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    A Podcast | Ron Holt

    Pete Neubig: [00:00:05] All right, everybody, welcome back to the Norton radio show. And, uh, as promised, I have Ron Holt with one of the coolest names that I've seen, uh, in, in in a while, the with the Pink Zebra Moving. Is that pink zebra? Yeah. And, uh, Ron, I was looking at your bio, and Pink Zebra is your second company. Your first company was two maids and a mop. And you've taken that company national. And then did you sell? Did you sell that company? The two maids?

    Ron Holt: [00:00:33] Yeah, a couple of years ago. Yeah. Okay.

    Pete Neubig: [00:00:35] And now? And now you're back for more. So it must have been so easy and not tumultuous at all. And, you know, you must have just said, screw this, I love this. I'm going to redo it again. I'm gonna do it in the moving industry. Is that is that.

    Ron Holt: [00:00:47] I guess I'm sadistic and more than I thought, but yeah, I'm doing it all over again. And, uh, you know, we'll see where it takes us. But I'd love to tell you the story as we get, uh, through. 

    Pete Neubig: [00:00:58] Awesome. And I wanted to get you on because, uh, when you reached out, I looked into you a little bit, and I'm like, oh, this is perfect because not. I don't know if how much you know about the single family management space, but there's a lot of consolidation happening right now, and there are a lot of players looking to expand nationally in the, in this, um, you know, in the race to, to get national. There are no real good. I don't say that. I don't say real good. There are no real well known national single-family management companies. There's some real known national, uh, um, multifamily. And so there's a there's kind of a race to, to get there. So tell me first, when did you when you started Two Maids and a Mop. Was your vision to go national from the beginning? Like, tell me how that worked.

    Ron Holt: [00:01:41] Yeah. You know, so you're very similar. Your industry is very similar to the industry, the residential cleaning industry. Forever ago, 20 years ago now, at that time, there were a few little, you know, there were a few national brands, but for the most part, it was a bunch of mom and pops just located across the country, extremely fragmented, some better than others, you know, but there wasn't a major player that was disruptive enough. Enough to be considered like the IT of that industry. And so that was one of the things that attracted me to the cleaning industry. I wanted to take it national from day one. Believe it or not, I never learned how to clean a house, um, growing up as a kid and wasn't really good at it. Even when I started two maids and a mop and those in those early days. Not sure if I'm that great at it now either, but I, um, I love the idea of, um, the the recurring revenue model. I love the fact that there wasn't a real unified brand that was attacking the industry. And then I love the fact that the the revenue base itself was consumed, was populated at the time by high net worth folks who just wanted it. But I felt like over time that it would change and shift to a place where suburban, suburban families hired you because they they needed you, not just because they wanted you. And that shift did occur over the over the next several years. And, uh, we kind of rode that wave for a long time because of it. So, yeah, long story short. Absolutely. I wanted to go national, even though I just started with one office. We were inside of 250 square foot office space in Pensacola, Florida. But even inside those offices, I would tell everybody customers, employees, vendors, I would tell everybody that one day we're going to be a nationwide household brand. And people people laugh, roll their eyes, all those things, you know.

    Pete Neubig: [00:03:32] Now, did you, um, did you buy an existing company when you got into it since you had never cleaned before, or did you start literally from scratch?

    Ron Holt: [00:03:41] From the ground up. Um, that wasn't necessarily by design. I was super naive, and I had entered into what I thought was going to be a purchase agreement for a cleaning business. I'm going to say a lot of stuff, by the way, that makes me look smart. This is going to be one of those things that doesn't make me look very smart. And so I thought it was a purchase agreement. I changed everything about my life. I moved from Atlanta, Georgia, I quit my job, which was a really good job, and, um, assumed I was going to write a check for this cleaning business that I was purchasing. And then when I got down there, the owner backed out at the last minute and said, hey, we didn't even have a purchase agreement. We just had a non-binding letter of intent. So I know not not the smartest decision, but, you know, I persevered and just, you know.

    Pete Neubig: [00:04:24] You made lemonade out of lemons. I, uh, at that point, yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:04:28] So I learned a lot about the industry because of that process and said, I'm doing this, whether whether they sell that business to me or not. And they became my chief competitor, of course, right after we opened.

