, while getting a pedicure, while wearing a seaweed and mud mask applied to your face.

And running a moving company? Oh man, there isn't a better gig. That's like being able to FLY -- flying through cotton candy clouds over fruit punch-flavored rainbows astride a friendly unicorn that affirms your wonderfulness every hundred yards or so.

Is it hard? No way. I can do this right up until my first heart attack.

Friday, July 13, 2012

A touching "Thank you " letter

I usually wake up at 5:30 or so every day. The first thing I do is check for texts or emails that tell me what the crises are for the day (guys get sick, trucks get flat tires, etc.) There's usually something. But the other day I received an email from a past customer that set the tone for the day, if not the week. We strive to "wow" people on every job, and we apparently nailed it with this customer, "N."

So, thanks, "N.," for making our day. We hope we can help you in the future!

Hi Chris:
I just wanted to write you and say, again, THANK YOU, for the moves!  You have moved me three times (I'm the woman who did the review saying "Helllooooo Thor"...) and now I am moving again, out of your market area!  I'm moving to New Jersey, and I'm actually really rather hurt that you guys can't be involved.  Sucks!
Well, I didn't want to depart without you knowing that you were appreciated very much.  When I didn't have anyone at all to help me, when I was in "precarious" situations and NEEDED to get OUTT, when I didn't have a ton of money but didn't want to jip you, you were there.  May sound silly, but this means a whole lot, knowing that there is a company out there that genuinely cares...and when you mention a situation such as moving to/from a new home...yes, that is a big deal.  A very big deal.  Home is everything.
So, if you've had difficult days, or if you would like to wake up and start fresh, I hope this note can assist.  It is genuine.  I can't say I will miss Washington DC, but the few times I met you and was able to get help with getting settled -- these all are something I will miss. Much love Chris! (and that is meant in a most non-creepy, platonically amiable fashion. I will not show up on Leslie Avenue with a proclamation. No fear! )

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Everybody LOVES statistics!

At least everyone I know loves statistics. Since my social life pretty much revolves around the people I work with -- people whose livelihoods revolve around what the numbers are doing -- "everyone" may be a small dataset, but still...

One of those guys is Jon "Denver," a Truck Buddy who stops by to "work" in the slow season every year. During the long winter downtime, we drank a lot of beer and made spreadsheets and databases. He was phenomenal at teasing useful, actionable data out of the seemingly infinite number of spreadsheet rows and columns. And one of those megaprojects he took on was a worksheet that gives us job time averages.

The immediate use for those was obvious: when we had a big enough dataset, we could start basing our estimates on that rather than do it "artistically," i.e. applying experience to every move request that comes in. While we still have an actual human (Dave) looking at each and every form and providing an estimate, we now have an extremely powerful tool to base our estimates on. The result is greater accuracy and faster response times.

With these statistics we learned a few things, and a few things we suspected were confirmed. For example, the top three types of jobs we do, by far, since we started aggressively tracking this information last December are:

1 BD to 1BD apartments. We've done this 210 times. The average time from start to finish is 3.05 hours.

1BD to 2BD apartments comes in second. We've done 121 of these since we started tracking the data. The average time: 3.32.

2BD to 2BD apartments. Instances: 101. Average completion time: 3.87 hours.

The stats we've been keeping also tell us how well the application of those stats is being done. For example, this shows the process could use a little work:

The breakdown:

In general, this is good. When we give estimates, we give a low and a high number. For example, a typical one-bedroom apartment might be bid at 2-4 hours. This chart shows, based on 535 examples JUST from what we call a "Standard Local Move," (which doesn't include POD/truck loads, deliveries, multiple-stop moves...), that:
  • We are under the HIGH end of the estimate 82 percent of the time. 
  • We are under the LOW end of the estimate 20 percent of the time.
  • We are right in between the HIGH and the LOW 62 percent of the time. (Ideally, this is where we want to be.)
  • We are over the HIGH end 18 percent of the time. (This has gotten higher due in part to an ever-widening dataset. When we first started collecting this information, our Over High statistic was awesome -- under 4 percent...)

