Q&A: Aaron Steed, CEO of Meathead Movers Q&A: Meathead honcho’s smart moves Aaron Steed and his brother, Evan, started Meathead Movers as teens —now, it’s a multimillion-dollar enterprise that continues to expand By Ermina Karim
What started as a way for Aaron Steed and his brother, Evan, to make some money in high school while playing sports has grown into a multimillion-dollar moving business.
“It was a perfect fit because I got paid to work out,” said Aaron Steed, the chief executive officer of Meathead Movers in San Luis Obispo, the largest moving company in San Luis Obispo County. “I also realized that I could make much more money if I got creative instead of just getting a job for minimum wage like most of my friends did in high school.”
He was just 17 when he started the company, and Evan was 15.
“We started with nothing —just our willingness to help and hope that we would be paid for it.”
Now, Meathead Movers’ operations span the Central Coast, with branches in San Luis Obispo and Camarillo. The company has 128 employees, of which more than 100 are students. Further expansion is planned throughout Southern California and into Arizona and Nevada. The brothers—Evan is the chief operating officer and chief financial officer— are also considering starting a storage unit business.
Aaron Steed recently spoke with The Tribune about how he and his brother began their business, the ways that Meathead Movers attracts and retains employees and his idea for encouraging more entrepreneurial activity.
Q:What’s the downside of having a business at such a young age?
A: It’s certainly given me more responsibility. When friends in college were going out partying in Cancun, I was working. When you are able to build an asset and see the exponential growth — not just financially—but before your eyes with more people you’re employing, more trucks in the yard, more offices — it’s really inspiring. I’ve taken it really seriously that we are such a large employer of students in the county. It’s very gratifying.
Q: You clearly have credibility now in the business world. But how did you generate credibility when you were younger?
A: Actions speak louder than words.Moving is a service business—we sell very little product (boxes); we are only as good as how we are perceived by each customer. At first, we told our potential clients that they could pay us whatever they felt we were worth. In other words, we did not have a standard charging system; our compensation was whatever the client wanted to pay us. I was able to make such a compelling offer because I knew that my brother, my friends, and I could win over our clients with our hard work ethic and positive attitudes. In addition, my brother and I were on most of the moving jobs the first three years of the business, so we were (and still are) very hands-on with our business, which allows us to control quality.
Q: How do you differentiate the business from other moving companies?
A: Almost everybody has a horror story about other typical moving companies, and we want to change that by offering a very personalized and quality approach to everything we do. We just added a new function on our Web site where anyone using our services can scroll through our “starting lineup” — pictures of our employees —and add them to the move. I know that makes our clients feel more comfortable when they know who is going to be in their home, around their family and moving their items. We also just added a “Quarter-back Service,” which is similar to a concierge if you were staying at a five-star hotel, where we help with the coordination of other moving-related responsibilities, such as transferring utilities, arranging a carpet cleaner or coordinating a baby-sitter. Our goal is to make a move similar to the care you would receive if you were staying at a Four Seasons Hotel.
Q: What are the key components to a financially successful business?
A: One of my heroes, Paul Orfalea, founder of Kinko’s, wrote in his book “Copy This,” a sentence that I think about every day: “Happy fingers equal happy cash registers.” In other words, if your employees are happy, then your customers will be as well, resulting in repeat business and greater demand for your service or product. Yes, I know this is a very, very basic principle, but how many business owners truly act accordingly? I am certain that our business has grown because we continuously focus on our work environment for our employees. I believe our carefully nurtured culture translates into a passion that you can feel when you use our services.
Q: How do you attract and retain employees?
A: Our job as managers and leaders is to create a framework for people to be successful in. We have posters to show how to move up in the company. We have a continuous training program that is adopted from the armed forces. Our operations and sales managers are tied into the profits of their branches and then can pay out discretionary bonuses. We invest heavily in company parties and have incentives for safety and damage-free moves. We recently celebrated going a year and a half without a single injury. We rented out Kennedy Club for the night and had more than 300 people, 15 kegs and a barbecue. We raffled off a 56-inch TV, a motorcycle, a grill and a Las Vegas trip, gave out free T-shirts and had a dance floor. We also tap into the competitive nature of our employees, measuring their performance (like sports) and publicly posting their performance, creating competition. We track if Meatheads are clean-shaven, if they showed up on time, what their customer service scores are, if things get damaged, if they get requested to be on a job.
Q: The company is expanding into new markets. How did you select them?
A: In order for Meathead Movers to be successful in a market, we need to have many college-age athletes in an affluent area where people value high-quality, premium service.We will open up additional offices in southern Orange County, San Diego County, Arizona and Nevada.
Q: What are the biggest challenges of entering markets where the company is less known?
A: When we expanded to Ventura and Santa Barbara County, most people thought our biggest challenge would be the name Meathead Movers. They were all wrong — people typically love the name and it is very memorable. Meathead Movers is catchy and piques curiosity about the story behind the name.
The biggest challenge is finding quality employees. As long as we have strong, clean-cut, drug-free, student-athletes working for us, I know there will always be a strong customer base for a service like ours.
Q: Are there other business opportunities that you have considered outside of Meathead Movers?
A: Evan and I going to be looking for investors who are interested in helping us create a chain of Meathead storage units. We are going to call them Meathead Lockers and will open them in San Luis Obispo, Santa Barbara, Ventura and northern Los Angeles counties. Eventually, when we expand to Orange County and San Diego, we will open up Meathead Lockers there, too.
Q: Meathead Movers is a model for other young entrepreneurs. What does this mean to you?
A: I know Meathead Movers has hopefully inspired young people. A lot of our guys have gone on to start their own businesses. One of our goals is to create a venture capital firm, “Meathead Ventures,” where we invest in our existing and past employees’ business ideas. Many banks will not listen to a kid out of college and many kids would feel intimidated taking this approach to starting a business. We believe that we have a unique advantage because we have worked with and know the kids who we will be investing with. I think that our venture capital firm will also help us recruit and retain the type of person we want while they are going through college.
Q: What is your advice to other young people who want to start their own business?
A: Business is not fundamentally complicated. I think people think that it has to be intimidating. When you starting a business, you don’t have to get $1 million in venture capital and write an extensive business plan. That’s one way to go about it. But many of the small business here start by doing something on the side and it slowly gets bigger and bigger. Young people typically have nothing to lose so my advice is to just go out there and do it. You can completely foul up and still be OK in the long-term.