    Pete Neubig: [00:04:40] So you started in Pensacola. Um, so now take me through the journey, you know, um, obviously you didn't know much. I'm guessing from day one, you were not cleaning houses. You hired people from day one before you had clients. Like, how'd that work?

    Ron Holt: [00:04:52] So I only cleaned houses the first day, and that was also not planned. I didn't plan to ever clean a house because I'm the one not good at it. And two, I knew my strengths. Right. You know, I that wasn't going to be something that was going to be helpful to the business. But on the first day, still very naive as a as a young entrepreneur, I just assumed in the blue-collar world was like the white-collar world. You hired someone and they showed up to work. It turns out that they don't always show up to work in the blue-collar world. And so we were called two maids and a mop. So what did I do? I hired two people, and only one of those two people showed up to work, and so I had to tag along and do something I wasn't prepared for. I was terrible, I did most most of the things I contributed to that service was talking. Um, but after that day, I said, okay, that's that's the last time I'm going to do that. I need to find I'd rather spend a half a day, which is what I spent cleaning. I'd rather spend a half a day, um, you know, networking and researching, brainstorming, even reading. You know that to me, it was work back in those days because I was trying to learn everything I could about marketing and customer service and even accounting, you know? And so, um, yeah, I never cleaned a whole lot of houses. Um, but our customers were thankful for that as well.

    Pete Neubig: [00:06:02] So when you first started, like, um, obviously you start, you hang up a shingle. How did you find those first clients?

    Ron Holt: [00:06:09] Yeah. So this kind of dates me. So this was in the early 2000s. I actually opened on April Fool's Day of 2003. And, um, you know, I mentioned the fact that I never cleaned a house before, but that actually I didn't know this at the time became a bit of an asset toward me, for me at least, because since I wasn't part of the cleaning solution, I didn't really have any type of prejudice towards certain business practices or things you can't do. You know, so many people get caught in this rut of saying, well, you can't do it because no one does it that way. Well, I didn't know what everyone else did, you know, so I just did it my way. Sometimes it didn't work, but a lot of times doing it, you know, taking the left lane instead of the right lane worked out for me. And so same thing with marketing back in those days. It sounds like a grandpa, right? But back in those days, uh, everybody used the yellow page ads and even newspaper ads. And so I followed the herd early on and said, that's what I'll do, too. But it didn't take me long to figure out. I just didn't have the marketing budget to really take over the market like I had planned. I knew for us to go national, I had to own Pensacola, and if I didn't own Pensacola, that's silly. You can't take a brand national after that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:07:15] And we weren't gonna own your backyard first. Absolutely.

    Ron Holt: [00:07:18] Well, we weren't owning our backyard. The first two years, we really struggled out of the gate and lost money every single day. You know, it was a it was a grind. And about two years in, I said, why am I doing the same thing everyone else is doing? This is ridiculous. And so again, this is going to date me. But back in those days we did digital marketing, SEO. Those were things that were as foreign language as they could ever be. And so in our world, the cleaning world at the time, it was like still prehistoric, but it hadn't caught up to anything digital. So I just immersed myself in all those things and became really an expert in everything from, like I said, SEO and PPC, and that allowed us to sort of be first to market on that side of the fence, you know, in terms of terms of marketing. And we we grew exponentially over the course of that, from that first that zero month to the 24th month, we basically were flat. We didn't have any real serious growth. And from the second to the third year, our business looked completely different and never looked the same after that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:08:21] How did you bootstrap early in the early days? Did you have enough money saved? Did you did your wife support you at the time? Like what was, uh, hey, just take out credit card debt. You take out a small business loan. Like, how'd you how'd you build the business? Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:08:32] So I knew for a long time that I wanted to own a business. And so prior to that, I was working in Atlanta. Uh, actually, I actually have a chemistry background, so I was working out of a lab inside a laboratory and just was 100% focused, almost obsessed. You'd call it, uh, on this idea of entrepreneurship. And so I didn't have any money. Family thought I was crazy, friends thought I was crazy. There was no bank.

    Pete Neubig: [00:08:57] Was a good sign, by the way.

    Ron Holt: [00:08:59] Yeah. It's true. Um, but a bank. You know, I was, again, very naive. I thought. I thought you could walk into a bank and submit a business proposal and walk out with six figures, you know, but it. I tried that and didn't walk out with $6, much less six figures. And so I, um, had to do it myself. I didn't even.

