Wednesday, July 17, 2013

An awesome customer, awesome feedback

This one came over the transom the other day. I LOVE getting these kinds of emails in the morning.

Chris,

Just wanted to say thank you for creating this company that could help me with my move. It went great -- the most painless move I've ever had. My fear of that "inevitable" problem that would occur and wreak havoc, it never materialized, which is probably because Leon and Tyler were very good at what they do. 
They were super-helpful, they offered to start my job early, and they were fast. They clearly knew what they were doing: for instance, they both quickly determined that they would need to disassemble and reassemble some of my furniture in order to move it properly, and they did so with ease and speed (even without the quirky Ikea-specific tools to do so). Once at the destination, they were extremely careful: they successfully navigated my bulky furniture around the numerous fragile items that dotted the way between the front door and my room. That isn't easy -- my new place is a basement bedroom, but the bedroom is behind a bakery, and there are extremely fragile cake-art samples all around the bakery. Leon and Tyler didn't hit a single one. 
Beyond their helpfulness, they were also friendly, they put the "buddy" in "My Truck Buddy." (Or something like that.) Despite spending two hours navigating heavy, bulky furniture through tight spaces, they were entertaining to be around. (Their hatred for stairs was amusingly palpable.) They're an asset to your company, and in the unlikely even that I ever decide to start a moving company, I'm stealing them from you.
Thanks Chris!

Many hanks to Leon and Tyler! 

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Yelp.com is in court. Again.

Looks like Yelp.com is being taken to court by business owners again. Good. Even if they're not actually guilty of anything illegal, they'd be convicted of stupid PR. Their CEO is on the record saying that business owners are their "third priority." (I don't remember what priority one and two are, but I'm pretty sure they're 1. Making as much money as possible no matter how many people they screw over, and 2. Skinning kittens and wearing the fur as little earmuffs.)

We recently realized that all the money we pay for advertising has been going nowhere. We have hundreds of 5-star reviews on our DC-based Yelp account, but until recently, only one review of our Alexandria location. Now, we only have one location, but somebody wrote a review for the Alexandria location, which gave us two accounts. We did NOT want to advertise on the account that only had one review. We wanted to showcase the one with all our reviews.

Anyway, when we figured out they were promoting what was essentially a dead site, we were pretty miffed. We talked to them about getting some kind of refund for the thousands of dollars that went nowhere, but they're not exactly jumping up to show us what rock star customer service looks like.

I'd quit advertising with them by now, but that's the problem -- when you do that, all your bad reviews reappear and your 5-star reviews never last longer than a week. Next to the IRS, it's the shadiest organization in the country.

Connections

It amazes me how everything is connected. Trying to get things done around here is like running to the grocery store around the corner for a jug of milk...but after a quick detour through China first.

This is the room full of the people who will find this post interesting. Hah!

For example, right now, I'm painting a closet and installing shelves. (Well, not right now, obviously. I'm easily distracted by screens.) The business is undergoing a fair bit of turmoil, and any one of about a dozen things need my immediate attention. One of the most pressing crises is our molasses-slow method of processing work requests. When we get 25-50 per day, or more, the whole system can grind down to a stand-still. One way I'm combatting the grind is renovating our whole estimate-giving system, which means I need to rebuild our CRM (customer relationship manager -- some of you may have once called it a "database.") It's a grueling, time-sucking slog for a man of mediocre technological prowess, and I. Am out. Of time.

So, naturally, I'm putting up shelves. No, it makes sense. On one hand, out of frustration I want to put this drill through the sliding glass door. On the other, I understand the strategery of shelves.

Bear with me. I'm not entirely sure I have a good handle on this, but it goes something like this:

I need my wife's help. She's great with numbers and can monitor the status of home and business from a bird's eye view. But she needs a place to work -- a wide, spacious, flat-surfaced, well-lit area to work. It must have a door to keep kids out.

That means we need a place for our post-move detritus. That means shelves. That means that in order to get backup and counsel to solve an immediate problem I have to "shelve" everything, so to speak, and install shelves.

It can bake one's noodle.


