Little Guys Movers History
All things here should be known as truth. These are the events and decisions that became the enigma we have come to love as Little Guys Movers. It is a company culture like none other; a strong brotherhood comprised of those with great will and "conquer-all" attitudes. We are a group of callous-handed life lovers. We are a company built on sweat, stiff backs, and a simple philosophy: "do the right thing by people, and you will be rewarded."
Marcus Watson first moved to Denton from Abilene to attend the University of North Texas, but his concentration turned more recreational in nature. Tired of smoking BBQ for a living, he approached an acquaintance that operated a company called Big Guy Movers. Over several barley sodas, Marcus accepted a cash offer to move some furniture. Big Guy Movers at that time consisted of a 1972 Chevy Long Bed and an ad in the Denton Record Chronicle. The day was spent with Marcus solo moving while the "Big Guy" concentrated on the driving. At the end of his only day of employment with the company, Marcus got $20 from the $150 job. Spitting bitter was he.
He decided that working for others was not his bag and set out on his own. He teamed up with longtime Abilene friend Chris Mercer and Denton homeboy Mike Barber. Each brought their Toyota pickups to the table. They placed an ad announcing Little Guys Movers in the local paper under Big Guy Movers', and a company was born. Big Guy Movers would be out of business in a matter of weeks.
One of the first moves was a two story, four bedroom house. The two Toyota pickups and the customer’s truck were loaded up and caravanned to the new location. The customer paid $450 and Little Guys Movers had their first trailer the next day. It was a boat trailer converted to a flatbed, complete with one-inch gaps in the floor. There were no walls or ceiling. Weather permitting, moves were completed all summer using the flatbed and lots of rope. By the fall, enough money had been made to build walls and a ceiling out of plywood and corrugated metal. That old boat trailer was now an enclosed cargo trailer, minus a back door. Rope was used at the end of the load in a spider web method to hold customers' belongings. To pull this new creation, Marcus acquired a 1979 Ford F-150 from an auto impound for $100. It was not much to look at – ugly brown and severely dented – and it affectionately became known as "The Turd." You have never seen a truck go farther on less oil; it moved for years.
Around that time it was brought to Chris Mercer's attention that this type of work was not for him, and he left the company. There was no permanent location. The office, (a phone and an answering machine), was moved from home to home in order to keep one step ahead of the city's code enforcers.
Little Guys Movers' first real office was set up behind the Bike-O-Rama bike shop on Locust Street in Denton. It consisted of a 30' x 70' cinder block warehouse with an exposed toilet and sink in the corner, broken windows, and a flat roof that leaked like Niagara Falls. This environment went through several modifications, such as "The Bio-Dome," (an attempt to control the moisture and cold), and "The Roof Within," which was meant to control the water leak from inside the building.
At this point, Chris Hawley and Trey Johnson were working as some of Little Guys Movers' first full-time employees. Times were tough, and the employees were lucky to make $100 a week. Most of the time was spent overhauling engines, pulling, rebuilding, and reinstalling transmissions, working on the trailers, doing some moving, and hanging out working on the company culture. Chris and Trey were made full partners after six months of dedicated work and much beer drinking.
A second truck was added in the form of a 1979 red Ford. Its long bed and crew cab came in handy, but it went through two engines and several transmissions. A second trailer was also added. A local welder built a frame around a 12' flatbed. A galvanized sheet metal skin was then screwed down. The new trailer was christened "The Silver Bullet" and would be destined to make many moves over many miles.
In 1995, Little Guys Movers relocated to "The Barn" on Denton County's Cooper Creek Road, one hundred yards outside the city's limits. The change was drastic--from cement floors and walls to an open-faced barn with dirt floors and salvaged, corrugated metal walls. The original trailer was placed in the corner of the barn and incorporated as part of the structure. Free from city codes, the trailer was run with electricity and set up as an office. The Barn was home for the next two and a half years. Some of the perks included a dirt driveway, a water moccasin-laden pond, two cows, a horse named Sox, a pen full of rare Ibex mountain goats, and a group of musicians that lived on the property. Due to a back injury and a promising musical career, Trey Johnson left the company.
