I recently experienced a rather rare opportunity seldom afforded to anyone. Over the many years I’ve been in this business, I must admit that there are several leaders I have admired greatly as a result of my research on their career and/or their organizations. I recently had the privilege to chat over breakfast with one of those leaders, Mary Ellen Sheets, the founder and Chair of Two Men and a Truck®.
After a while, success stories begin to blend into a familiar blur. Although informative and rewarding, they often share many of the same customary elements we’ve heard time and time again.
This narrative is different. It has the makings of a “made-for-television fictional sit-com.” For over 25 years now, I have followed, with great interest, the growth of an organization that began with extremely humble beginnings right in my own back yard. I was recently asked to present a keynote at the annual meeting of this most unusual organization.
Two Men and a Truck® started in the early 1980s as a way for two brothers to make extra money while they were in high school. Brothers Brig and Jon Sorber
started helping people move people in the Lansing, Michigan, area using an old pick-up truck.
They had their mom, Mary Ellen Sheets, develop a logo to put in a weekly community newspaper. That same stick-men logo still appears on every truck, sign and advertisement. Obviously, the brothers did a great job, and word of their services traveled quickly. After her sons left for college, Mary Ellen kept receiving calls for their services, so in 1985 she decided to make things official by purchasing an old 14-foot moving truck for $350 and hired two movers.
That $350 is the only capital Sheets has ever invested in the company. Today, the company has grown to more than 1,300 trucks operating out of 201 locations in 31 states, Canada, Ireland, the United Kingdom and South Africa! They’ve completed well over two million moves and boast a phenomenal 94% customer referral rate! Last year alone, they completed 352,292 moves systemwide.
Today, Two Men and a Truck® is the nation’s largest franchised local moving company. Their customers benefit from having thoroughly trained, uniformed movers who are insured and bonded to handle any home and business moving tasks.
The home office has changed quite a bit as well. The operation has moved from the dining room table of Sheets’s home to a state-of-the-art corporate headquarters, boasting solar power and a recently installed windmill, which will soon generate 30% of their power. Local schools will get the chance to plug in to Two Men and a Truck’s software to study wind current.
I recently toured this beautiful facility and was astounded at what I saw. Giant solar panels and an enormous windmill turbine can be seen as you enter the parking lot. The landscaping includes a lawn that could easily rival any golf course in the area. Entering the building, you approach a reception area surrounded by hallways lined with awards, recognition plaques and pictures as far as you can see from the lobby.
Before a new franchisee can open a location, he or she must come to Lansing, Michigan, and be trained for three weeks by the home office staff through Stick Men University®. Within this exquisite building is a fully furnished two-story home equipped with everything you might find in a typical moving situation. During what is called “house training,” students are taught how to maneuver, wrap, pack and load items like a grand piano, a china cabinet filled with breakables, glass tables, a washer and dryer, and a big-screen television. There’s also a bulky bedroom set and a home office. Trainees are expected to be able to recognize any possible obstacles, and empty the house as quickly and efficiently as possible.
I was then shown a truck bed (built to scale) in the training facility. Trainees must be able to fully pack the back of the truck with the items from the home. The sides of the bed are clear so trainers can make sure each item is stacked properly.
In a near-by classroom, fully equipped with the latest technology, franchisees are taught how to market their new business by the marketing department. They are taught about the computer systems in place by the technical staff, and they learn how to hire, manage and lead by the operations department. Stick Men University® trainers also host regional management training courses throughout the year and a two-day frontline staff conference in Lansing.
There are many other tools available to franchisees including detailed monthly reports, newsletters, Intranet, annual meetings, a resource library, a toll-free support line, a tradeshow booth, an in-house shop with a complete line of Two Men and a Truck® logoed clothing and professional marketing materials and a system-wide purchasing system.
While the well-known logo has remained the same over the years, the fleet has obviously been updated. That old pick-up truck logged many miles and has been transformed into a modern fleet of fully equipped vehicles serving clients across the country.
After extensive growth, Sheets asked her daughter, Melanie Bergeron, to assume the role of company president. Two Men and a Truck®’s long track record of aggressive growth continues under Bergeron’s progressive leadership and keen business strategies. Bergeron is now Chief Executive Officer, and her accomplishments have been showcased on the cover of Franchising World magazine and in numerous other publications, including Franchise Times.
Brig and Jon Sorber returned to their Lansing roots in the mid-1990s to team up with their mom and older sister. Brig Sorber is the president, and Jon Sorber serves as executive vice president and franchisee for the Lansing and Grand Rapids, Michigan, locations. Both also serve on the Board of Directors.
During our short breakfast chat prior to the annual meeting, Sheets spoke proudly of her organization, staff, franchisees, and continued growth. It was quite obvious why she has been so successful. Over the years, she has been honored with many national and international awards—far too many to be listed here. Prior to my keynote address, Sheets spoke briefly to those who had gathered for the two-day annual event. She articulated the importance of teamwork, training, customer service, quality and pride. There was absolutely no doubt that she spoke from her heart and her audience appreciated her message. She was certainly a tough act to follow.
Upon completion of my keynote presentation, I was presented with a beautiful Collector’s Edition replica of an official Two Men and a Truck® moving van, which is currently occupying a position of honor in my office trophy case.
Everything about this organization reflects success. From The Grandma Rule® and mission statement to their core purpose and core values, expectations and purpose are indeed obvious. Mary Ellen Sheets is a very humble leader who has obviously established “leadership” as a family tradition!