Melanie Bergeron and her two brothers needed money for college, so their mom bought a used truck for $350 in 1985, and the moving business Two Men and a Truck was born.
Flash forward to 2018: Melanie is president and chief operating officer; her brothers are her partners and the business has become a successful international franchise with sales of close to $300 million. That first truck has become a fleet of 1500 vehicles and the two men have now become 6000. There’s a staff of nearly 80 workers who help run things from headquarters in Lansing, Michigan.
International sales are not yet huge—less than 10% of total sales. But that’s up from nothing a few years ago. The focus has been on English-speaking countries including Canada, Ireland and the UK. They’re now in Singapore, Australia and New Zealand. If you’re an English speaker and want to make things easy for yourself starting out, this approach is a good regardless of whether you’re selling goods or services, which of course franchising is. In addition to no language barrier, these markets have a population with plenty of disposable income and who need to move houses or offices once in a while.
But not every market is ready for this type of franchise. Take Mexico, where things didn’t go that well. Melanie explains that Mexicans don’t like the idea of two unknown men pulling up to the house in a truck. It’s a matter of trust and building a strong brand that focuses on skilled, excellent service. “In many countries movers are very low paid workers, so it will take education to convey what our brand offers,” she said.
The original brand value had less to do with an empty truck and two brawny guys. Melanie concluded from the get-go that moving was one of life’s great stressors next to divorce and death. So, if you can make the experience less stressful, you’ll make the customer happy and generate positive reviews and new word-of-mouth business. Her customer segments include senior citizens who are moving to be near their children or downsizing to an assisted living facility. Melanie provides large-type brochures which walk the reader through the process and describe what’s included and who to call with questions.
Packing up the kids
“Children are often very stressed by a move, so we have a separate brochure for kids that focus on the common anxieties and emphasizes what families and we as a company can do to ease them.”
“Ultimately, we are not a moving company,” she declares. “We are a service that helps people through excellent customer service. That’s the key to the whole thing.”
Exceptional customer service turned out to be the key differentiator that master franchisees in domestic and international markets look for. Master franchisees acquire exclusive rights to use the Two Men and a Truck brand and system in a specific market as well as to recruit additional franchisees in that market. The masters get a cut from the sales volume of each of the franchisees under their control, and Two Men get a slice of everything without having to worry about the management of any of the individual businesses.
The potential master franchisees—bankers and venture capitalists who finance them--look for differentiators in business models like moving where there’s usually a lot of competition. Another important differentiator is the support the franchiser provides. For example, Melanie’s company put thought and resources into computer software that tracks what goes into each truckload. In addition, the company provides marketing and training assistance. A third differentiator is the bona fides of the franchiser itself. What kind of a track record do they have in their home market? How long have they been in business? How profitable?
Two Men and a Truck get very good scores in all of these areas. A business originated in the U.S helps too, because the U.S brand is still strong. But in the moving business it’s not as you might expect. The U.S. brand is definitely important to the master franchisee, but for the customer not so much. Customers outside the U.S. prefer the people who move them to have an association with where they live.
So how well does Two Men and a Truck translate? Two Hombres? Two Blokes and a Lorry? No, insists Melanie. “We don’t change or dilute the brand to fit the market. And we haven’t had to.”
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