The company began to accumulate a few employees who worked themselves into the framework of the organization. These brave souls and unique personalities that nurtured the growing culture included Carl Ramsey, Matt Whetstone, Eric Eisenmann, Reiner Krämer, Mark Wright and Buck Bendickson. Their first Yellow Page ad appeared, and sales grew with the reputation of those hard-working, fun-loving Little Guys. In May, Chad Nichols approached the partnership after completing his Masters in Business Administration from the University of North Texas. He came to the partnership with new ideas of organization, structure, and a vision far beyond The Barn. This was the start of a series of substantial changes that catapulted Little Guys Movers into the next chapter of their story. Mike Barber chose to leave the partnership in search of a career in Applied Ceramics. He entered the graduate program and instructed courses at the University of North Texas. Mike had been a key driving force for the company, and was sorely missed.
Little Guys acquired two more pickup trucks and a new WW brand 16' box trailer. It was not long before they purchased a second 20' WW trailer and began to rent trucks to do even larger moves. By the end of the year a real company began to take form, including incorporation and twelve full-time employees.
In February, Little Guys Movers relocated to town. A newly built commercial warehouse was transformed over the next two years to include an operations room, show room, corporate office and conference room. The company purchased their first new truck, a 1997 Freightliner FL70 named Great White. It marked the end of the pickup and trailer days, and became the flagship of a growing fleet.
After a booming summer with huge sales growth, the partners decided to take the leap to expand to multiple locations. San Marcos, the jewel of Texas' Hill Country, was selected for its similarities to Denton. In October, the San Marcos location was off and running in both sales and culture. Mark Wright and Reiner Krämer were the pioneers of Little Guys Movers' first satellite shop. Hiring locally, they soon had a team of Little Guys very similar to those in Denton. This reinforced the notion that Little Guys could be found anywhere. Within six months, San Marcos had its own new Freightliner and a staff of eleven employees.
While on a fly-fishing trip to Wyoming, Chad randomly spent the night in Fort Collins, Colorado. A beautiful college town was thusly discovered, and by August, Chris, Marcus, and Chad arrived to search for Little Guys Movers' third location. It was a big step leaving the great state of Texas, but it was good to diversify... (to not have all your eggs in the same regional economic basket, if you will). Mark Wright, the designated opener, joined Matt Whetstone and Brandon Fry to set up shop in a building on North College.
It quickly became clear that Fort Collins was a Little Guys town. Employees who complemented the company culture were readily available, and the community embraced the hard-working little company. It was a long, dark winter, but the Fort Collins location emerged profitable and ingrained itself into the foothills town.
With a foothold on the Front Range, the next opportunity lay just down the road. Little Guys Movers wanted to plant moving companies in towns where people wanted to live, and Colorado Springs was one of the most livable cities in America. It was their first venture into such a large metropolis and much was to be learned.
Eric Eisenmann, Jay McCoy, and Dwight Maskew loaded up and headed west. Unfortunately there was no place to unload. A makeshift office was set up in Eric's dining room and moving commenced. His understanding wife Nikki put up with them for a month before a shop was found. Life in the big city proved difficult and it took a long time for the ripples from their splash to cross that large pond. Word spread much faster in the smaller communities, but they set in for the long haul. By focusing on their customers and building their culture, steady growth was finally achieved.
It was the year 2000. Y-2 what? We didn't think so either, and decided to open our newest store location in Norman, Oklahoma. The pioneers of the Sooner State were Jay McCoy, Kevin Kalka, and Andrew McCalla. Norman welcomed Little Guys with open arms and a love for down home good service. If you have never been, the people of Oklahoma are beautiful – kind to a point beyond gracious. Little Guys Movers was proud to be part of that.
The Norman location came alive with the resurgence of the town itself, rejuvenated by the Sooner Football program’s return to prominence. Colorado Springs, our largest community, began to embrace the Little Guys phenomenon. Sales continued to grow in each of the five locations as the culture expanded to over one hundred strong. There were current and former Little Guys roaming the country, and the sightings of branded t-shirts stretched from Fairbanks, Alaska to Cancun, Mexico. Then, on one September day, it was all put into perspective... community before profits, and an American company above all else..
By the ten-year anniversary, the number of moves completed pushed 100,000. The growth had been built on sweat and determined attitudes. Sales had gone from less than $50,000 a year to over $2.6 million. The business that was spawned by the need for college beer money had become an economic force in five cities and three states. To work hard and do right by people is a simple concept, but was rewarded by those communities served. The goal of being rooted in each town was achieved, with Little Guys becoming the first name in moving, even before those “big guy” corporate giants that terrorize the highways.