Thursday, July 11, 2013

Business or vendor appreciation -- Brian Burrows at Bogart & Brownell

While I'm on the subject of thanking valuable friends and partners, I need to mention Brian Burrows over at Bogart & Brownell. We would literally not be in business without him.

I came across some old notes in an app I used for that purpose. One was a list of insurance companies I called to see if they'd cover some starry-eyed dude with a pickup truck. All of them couldn't wait to get off the phone with me, and nobody would touch a new moving company. I'm not sure how I found Brian, but he did the work and actually found an underwriter who we didn't have to beg to give our money. ("Our." That's quaint. At the time there was no "our." It was me, a pickup truck and trailer, and an Internet connection).

I don't know what he did, but he found us insurance just when I was about to give up on my entrepreneurial pipe dream.

Since then we've definitely become buddies. He's a veteran business owner and has all the scars to show as well. (I say that fully cognizant that I'm still a noob.) We had lunch this morning -- social only, no business. I won't get into it, but I'll say the timing couldn't have been better. I need a vacation as much as I need oxygen at this point. Brian was a good friend, a good listener, a sympathetic and tactful advice-giver.

He also has an array of helpful insurance plans to cover all your needs! Lol.

So check him out too.

Business or vendor appreciation -- Donovan Home Team and Pierson Real Estate


This is long overdue, but I wanted to publicly thank the Donovan Home Team for helping us find our house and get us into it. Ryan Donovan made the process conspicuously easy. I still wake up in this strange new place and wonder that we actually did it. Ryan and his team made it happen.

As business owners with three kids five-years-old and under, our schedule and expectations are chaotic in the best of circumstances. Ryan lived fairly far away from us (we're in Manassas, he's in Sterling), but he always made the trip out to our area to show us the homes we were interested in. Some of the houses we put on our "to check out" list were probably either in too bad of shape to be realistic, or too far out of our reach. Finding the happy middle ground wasn't easy. But if Ryan was ever miffed at our insane choices and having to drive all the way out to Manassas to show us, he never showed it. In fact, as we dragged our high-energy little Vikings through one house or another, he was always more than patient -- he was helpful and friendly the whole time.

While all of the "face time" was with Ryan, he really does have an awesome team. His transactions administrator, Nicole, always sent us documentation in a timely manner, and kept on us when we didn't get it back in a timely manner. When it came time to find a loan officer, he sent us a couple of names, and we ended up working with Alex Gabriel at First Home Mortgage, who also turned what seemed like an impossible situation into reality.

And when it finally came time to sit down at the closing table to buy some very expensive keys, everyone -- the listing agent, the closing maestro (can't remember his name or title, unfortunately), Alex, Ryan and the sellers, were as helpful and friendly as can be. It turned out that we had a number of connections -- churches, schools, religious orders -- so that undoubtedly made things even easier. The point is: it really was a well-run, professional, knowledgable TEAM. Let's face it -- customer service is on life support these days, and finding an entire group of people dedicated to it is fantastic.

So, check them out if you're in the market for a home. It's well worth it.

I also want to give a big shout-out to my friend TJ at Pierson Real Estate. TJ and I go back several years, back to when we slogged it out in the journalism field. (He was a far better journalist than I could ever hope to be.) He'd gotten into real estate with Tim Pierson, and is doing very well. They're also a first class organization, doing record business largely by word-of-mouth.

Naturally, TJ was the first person I called when we finally decided to go home shopping again, and he was ready to get to work. Unfortunately, my schedule and my wife's schedule rarely syncs, and while things had gotten started with TJ, I was rarely home to give my wife an update about where things were. She took that to mean nothing was moving forward, which led her to contact Ryan and his team. Honestly, I was thankful that she was taking the lead on that front because this business pretty much consumes ALL of my time, but I was pretty bummed and embarrassed that I didn't get it together to work with my buddy.

At any rate, we had an excellent experience with the Donovan Home Team, but I'm sure we would have been equally cared for with Pierson Real Estate. Honesty and integrity are bedrock principles with both. They should totally hang out together.



