When you think about success, what comes to mind? “Money,” a lot of us might say. But there are other definitions: “Working for myself.” “Being my own boss.” “Freedom to make my own decisions.”
However any of us defines it, it’s something we can agree we all want.
So how do you get there? Let’s take a look at three individuals in the moving field who each found success traveling different roads. They all had different backgrounds, different circumstances and different outcomes. But in all of them, there’s some wisdom to consider. You might have heard their names. You’ve definitely heard of their companies. They were business owners just like many of you. Now, we get to hear their stories.
Ryder – From Rags to Riches (and Back to Rags)
Ever been in a position where you’re doing most of the work and the guy above you is doing less, but making more? That’s how a guy named James Ryder felt way back in 1935.
Ryder was making a quarter an hour loading blocks of concrete onto trucks in the Miami, FL heat. The guys driving those trucks, however, were making 40% more – a whopping 35 cents per hour! – and they weren’t working nearly as hard.
This motivated young James something fierce, inspiring him to borrow a hundred dollars to add to the thirty bucks he’d saved up and buy a used Model A truck. Simply owning a truck, however, was not the end game, and in 1937 he started a truck leasing business called Ryder System Inc.
Inside of ten years, Ryder the company was taking in $1.5 million a year. Ryder the man, however, was still taking home less than a dollar an hour. His fortunes would improve drastically with time, and by 1960, his personal stake in his company had risen to $11 million (that’s over $50 million in today’s terms).
How did he do it?
Besides plowing ahead for years despite teetering on the edge of financial ruin, his energy level played a huge part in his success. Even after all the wild business growth, Ryder would travel around the country visiting his company’s service locations and, according to one person’s account, “would kiss every secretary and jump into the pit under trucks that were in for repairs wearing a $500 suit and shake hands with the mechanics, saying ‘Hi, I’m Jim. What’s your name?’”
Mr. Ryder seems like the kind of guy who can get along with anyone. Yet, that turned out not to be the case.
In 1978, upset by how his new company president operated the business, James Ryder quit his own multi-million-dollar baby and dove into a new transportation venture called Jartran. This would be the first in a series of failed business endeavors, and Ryder would eventually find himself back where he started: broke.
James Ryder passed away in 1997. The following year, Budget acquired Ryder, and in 2002 began retiring the Ryder name.
We might say that Mr. Ryder’s initial success was due in part to his personable approach to running his business. Rubbing shoulders with his mechanics. Giving bear hugs to the staff in every Ryder office he walked into.
We might also say this may not necessarily be the best approach.
If the normally-invisible boss of a multi-million-dollar company walks into a local branch office and starts shaking hands and passing around hugs, those “regular” employees, who may have ever thought they’d meet the man behind the name on their trucks and signs and buildings, would likely feel honored. Special. Appreciated.
But as an operations manager for a national van line agency, I learned (a little too slowly) that being buddy-buddy with everyone in the office can backfire. There is a balance, and it mandates that you be your employees’ boss first before you are also friends. Establish a relationship based on respect. Having roles and expectations in place helps keep the machine well oiled.
That is, unless you’ve got a really firm handshake.
U-Haul – Taking a Chance and Painting it Orange
In 1945 and fresh out of the U.S. Navy, Leonard “Sam” Shoen decided to move with his wife from Los Angeles to Portland. To their disbelief and dismay, they couldn’t find anyone who would rent them a trailer for the one-way trip.
Sam Shoen saw that he wasn’t the only one in the predicament, and recognized the potential in creating a company that would allow people to relocate on their own, without paying the price of what full-service movers were charging around that time.
Before the year was out, Shoen established a trailer rental business called U-Haul. He painted his trailers black. He rented them out to his customers for the grand sum of two bucks a day.
Shoen rolled the dice with his business early on – though maybe in his mind it wasn’t such a gamble. Essentially, he told his customers that when they were done with the trailer, they should just find a nearby service station and drop off the trailer – which had an information packet inside for the service station owner. In this way, he was inviting complete strangers to become a dealer for U-Haul.
Shoen very well could have lost his trailers to a bunch of unscrupulous strangers. Instead, his gamble worked, and by 1954 he had over one thousand dealers spread out across the country.
And what about painting those trailers black? What happened with that?
You might guess that Shoen switched to orange to make his trailers more noticeable. And you would be correct. But this was not a marketing or advertising ploy. Early on, Shoen was turning through an intersection when he was hit by an oncoming vehicle. The driver claimed he couldn’t see the black trailer because it was… well, black. Whether this was true or not, Shoen decided to paint his trailers orange and white – similar to highway barricades – to make them more visible for safety’s sake. The added marketing benefit was likely just coincidental.
It’s interesting to note that back in the beginning, by entrusting his trailers to strangers, most of them in a completely different part of the country, Shoen was doing what customers normally do: that is, he was placing his possessions in the hands of people he didn’t even know.
If Shoen hadn’t taken that chance, U-Haul may have never gotten off the ground.
Of course, simply by starting a business, we’re all taking a chance. But business growth and success virtually require some amount of risk! What moves have you made, what chances have you taken, in the interests of building your own business? Have you ever passed on something that seemed too risky? Let us know. You’re probably in good company.
Penske – Love Breeds Success, Breeds More Success
Roger Penske was a success on wheels long before he founded the Penske Truck Leasing Company. As a teenager, he bought, repaired and resold used cars. In his 20s, he won four consecutive Sports Car Club of America championships, took home three President’s Cups, and in 1962 was Sports Illustrated’s Driver of the Year. After retiring from racing at the ripe old age of 28, Penske developed his own race team and started winning so many races in so many fields it hardly seemed fair.
Then in December of 1969, Penske bought a car and light truck rental and leasing business comprised of eastern Pennsylvania locations. 12 years down the road, Penske’s venture had grown to encompass 33 facilities generating yearly sales in excess of $40 million.
Penske Truck Leasing now manages a quarter of a million vehicles through a network of approximately 3,000 service and rental locations, giving Roger Penske a net worth of around $1.5 billion.
Not bad for a guy who started as a teenager fixing up and selling cars.
If it isn’t obvious, the common thread throughout Penske’s life has been his love of cars. Which gives further credence to the old saying “Do what you love to do.”
We’re going to go out on a limb here and say we’re pretty sure no one carries furniture up and down stairs because of the sheer love of it. But we are quite confident that there is something about running a moving company – and a moving labor company – that everyone in the HireAHelper community loves. There have got to be all sorts of reasons you men and women do what you do. There may be as many reasons as there are you.
How do we know there’s something each of us loves about this business? Our customers – your customers – tell us every day. Will any of us ever make Forbes’s list of billionaires? Wouldn’t that be nice! We will, however, settle for a few millionaires.
But seriously, while money is one way to measure success, it isn’t the only determinant. Satisfied customers. Awesome employees. Pride in the progress we make.
However you measure it – and however you find it – there’s nothing better than waking up one day, after years of firm handshakes, risks and love, and saying to yourself “Yeah, I made it.”