2003 brought with it a different economy, and while the housing market remained healthy compared to other segments, disposable income for hiring moving companies shrank. To restructure and remain profitable during such an economic downturn is difficult; to become even more profitable is a huge accomplishment. Though many of the original members remained intact, some shifting had occurred: Eric Eisemann and Buck Bendickson ran the original Denton location; San Marcos had been taken over by Josh Dupree; Brandon Fry managed Fort Collins with the return of the legendary Mark Wright; hometown boy Adam Bobay captained Colorado Springs; in Norman, Jay McCoy and Nick Shelton were as familiar as Boomer Sooner; Shane Onstead joined the partners at the national level.
After eleven years of spelunking pitfalls, developing concepts, and honing systems, the focus turned to franchising nationwide. Decentralization had always been a key to Little Guys’ success, and franchising could take that mold one step further. (If you are interested in creating history with us, click on the franchising tab and you can have your own Little Guys Movers.)
2004 started off with a much-needed respite in Playa del Carmen, Mexico for Little Guys’ annual meeting. As usual, good times were had by all. This year brought a whole new era to the Little Guys saga with the conception of the Little Guys Movers Franchising Program. This lengthy process would eventually enable the spread of Little Guys Movers ownership around the country. Josh moved the San Marcos shop away from the highway and closer to the downtown square. Brandon Fry and Mark Wright also made a move from the long time location on College to a new shop on Pinon.
2005 was a year of reflection and regrouping. With a few great years behind the company, it could be human nature to become flat-footed at times. While sales maintained a healthy level, growth had slowed somewhat and required extra attention in order to re-energize the machine. Buck and Eric kept things under control in Denton. Josh was still in San Marcos. Brandon Fry unexpectedly left Fort Collins and was replaced with crew leaders Zach Smith and Brian Dillon. Both new managers proceeded to breathe much-needed life back into the Fort Collins store. Adam Bobay maintained a foothold on the enormous Colorado Springs market while Nick and Jay continued to love life in Norman, OK.
What a year 2006 turned out to be. After a successful annual meeting in Denton, all managers found themselves newly aligned and invigorated. Long-time Denton manager Buck Bendickson picked 2006 as the year he would split off and open his own franchise in McKinney, Texas. This courageous move created a void that J.D. Patton was ready and able to fill, joining Eric Eisenmann at the helm. San Marcos mastermind Josh Dupree amazed the masses with his one-man show, producing an exceptional year. Josh was also able to juggle a move into his new shop just before ramping into the busy season. Fort Collins hard hitter Brian Dillon tipped his hat to the crowd and exited the scene after a very influential year and a half of great effort! He was missed by all. Brian's exit left Shawn McNeiley chomping at the bit, and he was soon moved into the office alongside Zach Smith to continue on with a stellar year. Colorado Springs had a changing of the guard as Adam Bobay focused on a different life direction. Canadian import and long time master Crew Leader, Russ Bried was approached by the partners to fill the position, and he readily took on the challenge. Nick Shelton and Jay McCoy kept things well under control in Norman, OK.
Lubbock, Texas is the place and David Conklin is the face for the Little Guys’ first franchise. In him we found the perfect partner to share our name. With David's great mind and incredible energy, Little Guys Lubbock took off like a rocket, and by the end of the year Lubbock had surpassed all projections.
2008 was a pretty tumultuous year, with lots of changes and a severe recession. Little Guys was really feeling the effects of the economy by October and decided to close the Colorado Springs location in order to focus on markets more similar to their proven locations. A little facelift to the Norman, OK image and a move into a sweet location on the corner of Porter and Gray streets provided much better visibility, no water leaks, and cheaper utilities. This was the second time Little Guys took a leap of faith and opened doors when the economy had fallen into a recession. Now it was survival mode! Cutting back on every frivolous expense was priority one. We closed our eyes and held on tight, and by the end of the year we'll be damned if we weren't more profitable than the year before... even with less sales! Go figure!
Chad Nichols decided to leave the company in pursuit of bigger and better things, (no, we can't imagine what that is either), so Marcus and Chris bought his share.
Thanks to the efforts of crew leaders Leonard Euresti, Michael Lang, and Ryan Adams, San Marcos combated and conquered some pretty poor management long enough for Marcus and Chris to figure out what was going on, and swoop in to make changes. Mike Lang took the lead role; it felt like Little Guys again.