Tuesday, July 9, 2013

My Truck Buddy has real job opportunities

After doing this for about half a decade, I've come to the realization that prospective employees' expectations are not accurate. Actually, not just inaccurate, but flat-out backward. Think about it: here's what the job requires:


  • Driving big, heavy trucks in a busy city (for Crew Leader positions)
  • Gently handling customers' personal belongings
  • Deftly handling unexpected (often unimaginable) challenges or crises with grace and competence
  • Tactfully taking care of customers whose stress level often begins as "elevated" 
  • Accurately handling money and doing on-the-spot calculations
  • Filing accurate reports


Does any of this sound like an "unskilled labor job?" We're are in permanent hiring mode, and we see all kinds of guys come through. However, there's one type of guy that always makes an appearance in every hiring spree: the one who thinks he can skate through an interview and, if hired, a few months on the job because all he thinks he has to do is "lift things up and put them down." In other words, they're looking to do the absolute least with their lives for as long as they can.

Short disclaimer: By no means am I saying that all candidates are that way--many have been knocked out of their professional orbit through no fault of their own. Some, like me, were just terribly unsuited for the claustrophobic insanity of the corporate world. But the reality is that there are a lot of guys out there who will work their butts off to avoid "effort."

No! No, no, NO!

I realized years ago that there's an actual skill set involved in the craft of moving. I've described it to new recruits as needing to be a "burly ballerina" -- strong and graceful. As for the rest of the job, to be successful, to maintain the standards and reputation we've set and earned, you also have to be a politician, a saint, an accountant, and MacGyver.

Imagine MacGyver in a tutu or a habit, and you've got the idea.

So, the slow dawn on me has finally broken into light: we have a hard time because we're always looking for the right people in all the wrong places. So where do we go? The usual places, I guess: Monster.com, CareerBuilder, etc. According to a recent Forbes article, the pool of eligible candidates must be HUGE. Some of them aren't looking anymore, which presents a problem, so please, if you know anyone of reasonable physical ability and common sense, let us know.

In the past, I've posted ads on Craigslist with dire warnings to jackwagons who think they can bluff their way through an interview and waste my time. (The number of guys who apply for a Crew Leader position, a.k.a. a driving position, without a driver's license, is astounding). That's been fairly effective, if horribly inefficient, but I realize I've struck the wrong tone. Instead of focusing on all the things we don't want, I should focus on what we're looking FOR.

So here's the deal: there's a real opportunity here. It may not be the ideal job situation you envisioned as you made your way through college, but it's real. This company has grown -- often doubling growth -- in a recession. Assuming the economy doesn't completely flatline in the next few years, we are poised to grow outside the little boundaries of the Washington, DC area. In much shorter time than I expect, we'll likely be branching out to nearby cities. We're already giving serious thought to setting up offices around the suburbs of the Beltway.

What do we need? We'll need marketing professionals, branch managers, creative types, website designers, social media content providers, and probably a lot more people than I can even imagine right now.

However, until we get there, we'll need more of the backbone of MTB: Crew Leaders and movers. Right now I pay for a three-member "non-producing" management team. By "non-producing" I mean I pay these guys to handle the voluminous administrative duties around here. They're by no means unimportant -- quite the opposite. But they're not out in the field generating income for the increasingly ravenous beast that is a legitimate, licensed and insured moving company.

Until we get to that magical place where we have...what's it called..."disposable income," most of the jobs will be in the labor area. However, it's from that pool of guys that we'll draw our future leaders, a.k.a. managers and professionals.

So, if you're interested in paying your dues, learning the business from the ground up, and moving up fairly quickly, we should talk. This is real. This isn't like some gigantic corporations that claim every employee "is an owner." With a little effort, you can be lifting boxes one day, running a crew the next, and managing a suburban branch soon after. After that, who knows? Branch manager in another city? It's wide open.

Even if you don't see yourself working in the moving industry for the rest of your life, and instead you're interested in doing something noble for a season (and I'm not kidding--there's nobility in the kind of work that tests your physical AND mental abilities, not to mention your character and integrity), we'll welcome you for that, too.

Don't sit at home waiting for things to get better. I guarantee it won't if your action plan is "Step 1. Do nothing; Step 2. Profit." Come work with us. Be part of an awesome team doing mighty deeds.