    Pete Neubig: [00:09:18] Validate your parking, I bet.

    Ron Holt: [00:09:19] Probably not. Yeah. Um, and so I just started saving money. I started working side jobs. It literally it took me six years. And so it was a six year journey from $0 to $150,000, all from just, you know, blood, sweat and tears, you know, and so all the things you hear about, uh, of an entrepreneur who's just trying to do it without any kind of financial support, that was my life for six years. I had to change my lifestyle. I had to do things I didn't like. I never knew how to cook either. But I worked in restaurants, just as, you know, a grill chef or whatever, and whatever I could do to earn an extra dollar, even if it was at night or...

    Pete Neubig: [00:09:56] By day, you're you're learning marketing. You're you're. Yeah, yeah. Trying to figure all that out. And by night you're you're working out. You're working in the, uh, in the restaurants to basically get.

    Ron Holt: [00:10:05] That's what I did.

    Pete Neubig: [00:10:06] But you feed yourself.

    Ron Holt: [00:10:07] Finally pinched enough pennies to get to $150,000. And that's when I said, okay, this was no business plan at all, but it was just a big round number. It felt like 150 million, you know? And so I used that 150 to, to seed the initial business in Pensacola and went to business.

    Pete Neubig: [00:10:24] So obviously the first two years you're flat or losing money. So you've seen that 150 kind of dwindle down. But let's fast forward right. So you solve that with through marketing and through just sheer effort and being just an entrepreneur. Like I think that's one of the most beautiful things about entrepreneurs is, is we figure things out. Right. Just you got to figure it the f out, right. Um, and and good great things happen. And those who don't figure it out, they end up not being in business, you know. But now you're you're now you're running Pensacola. Um, so tell me what what the thought. Like, how did you move to the next what what was your plan on moving to the next, you know, city, town, state where what did you do next?

    Ron Holt: [00:11:04] So again, remember, that was my vision before the word vision was cool, like I was living by it. I, I had a vision in my head, a dream in my head that we were going to build this small cleaning business in Pensacola, Florida, into a national brand. And so that was how did you.

    Pete Neubig: [00:11:19] But by the way, though you're you're a chemical and your chemical engineer guy, how did you come up with cleaning? Like, how did you get into like how did you even say, I think this is the wave of the future.

    Ron Holt: [00:11:29] I'm I am going to some people will think I'm great when I say this. Others are going to go, man, that guy's a huge nerd. But I'm I have always been, well, from college on, a huge fan of Warren Buffett. Not because of the billions of dollars and all that stuff that everybody relates to when they hear his name. But he loves boring, dry businesses. You know, he owns underwear companies and insurance companies, you know, trains, you know, and stuff like that. Nobody cares about those those none of them. You don't need code to run those businesses. And so he's always shied away from technology and just loved unsexy businesses because no one else does except consumers, the people that pay for those products or services. And so I wanted to be in a boring business. I had new services just because in the laboratory we actually were in the service industry. It was professional technical services. But still I saw the power of recurring revenue and wanted to be in another like type of industry. But I wanted to be in one again that hadn't been attacked or disrupted yet. And so, um, that's what led me to cleaning. But Warren Buffett of I never had a chance to meet him, but he was the person who first put me on to the idea of how sexy, boring businesses can be.

    Pete Neubig: [00:12:42] Everybody wants to be a movie star. No one wants to be in waste management. And I call property management the waste management of real estate. Right? No one wants to be property manager. All right. So. So now tell me, take me to the next. The next one. You leveled up. What did how did you get the money. Would that look like. How did you break into a new market?

    Ron Holt: [00:12:59] So I was fortunate we started making a lot of money. Honestly, in Pensacola we did really well, became the dominant cleaning company in the area, mainly because again, every time I talk to someone, whether it was in a formal setting, like, you know, to a group of people, or if it was just over a drink with a friend, I was obsessed with the idea of going national. So I would tell everybody that I met that that's what my plan was. And so there became a little bit of local traction from that story. And we grew because of all of that. Some of the innovative marketing things we were doing were working as well. And when that started happening, I just reinvested most of that cash flow into the business, and we started opening multiple corporate locations. Eventually, we opened 12 corporate locations across the southeast from the Carolinas down to Florida, and things are going self.

