GRAND RAPIDS — Starting in the mid-80s, two teenage brothers in Okemos thought a good way to earn some cash would be to haul people’s trash to the dump in the back of their pick-up.
More than a decade later, the small-time job has become a national moving company headquartered here and better known as Two Men and a Truck.
Jon Sorber, principal in the company and owner of the Grand Rapids and Lansing franchises, and his brother Brig, who does recruiting for the company, initially called their company Men at Work Movers. This was when a band of a similar name was popular.
“We would put a small ad in the Chronicle and then get jobs hauling trash for people,” said Sorber. “It really began to pick up from there and we began to get more and more jobs.”
The last job involved moving wet clothes from a basement that also housed large rats. “It was at that point when we decided to get into furniture moving. All we had was an old bread truck and we moved furniture in that,” Sorber said.
When it was time for the brothers to go to college, their mom, Mary Ellen Sheets, decided not to let the business die. After they left, Sheets bought a truck, hired a few of Sorber’s friends to help out, continued the business and changed the name to go with another trend of the time.
“That was during the time of generics. The generic brand was popular and in our ad we had advertised that we were two men, with a truck, so from that came our black and white signs with a generic name, Two Men and a Truck,” Sorber explained.
On breaks from school the brothers would come home and work with the business that was now headed by their CEO mom. After the business had taken off, an entrepreneurial friend who suggested franchising the operation encouraged Sheets. At first Sheets was not convinced the moving company would thrive in other markets but was soon to change her tune, and took that path which led to what are now 108 franchises in 23 states.
Many of the franchises are family run and tend to stay that way. Sorber said it is nice that way, because the family runs the franchiser (the company) and it is nice to see the franchisee keep the business in the family.
In fact, some of the franchises get a start within what you’d call the Two Men family.
Many of the franchisees begin as employees of the company — some as movers, others as managers — open a few locations and then bring in their respective family members to run the those operations.
“Dave Bailey, in Minneapolis-St. Paul, is one example,” Sober added. “He bought four franchises and then brought family members in to run the different locations.”
“With our franchises we are no longer opening them wherever people want to, we are now trying to dominate markets and hope to have even more success that way.”
With fast success and growth, Two Men and a Truck owners do not feel it is necessary to keep all the money in the family.
From day one, when Sheets realized a profit of $1,000 in the first year after incorporation, she decided to give it all away.
“She didn’t know how to do the taxes and so rather than figure it out for that amount she choose 10 charities and gave it away,” Sorber said.
That started a trend. Every year since, Two Men and a Truck International — the home office — puts 25 cents from every move into a collection and then at the annual meeting makes a contribution to the charity of its choice.
In 2000 the American Cancer Society received a check for $16,829 — 25 cents from each of the firm’s 75,000 moves last year.
Sheets said Two Men chose the American Cancer Society “because we all have, in some way, been touched by cancer. Some have lost loved ones to cancer while others have witnessed the work of modern technology in saving a loved one.”
Since opening its philanthropic heart, Two Men and a Truck has adopted the tag line, “Movers that care.”
“We feel it is true in both areas of importance, both in caring for our customers and our community,” said Sorber.
Two Men and A Truck’s headquarters encourages each franchise owner to support its community and give back to its customers. Suggestions are often made and then a contribution to the larger donation also is made.
“It is great to be a part of a family business,” Sorber said.
“We are able to make contributions like this to the community and feel quite humbled by the whole situation and all of the success the company has had,” he said.
“We are very thankful but also aware of the problems that can go along with and be associated with working with the family, but it is awesome. Each family member is a piece of the puzzle and we all come together to complete the puzzle and make the business work.