With the economy still in the pooper, we figured it would be the perfect time to expand! Sticking with our tradition of existing in great places to live, our search landed us in Fayetteville, Arkansas. In the past, all Little Guys head managers had been put through the moving ringer and were promoted from within the company. Marcus and Chris set about finding a location for the new shop, and in one visit found a local "Little Guy," Joseph Barnes, in Fayetteville to take the helm and steer the new store to success.
Babies, babies, babies! With the growth of our families we continued to focus on the growth of our empire. Bwaa haa haa!
Joseph Barnes arrived in Denton for training and stuck around for the annual company meeting in January. He got to know the seasoned Little Guys managers, soaked up buckets of knowledge from them, and brought it all back to AR with him. Before we knew it, Fayetteville was up and running, and the Northwest Arkansas region embraced the new Little Guys with open arms.
Denton (The Mother Ship) desperately needed a new location. We had been in the same building since 1997 and had outgrown the parking by 2002, but because we could park an 18,000 pound truck on a dime and leave a nickel in change, we were able to make it last longer than it should have! Eventually we found a great spot with plenty of parking and when the economy bounced back, we were able to expand to 10 trucks. J.D. Patton's expertise was much needed in beautiful Fort Collins, CO. To his chagrin, he moved his family up to the "Best Place to Live in the USA," (according to us and CNN).
We held the July managers’ meeting west of New Braunfels on the Guadalupe. The theme was "LET'S GROW!”
Fresh meat Bradley Steiger and Jeff Barnard, a 10-year veteran Crew Leader, joined the Denton Operations Team to head up the goal of running 8 trucks during the summer... and with much success I might add.
We contracted with an impressive marketing company, Produce Results to focalize our marketing needs. The website was completely rebuilt and they helped us create new ways to give back to our communities' people in need.
Encouraged by the success of the newest location in Fayetteville, Arkansas, Little Guys decided to keep the ball rolling and open a store in yet another state. After much careful research, Murfreesboro, Tennessee was chosen. During a single visit from Marcus and Eric, a great location and a great guy were found: John Manning, father of two, was hired to take the reins in Tennessee.
This year also brought another Little Guys location in the form of David Conklin's second franchise in Bryan-College Station, Texas. After a month of training in Denton, Grant Rollo was brought in as the head honcho in Aggieland. Lubbock was in dire need of some added assistance after record-breaking sales, and David hired Michael Pruitt as the Head Manager of Lubbock.
The Fayetteville store continued its phenomenal growth, and Ian Shell became a welcome addition to the family, giving support to Joseph Barnes as his Operations Director.
With so much seam-busting business happening throughout our locations, we thought it would be best to expand the National Office team, starting with bringing on Tim Hausam as our National Office Manager in August 2011. This gave Shane Onstead some room to focus on developing a program for Quality Control and Standardization across all stores. After 15 years of dedicated service in the trenches, Eric Eisenmann received his company shotgun and transferred to our National HQ to team up with Shane as the United States Logistics Commander. Eisenmann would now help with fleet control, store visits, and any other obstacles that come our way as we continue to add locations.
February 2012 started off with a bang as we opened our newest location in Lexington, KY. Of course, as with every other grand opening, it didn’t happen without a few bumps in the road. About a week before opening, the following conversation took place:
Chris to Marcus: “Hey, did you get the Household Goods Carrier License for this state?”
Marcus: “NO, didn’t you?!”
Suddenly we found ourselves with a 3-year lease on a property, a brand new manager salary to pay, and, you guessed it … no moving license to our name! But true to our persistent nature, we scrambled to get the application in and vowed to call the folks in charge every day until it was approved. As it would turn out, the state of Kentucky’s response to our application was to notify all other moving companies in the state that we were hunting for a moving license, and they were each given 30 days to protest the application. If any moving company did in fact protest, we would’ve had to attend a hearing and therein prove that the people of Lexington need/deserve/want another option when it comes to a moving service provider. We were told by some at the state that they couldn’t remember the last time any company won their motion in a similar situation, and that our best bet would be to buy an existing license from somebody who wanted out of the business or had an extra one lying around. Believe it or not, we found the latter, and spent the next several months negotiating, cussing, and discussing. Throughout this period in limbo Donavon Davis, our new manager of the Lexington branch, did an absolute bang up job with what little he legally could do. Fast forward a few months, and this location is completely rocking. (And on that note, we would just like to say to anybody attempting to come into this market by applying for an HHG license - we will NOT protest your application. We believe in free enterprise and the spirit of competition, and to those companies that protested our application, SUCK IT!)