    Pete Neubig: [00:13:46] Funded all self. You didn't go out and get funded.

    Ron Holt: [00:13:49] Yeah. Never reached out for any capital. And so when we started growing things were really going well.

    Pete Neubig: [00:13:56] I'm guessing that's when the big guys started, started tapping on your shoulder at that point.

    Ron Holt: [00:14:00] Well later on, not quite at that stage, but okay. At a certain point I got tapped on the shoulder every other day, um, in some cases literally walking into the office, you know, you know, making crazy offers that seem too good to be true. But at that time, we were still sort of under the radar because it was cleaning. We weren't franchising at the time. It was just corporate stores. And so we, uh, reached that 12 store sort of ceiling. And I had a problem on my hands because we didn't really have the infrastructure to support. We had 200 or so employees across the the network at the time, and we had a corporate office of two and a half people. And so we just couldn't keep that pace up. And so I knew that I was going to have to invest more resources towards the infrastructure inside the corporate office, or I was going to have to grow a different way. And I didn't know anything about franchising at the time except bad things. I'd heard some negative things that kind of scared me, and so I stayed away from it. But I was very fortunate. I have a lot of luck in my life, and this was one of the more fortunate things that happened. I've done my I went to a franchise conference and dumbed my way into a meeting with a guy named Fred DeLuca. Does that name ring a bell? He he he was the founder of subway, you know.

    Pete Neubig: [00:15:13] Oh, yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Okay. Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:15:15] Okay. And so Fred's like subway. And McDonald's is kind of what most people think of. At least I do. When you think franchising, you know, there's two brands are synonymous with that. And so I met him a chance meeting. We spent an entire day together. Um, when we first met, he was a wealth of knowledge, even in just that one day setting. But we went on to forge a relationship, a friendship. He passed away a couple years after that, but during that two year time frame, he taught me everything he knew about franchising and charged $0. It was amazing. And so I learned how to be a great franchisor from The Godfather, basically of franchising. And I went on to pivot in and kind of move away from the corporate growth strategy and to franchising, which, um, became a really critical decision because it changed everything about one my own personal life, but obviously the brand as well, we took off and and really never looked back from that point forward.

    Pete Neubig: [00:16:11] So I'm gonna pause there because I want to get back to that. But a question I had, I was thinking, as you're telling this with property management, one of the challenges we have because we're a service based business is as we grow, we have to hire more people. And so your profit and your expense line kind of grows together. Um, where where did you find or how did you get those numbers? You know, that profit to grow exponentially in your in your expenses to kind of flatten out or at least see that gap?

    Ron Holt: [00:16:41] Well, you know, it's kind of a boring answer, but it's the it's the real answer. It's systems, you know? So I did not have a lot of efficiency. You know, I mentioned those 12 corporate stores. There was a time there where we would have the same top line. But the bottom line for market to market was significantly different. And that was mainly because. Charlotte, North Carolina was doing it differently than Atlanta, Georgia or Pensacola, Florida. And so we knew how to generate revenue that that strategy was working. We had process around that, but we didn't have enough process into the daily operations. And so I spent a considerable amount of time even brought in consultants to help us improve it. But we built an actual business plan and operations manual on how to operate this business. And so it took us about a year. But from that first of that year to the end of that year, we created a streamlined, like business model that allowed for the bottom line to look the same no matter what market you were in. And so that's, that's that's what worked for us. I think that probably works for every business, franchising or not. Um, if you especially if you have multiple units like I did, if you don't, we had some people in Charlotte, for instance, who said, well, we we use different products to clean in North Carolina. Um, Florida is different. So you use those. But we got to use our products. Well, those products were different. They maybe were costly, you know, they just didn't produce the same results. So we had customer service issues. And, you know, I was again naive and said, okay, do it your way. And that made someone happy. We got through that day. We survived a day and made a decision. But it it it cost us later on. And so the same goes for accounting to again marketing and so on. Everything inside of business has to be streamlined. If it's not, you open yourself up to really serious inefficiency.

    Pete Neubig: [00:18:40] Yeah. And I'm sure back then you could streamline it, but with checklists and so forth. Now we have, you know, systems and automation that can be put in to make things even even more.

    Ron Holt: [00:18:50] Gosh, we had these old school flowcharts and they were you.