I think this is respectable, but obviously we want to be in between the high and the low 100 PERCENT of the time. Ideally, we'd be able to plug all the factors into the MTB Estimatron 3000 and get a precise estimate every single time. However, that's impossible. Even if we could quantify all the variables, we'd still be off because there are always surprise factors (other movers hog the freight elevator, traffic patterns change, etc.)

Nonetheless, we can tighten it up a bit, which is what we're always working on.

Continuing trends:

In general, people "trade up" more often than not in the DC area. That is, they move from a smaller place to a larger place in one year.

If people don't trade up, more often than not, they move into a similar place. Not only do they more frequently move into the same STYLE of place (1BD, 2BD, etc.), they move into a place with similar features, such as three-floor walk-ups, similar views, basement apartments, etc.

This is just a small slice of the delicious, juicy data pie we've been cooking up. With our custom-made MTB Estimatron 3000, while still a work in progress, we can tell you, for example, how long a typical one bedroom apartment job with three floor walk-ups takes, or how many jobs we did in a certain zip code, etc., etc. Personally, I'm looking forward to the end of the year when we will have one full year of data collection completed. That's THOUSANDS of records just bursting with sweet, sweet data.

Damn. I'm hungry. Must be time for lunch.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Speaking of mighty deeds...

Truck Buddy Pete has his hands full these days. Literally. Only now the precious cargo he's hauling around includes twin baby boys, Attitcus and Magnus, born on Saturday. He finally got back "on the grid" for a quick Facebook pic after what sounds like a very long labor. Mom, the boys and Pete all appear to be fine.

Good job, buddy! We're all happy for you, and will do whatever we can to make the transition from no kids to two insta-kids as easy as possible.


"Dare Mighty Things"

If you find anything cooler than this today, let me know. I doubt you could because, objectively speaking, from production value to project scope, this makes everything that came before it look like crap. Just crap.

You might gather that I'm some kind of science or science fiction nerd. You'd be right. But something else impressed me about this video: It's one of the most awesome feats of logistics and moving mankind has ever undertaken. (Obviously putting men on the moon with equipment less sophisticated than an iPhone ranks higher, but this is up there.)

Seriously though, the message at the end of the video resonates with me, albeit on a much smaller scale.

"Dare Mighty Things"

Yes. That.

The last five years of My Truck Buddy have been a a running laboratory in doing mighty things. The first mighty deed was surviving an unexpected layoff when I was the sole provider for three people. Then it was staying alive while working through 15-20 days and nights, doing moves, building a work force, bidding jobs, and navigating a Byzantine and often contradictory labyrinth of rules and regulations. I'll be honest -- if I didn't have to do it, I wouldn't have. But I had a growing family, now populated by three beautiful babies who've only known love and no suffering. It kept me motivated to keep challenging myself and moving forward when all I wanted to do was collapse in despair and booze.

Building a little moving company, while a logistical nightmare for a liberal arts slacker like me, is nothing like programming some hardware to remotely land safely on another frakking world. But it's my challenge and my Mighty Thing.

What's yours?

Monday, July 9, 2012

Become a stand-up (person): stand-up desks

I'm telling you -- stand-up desks are, like many things from the past, the way of the future. 

The Art of Manliness has a featured article up about these great pieces of furniture.

I mentioned somewhere on here that I'm building the website for my office landlord's stand-up desk company. Why? Because I love taking on brand new projects I'm barely qualified to do in the midst of a crushing workload. Also, I'm a huge fan of the desks. Not long ago, I discovered that I'm much clearer and focused when I work standing up. When I sit down, I'm sluggish and lazy. So, in exchange for the website, the landlord gave me a stand-up desk. 

Worlds of difference. 

They're great for the health reasons -- better posture, increased blood flow -- but if you have kids, especially boys, they're fantastic for security reasons. They can't reach the top of the desk to get into stuff. Highly recommended.

Anyway, here are AoM's 5 reasons to switch to a stand-up desk:

1. To avoid an early grave
2. To lose weight
3. To save your back
4. To increase your focus
5. To gain a satisfied tiredness 

They go into each point in some detail.

The website isn't up yet, but if you're in the Del Ray area of Alexandria, come by and see what the Stand Up Desk Company offers. Here's a pic of the one similar to mine:

Do your back and your creativity a favor -- get a stand-up desk!