February 2012 – A franchisee opens a store in Tulsa, OK and Jaime Kilpatrick -- brave soul that she is -- becomes Little Guys Movers’ first female GM.
March 2012 – Little Guys plays an integral part in the planning and execution of the 2012 35 Denton music festival in their hometown of Denton, TX. Becoming involved with and supporting our local music and arts scene means a great deal to us, and is something we do with pride.
This same month we take on Swash Labs (or is it they take us on?) as our marketing agency, and we begin a hard and fast education on social media, marketing, and creating our social personality as a national brand.
July 2012 – Our annual GM Retreat is held near Fayetteville, AR on Table Rock Lake in Missouri. We rented two large houseboats, played on the water for three days, and went through 50 cases of beer … an overall success story, if you ask us! These annual retreats are a time of team-building, and also a chance to show gratitude to the leaders of our stores for all the hard work they do.
July 2012 – Joseph Barnes was promoted from his position as GM in Fayetteville, AR to the official Director of New Market Development. We liked what he was doing so much that we put him in charge of researching potential markets, applying for all HHG licenses in a timely manner, hiring the right people to manage stores, and helping these managers get everything up and running. Joseph’s promotion created an opportunity for Fayetteville native Jake LaDue to step into the GM shoes in Fayetteville. Jake was promoted from Operations Director, where he had proven himself a more-than-capable manager. (When he’s not busy taking care of Little Guys, Jake dedicates many hours to his position as the Vice President of Equestrian Bridges -- a local not-for-profit corporation that provides horse therapy for Autistic children.) Bishop Williams was brought into the fold in Oct 2012 to fill the role of Operations Director.
October 2012 – Longtime San Marcos manager Ryan Adams opened a new location in Austin, TX. Aaron Mims moves from Denton as a Crewleader to take on the exciting challenge of finding the key elements for and fostering the Little Guys culture in Austin. Austin zoning is not friendly or flexible, so instead of our usual storefront situation, we were forced into the industrial area “where moving companies go,” and thusly hidden away from the precious public. Although this is not our ideal setting (we love to be in the heart of a city where all the cultural action is) it is only a minor setback, and we refuse to let it bring us down.
At this point, Joseph tells us that North Carolina is the place we want to be, so we got ourselves some plane tickets and headed east. We were immediately blown away by the wonderful people we met, and the growth and beauty of the Tar Heel State. Raleigh and Greensboro become target locations in our sight. We decide that our franchisee would open Greensboro, and we would open Raleigh, making this the first time we have opened two locations within such close proximity at the same time.
November 2012 – We promoted Jeff Barnard from Denton GM to Director of Safety, which encompasses all regulatory and compliance issues as well. The feds are really cracking down on the trucking industry, and it is more important to us than ever to make sure all of our paperwork, drivers’ logs, and trucks are exceeding what the regulators expect. Jeff is the perfect guy for this job, and his dedication and hard work is going to help us continue to grow the company in a responsible manner.
It turns out the North Carolinians are a little more pro-business than Kentucky, so the license is secured and the buildings we find are ideal. Lucky for us, we were able to round up a couple outstanding managers for these locations in the form of Gregory Schmid in Raleigh and Doug Sturges in Greensboro.
December 2012 – As the year came to a close, we took a look around and realized, with mixed emotions, that we had outgrown our national office in downtown Denton, TX. We knew that the next step in moving forward would be to get each of the Little Guys Movers national employees, both long-standing and newly-appointed, under the same roof. With optimistic hopes and plans for the future, we bought a new building (our very first real estate purchase!) in Denton, TX to serve as the headquarters for the entire Little Guys Movers empire.
January 2013 – We once again bring all of our hard-working managers back to Denton for our annual manager meeting. Over the course of several days, we play hard but work harder. Coming together for these annual meetings reminds us what the goals and values of our company are and have always been since the beginning. Spending quality time as a team every year allows us to maintain a united vision, especially while we continue growing in scope and size.
February 2013 – The invaluable, the incomparable Shane Onstead receives his 15-year company shotgun. Thank you, Shane, for helping us build this company into what it is today!