    Pete Neubig: [00:18:55] Speaking my language, Ron, I love flowcharts.

    Ron Holt: [00:18:58] Well, I love them too, but it's, uh, it was a it was a dying, uh, process. Um, but it was the only one we could really start with. It's now fully automated, you know, it's still flowcharts. It's just all digital and automated now. Yeah, we had some old school printed flowcharts.

    Pete Neubig: [00:19:14] Yeah. If you're listening to this, you know, um, first thing is you got, you have to flowchart your, your, you have to you have to basically flowchart your, your business flows all your processes because you have to know what you're actually doing. Um, when I did mine, uh, when I owned my own, my property management firm, uh, I couldn't believe all the stuff that my team like. Oh, we don't do this. Wait, what do you mean you don't do that? Or or we both do this. I'm like, wait, what do you mean? You guys both do this? So we found so many. Issues within our processes, and then only once you have your process ironed out can you actually do the automation. So we have something called LeadSimple. Um, you know, there's asana, there's process tree, there's all these tools out there. Uh, but those tools will only make things worse if you put garbage in. Garbage comes out just much faster. Right. So streamflow those steam. What is it? Uh, steamroll those processes. That's right. So now. You're making some money. Uh, I'm assuming all these processes you created now became the blueprint for the franchise. Like what the franchisees are going to do. Is that. Yeah. Correct

    Ron Holt: [00:20:18] That's not the original reason for.

    Pete Neubig: [00:20:23] Yeah. It was survival was the original reason, but.

    Ron Holt: [00:20:25] It turned out to be a real, um, helpful sort of start, um, for us to start franchising because we already had everything. All we had vendors aligned with preferred rates with contact, you know, contact people, personal contacts at each one of the vendors. We had actual systems like you talked about flow charts. How do you enter a home, has a house cleaning service when someone's home versus how do you enter a home when no one's home? That's a real thing. It seems trivial, but it's a real thing. And so all of those things were streamlined. And so yeah, once we started offering this as a franchise opportunity, we didn't really have to do all of that. That's what most brands have to do. If they want to franchise it. They have to sit down and take all that information that's in their head and document it and put it on paper, and then figure out a way to digitize it as well. And so all of that had been done for us because we went through that process prior. We just had to figure out how to find people who wanted to, to invest in a franchise. You know, that that was early on. That was a little bit of a battle for us. But, uh, once we figured that out, you know, like anything, things got a lot better for us.

    Pete Neubig: [00:21:25] So take me through real high level. What does that look like to franchise? Because I hear, you know, it's like millions of dollars to put all the the documents together and it's, you know, so what what is, uh, is it millions of dollars to put the documents together?

    Ron Holt: [00:21:40] I, you know, from, from I've got two experiences now, um, one where we had corporate stores that funneled cash to the corporate office to where we are at Pink Zebra moving. We didn't have the benefit of cash flow from corporate offices, and I can tell you that it is a it is a seven figure investment, in my opinion, to build a franchise brand, because not only do you have to do all the things I said, not only do you have all the legal stuff that you've got to have in place, but you also have to have the people in place to support franchisees, which sounds fine. Just go hire people. But early on you may only have a half dozen one franchise you may have. You may have 12 people in your corporate office supporting six people. Um, because you, you know, you have to build it before they come. Right? And so it's it's an expensive endeavor. Now, we were fortunate at two maids, uh, like I said, we had those 12 corporate stores, 11 of those 12 we sold as franchise operations. And since they were all growing and profitable, they demanded a premium. And so we were able to use the proceeds from those 11 transactions to fund our franchise development and growth. And then we sort of had a a win win situation since they they purchased it from us, but they also started paying us a royalty because they became franchises immediately. So it was a that was a unique way to enter franchising. Most people don't enter that way. Most people have an idea. Open a pallet store like we did at Pink Zebra Moving, create success and then go from, you know, store one on. Um, and so we we didn't know it at the time, like a lot of things, but it was sort of a blessing in disguise that we took so long to franchise it.

    Pete Neubig: [00:23:20] So let's talk about the exit. Um, how long did you run two maids before you decided to, uh, to exit? And why did you exit? And I'm assuming that you're kind of like everybody else. That's an entrepreneur. You cannot just go retire. And that's why Pink zebra.

    Ron Holt: [00:23:35] That's exactly right.

