September 1, 2014 at 1:00 am

Mich.-based moving company gives young entrepreneur a lift

Florida franchisee preps to open another with family-led firm that stresses community values

Jonathan Crain in 2007 made a career move from car sales to open a Two Men and a Truck franchise in central Florida. He now employs 36 people, and expects to reach gross revenues of $1.8 million this year. (Stephen M. Dowell / MCT)

Jonathan Crain had just driven 1,500 miles and was lugging heavy furniture up five flights of stairs when he developed a true appreciation for his moving-company workers.

Since that day in 2007, shortly after he bought a Two Men and A Truck franchise, Crain has concentrated on running the business rather than doing the literal heavy lifting.

In September, he plans to open a second franchise. Crain also owns the rights to another Two Men and A Truck franchise.

“When people are buying houses and moving, that’s when we do well,” the lifelong Floridian said. “I think it’s the right time.”

Crain graduated from the University of Central Florida in fall 2004 with a degree in finance and initially followed his father into the car sales business. But as Florida’s economy spun toward recession, Crain decided to explore a different career.

In 2006, he met a manager for the Two Men and A Truck franchises and liked what the man said about the 29-year-old family-owned company and its values, which encourage community involvement.

“Their core values were in line with my personal values,” said Crain, who has donated more than $50,000 in free moves to nonprofits and has won volunteer awards.

The Lansing-based company liked Crain, too.

“He’s exactly what we’re looking for,” said Kelly Rogers, franchise-development director for Two Men and A Truck International, which got its start as a high-school job for two brothers. “He has that energy. He has that passion for people. And he’s smart. He believes in those core values.”

With encouragement from his future wife, Karen, who owned a hair salon, Crain quit his job at a used-car lot in March 2007, invested $100,000 in savings and $150,000 from an equity line from his home near UCF and moved his first customer on July 1, 2007.

The first year, the franchise generated $835,000 in gross revenue. This year, he expects that figure to reach $1.8 million.

Crain started with two trucks, added a third that November and two more in March 2008. He currently owns nine trucks and leases a 10th during the busy summer season. Three more are on order.

The growing company also has franchises in 290 locations in 38 U.S. states. Twenty-nine are in Florida. There are another 26 locations in Canada, the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Customers really do get Two Men and A Truck, although occasional larger jobs require a third man.

Crain employs 30 movers and drivers, and half a dozen employees work in his office, including his wife, who answers the phones and keeps the books. He credits her support for helping him make the leap from employee to entrepreneur.

“She said, ‘If I can do it, then you can do it,’ ” said Crain.

Two Men and A Truck has local competitors, but Rogers said the company views its real competition as people doing it themselves because of bad experiences they’ve had with other moving businesses.

“A lot of people we move are experiencing death, divorce or a long move for work,” Crain said. “Just a little bit of empathy goes a long way when you’re in that situation.”

The company, whose slogan is “Movers who care,” prides itself on referrals. Crain calls it the “grandma rule,” as in, “Treat everyone the way you would want your grandma to be treated.”

To that end, Two Men and A Truck insists on background and drug checks that eliminate anyone with convictions for serious crime, Crain said. Bonding is required. The company looks for movers who are well-spoken and can address problems politely as well as lift heavy furniture and boxes.

“We’re really looking for one-in-a-million employees,” Crain said.

Trainees start at $9 an hour with a raise to $10 afterward, plus tips. Drivers earn $12 an hour. Employees, who receive periodic raises and bonuses based on customer feedback, get a week’s vacation after a year of service. The company also offers a 401(k) retirement plan.

While the franchise handles primarily residential relocations, it also accepts commercial jobs and tasks as small as moving a refrigerator. There is no minimum, and hourly charges — which include travel time — are rounded to the nearest 15 minutes.

Crain learned the hard way years ago when he and his roommates moved themselves that it’s easier to hire a professional.

“Moving’s not rocket science, but there’s a right and a wrong way to do it,” he said.

The foundation for Crain’s success started when he was 12 and mowed neighbors’ yards, watered plants, picked up their mail and baby sat. He worked at a Subway sandwich shop and at his father’s car dealership a few years later.“I’ve always been a hard worker,” Crain said. “I just think it paid off for me because I started a little earlier.”