Move It, Buddy!
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Life as a furniture mover can be exhilarating. Speaking from experience derived during my college summers, there's nothing quite as soul-rendering as being the sole man on the downhill side of an upright baby grand...halfway up a long flight of stairs.
Fortunately, the climb to the top has been a relatively quick one for Two Men and a Truck International Inc. (TMT) of Okemos, Michigan. The company Mary Ellen Sheets started in 1985 by providing her two sons with a pickup truck for local moves has grown beyond her wildest expectations. Today, Sheets could easily rename her franchise A Family and 350 Trucks, considering she now runs TMT with her daughter, Melanie L. Bergeson, and son, J. Brigham Sorber, and the 350-truck company projects it will perform more than 140,000 moves in 84 locations in 22 states this year.
Although the family had no prior franchise experience, it's obvious TMT makes full use of consultants for training and other matters. Accordingly, the final product, in the form of franchise support and associated materials, has a professional feel. TMT even owns a training truck with stairs, where they teach you how to wrangle those pianos. There's also the sense that a franchise culture is developing; for example, the company just sent its "Leaders in Excellence" franchisees on a cruise.
TMT makes earnings claims, but the swings in gross sales are so wide, it's hard to judge their consistency. The company reports that the average location achieved sales of $187,535 during its first year of operation and swelled to $562,114 during its fourth year. For a better idea of what to expect, you should base your analysis on franchisees operating in markets similar to yours.
The estimated initial investment also ranges widely, from a low of $76,400 to a high of $234,100. Trucks, for one thing, can run as little as $10,000 for a used truck in need of a little love to $65,000 for a new one. You must start your business with at least two trucks and, preferably, at an office outside your home.
As for marketing, your truck is a mobile billboard. The franchisor recommends you drive it around town during high-traffic periods and park it in highly visible locations as a supplement to more traditional marketing methods.
However, there's one element to the cost structure of this franchise that I fail to appreciate. Specifically, the UFOC indicates the initial franchise fee may vary from $28,000 to $60,000. Apparently, you pay the lower fee in areas where TMT has "had no prior presence." When TMT has a prior presence in a market with up to 500,000 people, the initial franchise fee is $60,000. Supposedly, you must also pay a $10,000 licensing fee for every additional 100,000 people in your area. As an attorney, I am of the opinion that the term "prior presence" is a bit vague and vulnerable to subjective interpretation--and my best advice is to make sure you find out how much other franchisees have actually paid, then retain an expert to negotiate the fee and/or designation that would apply to you.
If you do go into business as a TMT franchisee, expect your business to start slowly but grow at a good pace, assuming you're outgoing and willing to make customer service a top priority. People in the midst of a move are generally tense, so if you make their local move an enjoyable one, word-of-mouth will be your best advertising.
Todd D. Maddocks is a franchise attorney and small-business consultant. You can reach him at TMaddocks@aol.com.
Two Men and a Truck International Inc., (800) 345-1070, http://www.twomen.com