    Ron Holt: [00:23:36] Well, so there's two reasons. That's one. The other is I'm a I'm a dad of two young kids. And so there was, uh, after I sold the business, my daughter, who was six at the time, I was driving her to school. That was my thing. I'm going to be like dad of the year. And so I'm, like, going carpool lines and all those things, right? And so she said, dad, um, all my friends dads work. Why don't you. I said, well, all right, I gotta, I gotta, I gotta go back to work. So, um, that that was the real thing that happened. But even before that, I had some, um, motivations to stay inside the home service. I love home services. I think there are very sexy industries in this world and and was looking for an opportunity. I just couldn't find it. And so kind of going back.

    Pete Neubig: [00:24:19] What Made you what made you sell, what made you.

    Ron Holt: [00:24:21] So part of it was there was sort of two parts. One was I had I don't like corporate America. Um, I don't like corporate America. And that's why I started a business.

    Pete Neubig: [00:24:32] You're not on. You're unemployable, is what you're telling me.

    Ron Holt: [00:24:35] Pretty much. I would be the worst employee ever. Yeah. Uh, worst franchisee ever. Probably, too, but I, um, I hated corporate America even in my early 20s. And so when I started a business, that was my escape from that rat race. And so all of a sudden, fast forward again, 19 years back.

    Pete Neubig: [00:24:51] In the rat race, aren't you?

    Ron Holt: [00:24:52] And I'm like, I look around and I'm in meetings all day, you know, and I'm doing things that don't necessarily produce immediate results, which is what I need as an entrepreneur. I need to show my work. You know, I need to know that something happened from my from my.

    Pete Neubig: [00:25:04] Becoming a CEO of a bigger company. And yeah, big companies, they maneuver like barges versus the speedboat that you're used to.

    Ron Holt: [00:25:10] That's that's exactly right. And I didn't know it because I didn't really I was just so busy working that I didn't see it happening. But. Was happening and it did happen. And so that was part one. There was this just self reflection where I realized I was inside corporate America all of a sudden, even though I was the owner.

    Peter Neubig: [00:25:28] Who built it.

    Ron Holt: [00:25:29] Yeah, yeah. And then the second was again, you remember you're going.

    Pete Neubig: [00:25:34] To stick it to the man, but you are the man, Ron. That's right. I'm going to stick it to myself. Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:25:40] Well, my mother in law. So we're based in Birmingham, Alabama, and my mother in law had hired a moving company here locally, and it did not go well for her. It was all the bad things you can think of when you think moving. And on top of that, the cost was much higher than she anticipated, like three times what she anticipated. And it was terrible.

    Pete Neubig: [00:25:57] You mean what she what. She was actually quoted?

    Ron Holt: [00:25:59] No. Exactly. Yeah. Yeah, she was. Quoted ex and it was three x, you know, and it was, uh, a tough situation for she was very emotional about it. And she reached out to me, uh, once you start a business and are successful, then everybody calls you because apparently you have all the answers. And so she called me and said, what do I do here? And my wife's immediate reaction was, um, write a one star nasty review, you know, which I said, fine, go ahead and do that. But why don't we just start a business to counter that? Like, is this happening everywhere or just did it just happen to you? And so we started doing research. Our research was extremely high level. Like we we went to Yelp, and so I went to Yelp and I went to our Seattle, my Omaha and Miami. And I went straight to the one star reviews and all of those one star reviews. And those three markets matched my mother in law's experience. So I said, oh my gosh, there's a huge problem in this industry because most of these people are not just getting a poor service, but they were paying thousands of dollars to to get this poor service. And so I said at that point, there it is. You know, I'm really struggling inside this world. I've created this corporate world I've created. I want to start, um, fresh and start something new and have a different purpose in life.

    Pete Neubig: [00:27:10] So interesting. Um, you you actually found the purpose before you decided to exit? Yeah, like you didn't first sitting there like. Oh, man. Now, what do I do? That's okay. That's really interesting.

    Ron Holt: [00:27:20] Yeah, yeah. And so I started I didn't know how long it would take to sell the business. And that was pretty amazing how quickly it sort of just occurred because I went from, do I want to sell it to literally 42 days Later? People don't believe me when I say this. But 42 days later, I had sold the business that I had basically become known for most of my adult life. And, um, you know, all of a sudden there I am taking kids to carpool and my daughter is asking, why am I not working? So I was working. She didn't see that I was working in the basement, just sort of planning the moving company concept and a lot of that. I wanted to do it right the first, you know, when we first started out. And so I wanted all the processes in place. I didn't want to just sort of throw. Some money at it.

