Meathead Movers is 21 years old
Aspiring entrepreneurs, listen up! It’s a landmark, coming-of-age year for Meathead Movers, a 21-year-old business whose humble beginnings, irrepressible growth, and give-back philosophy make theirs a business model well worth studying.
In 1997, teenage brothers Aaron and Evan Steed were high school athletes looking for part-time work to support their athletic goals. A chance job helping a friend’s parents move households soon led to other requests from people tired of the bad customer service, iffy loading times, and suspicious charging practices they’d experienced from some of the more established moving companies. Too young to drive, much less buy a truck, the boys had only three things to offer: muscle, hustle, and great customer service. They charged only what customers felt they were worth—often working for pizza and $20 a day.
“It felt so good to be valued,” Aaron remembers. “People were delighted with us because we really cared, and we were happy to have the work. … I loved that we often had dinner with our customers at the end of the move; that we joked with them, complimented them.”
Clean-cut, polite, hard-working, and on-time—the Steed brothers (and now a few of their carefully-selected, well-trained friends) had all the work they could handle, and by the turn of the century, Meathead Movers, Inc. had become a full-time occupation.
Their competitors were not happy. Collectively, they did everything they could to thwart the boys’ ambitions, including convincing the Public Utilities Commission (PUC) to cut off Meathead’s phone lines. Lacking the money and the sophistication to fight back, the Steed Brothers instead made a pledge to revolutionize the moving industry.
They worked hard, saved their money, and soon Evan Steed became the youngest person in state history to obtain a professional movers license. By now, the brothers were renting U-Haul trucks to provide a full-service moving experience, but that was pricey. If only they had their own trucks! So they told their story to a loan officer at Mid-State Bank (today’s Rabobank) and soon they had five brand-new trucks emblazoned with the Meathead logo. Even today, Aaron tells that story with no small degree of astonishment. “They let us walk out of there with $300,000!”
Armed with strong athlete movers, a fleet of shiny black trucks, and a quest to change the status quo “one relationship at a time,” the Steed brothers set out to be the best moving company in the state, maybe even the nation. Determined to do it with clean-cut, drug-free, goal-oriented employees, plus off-the-charts customer service, Meathead got famous for polite, congenial men trained to jog during empty-handed trips to or from the trucks, background-checked, held to strict dress and hygiene standards, and asked to do all they could to minimize expense for their customers. It was a winning formula.
Today, in addition to headquarters in San Luis Obispo, Meathead has offices in Fresno, Oxnard, and Santa Ana—enabling it to complete more than 15,000 moves a year. In 2010, they launched the mini-storage part of the business, opening the first one here in San Luis Obispo. Today Meathead offers more than 200,000 square feet of mini storage space in SLO and Ventura Counties, with constructionunderwayy for another facility in Fresno. And in 2011, they opened Princess Packers, a sister company offering premier packing services for every room in the house. For the past six years running, Meathead Movers has made the Inc. 5,000 list of American’s Fastest Growing Companies.
But that’s just half the story. The other half is about giving back, giving generously, and without the expectation of recognition or reward. In fact, the Steed Brothers do most of their giving quietly. “Aaron is always ready to rally his team and his community to do the most good,” says Meathead staffer Dawn Mead. “But he’s hesitant to tap into the PR network because he doesn’t want to send the wrong message.”
“Aaron is always the ‘big idea’ person,” Mead continued. “I’ve been there for all those late-night / early-morning phone calls from an enthusiastic CEO who just came up with another great idea. … Whether it’s a natural disaster that needs our manpower and trucks, or a domestic violence survivor needing to move out of harm’s way, Aaron is there, looking to brainstorm a new way to help.”
The list of charities the company supports is almost as long as the list of accolades for moving excellence. First and forever in the heart of the company is the cause of ending domestic violence. Meathead Movers has been moving the victims of domestic abuse to safety at no charge for many years now.
“It was heartbreaking hearing the distress these women were in,” said Aaron, who personally fielded many of their frantic calls for help in the early years. “I felt we had to do more.”
So they launched The Move to End Domestic Violence, an online nonprofit organization that encourages companies across the nation to step up and make an impact in their own communities by donating goods and services to support their local shelters and victims of domestic violence. Visit www.movetoenddv.org and click on Aaron’s impassioned speech. “It’s so much easier to offer what your business sells than it is to write a check,” he says. “No matter what business you have—is it a gym, a restaurant, a security company?—you have both the obligation and the opportunity to support those who are affected by this growing national tragedy.”
Powered by social media, that message went viral and today, Aaron sits on the board of the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV). He is beyond excited to work with other powerful advocates to educate businesses of all kinds to donate their products and services to the cause.
The Steed brothers have also launched and sponsored numerous, regular fund-raising events for such nonprofits as our local women’s shelter, CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocates) and United Way. They have mobilized their trucks to transport donated goods, provided the manpower, and offered free storage to victims of natural disasters such as the earthquake in Haiti, Hurricane Harvey, and the recent California fires that displaced so many people.
Aaron and his wife Erin have been involved with French Hospital for many years. Erin has been chairman of French’s largest fundraising gala for the past 11 years. And then there’s the Meathead Wrestling club, which, in cooperation with Cal Poly, sends wrestlers ages 8 to 18 to tournaments all over the country. Meathead helps pay the way for kids who can’t afford to travel.
New this year is the company’s focus on creating the ultimate stepping-stone job. For example, if a Meathead mover wants to become a firefighter, Aaron makes them drivers, and puts them in situations that call for quick, decisive action. If business ownership is a goal, he finds ways to strengthen their leadership skills, puts them in charge of contracts, or customer service.
“Our founding principle is to support student athletes working their way through college in pursuit of their own American dream,” said Aaron, “and that will never change.”
The Steed brothers have always been hands-on with their staff, another key to their success. Aaron has personally called every one of their 790 employees upon hiring, and has called them again each time they were promoted. Now, he is helping them identify their own professional goals and then offers them a unique set of tasks and positions that will help them to become the best they can be. “Working for us is not just a college job,” he says. “We spend time helping them develop their skills and talents. … and they end up valuing their jobs and working harder at it because it’s helping their own futures.”
Two such employees, singled out for their own rise-to-the-top stories, are Landon Torgerson and Angela Allen. Torgerson started as a mover who, after multiple promotions, is now Chief Operations Officer, and “one of the best natural leaders I’ve met in my life,” said Aaron. Angela Allen started answering phones and worked her way up to General Manager. “Resourceful, persuasive, respected, and trusted,” said Aaron, “Angela also serves as the ultimate liaison between myself, my brother, my wife … and the world.”
Speaking of which, Aaron’s wife Erin is the company’s Chief Strategy Officer. Erin is involved in all major decisions, oversees contract issues, and runs Princess Packers. ACM Evan Steed is Co-founder and Vice-President of the company, integrally involved in all aspects of the business. (ACM stands for Assistant Coffee Maker—an inside joke if there ever was one.)
What’s next for Meathead Movers? Well, said Aaron, the secret is out. He believes the big van lines are going out of style, soon to be replaced by smaller companies whose brand is as much about trust, about building relationships, as it is about profit. “We want people to have a Meathead experience, start to finish,” he explained. “So we never subcontract, we never hire people the day of… We are taking the long road.”
You can move people two ways: physically, from place to place; or emotionally, from complacent to caring. As the local moving company with the funny name and a huge heart celebrates its 21st birthday, customers, colleagues, and staffers alike would agree that Meathead Movers has an extraordinary talent for moving people – in all the best ways!