    Pete Neubig: [00:28:03] Who bought you as an individual? Was it a PE firm who ended up? Because now you're I'm sure you're big at this point. You got, you know, you're worth millions at this point. There's not too many people running around millions in their pockets.

    Ron Holt: [00:28:14] Yeah. We had it was we had 93 locations at the time. Um, and we were fortunate to be able to sell to a family partnership that focused on home service franchises. And they were really looking for specifically a cleaning brand. And we were the largest brand available for to the for the market. We were we had built the two maids from this one store location in Pensacola to the one of the top three residential cleaning brands in the country. Wow. Uh, over that 19 year time frame.

    Pete Neubig: [00:28:45] How many franchises do you have when you sold?

    Ron Holt: [00:28:47] We had 93 locations open.

    Pete Neubig: [00:28:48] 93 locations.

    Ron Holt: [00:28:49] Yeah, yeah. It was it was a pretty, pretty cool journey.

    Pete Neubig: [00:28:54] So tell me about Pink Zebra. Now, um, as we get ready to wind down here. So tell me a little bit about Pink Zebra. So you found a pain point. Typical entrepreneur decided did a little bit of research, said, yep, I can do this all over again. And did you start with the franchise model right away or are you grinding it out? Where are you in the life cycle of Pink Zebra?

    Ron Holt: [00:29:12] Yeah, so. We're franchising now. The first two years we just wanted to focus on operations. So we opened two corporate locations, one here in our backyard of Birmingham.

    Pete Neubig: [00:29:20] Here in the ham.

    Ron Holt: [00:29:21] Yeah, the ham. And then the other in my college, um, hometown of Athens, Georgia, and said, let's go, you know. And so we had to learn everything, like the basic stuff like, where do you get trucks to? To much bigger stuff, like how do you get customers, you know. And so that was also coming on sort of the back end of the boom from Covid. During Covid, there was this real real estate, you know, boom. And we were on the back end of that. And so.

    Pete Neubig: [00:29:49] In 2020. But, uh, I could think of 2 or 3 franchise models of moving companies already. So you're you're working into a different world than you did back in 2003 when you when you were starting out

    Ron Holt:  [00:29:50] for sure. Yeah, that is true. And that early on I was like, well, gosh, these guys have been there, done that. You know, like, where do I see my place? And so I, I'm a I'm a big fan of this book called The Purple Cow. A guy named Seth Godin wrote it. And it's a. Nominal book. It's actually 20 plus years old now, but the basic principle was if you were to drive through this pasture of, you know, the in the country where there's a bunch of cows, they all would look the same and you would drive past them and never remember that moment in your time or in your life ever again. But if one of those cows was purple 20 years later, you would remember that moment and that time and that place when you saw a purple cow. So the same thing occurs in a business. And so I said, I see all these friction points inside the moving industry. Yes, there's some major players that have been around for a long time, but if as good as they are, if they were, have already if if those friction points are still there, that tells me they haven't done something about it. And so I made this big goal for us to create a whole new category. We call it. We call ourselves the world's first happy moving company. And so I wanted to make moving fun. I know that sounds crazy, but I wanted to make moving fun for customers. I wanted people to look forward to hiring a moving company. I wanted there to be some intrigue, some excitement. And so I made that our mission from day one to go out and literally put on a show when we serve a customer. And if you want, I can tell you some things we do, but it's it's a.

    Pete Neubig: [00:31:26] Actual let's. Here, let's give me give me a quick a quick list.

    Ron Holt: [00:31:30] Yeah. So what we're most known for is our free dinner. So the night before a move, we call all of our customers and we offer them a free meal and we deliver it to them. Sometimes they actually say, I want it the night of the move, but most of the time it's the night before. And it's a simple gesture, right? It doesn't really even cost that much money, but it usually creates this really strong, positive emotion. Sometimes it's happy tears, but either way, positive emotion and it gets the whole journey started off on the right way. Moving companies in general treat their customers like they're just a ticket, a transaction, and there's two, two guys show up or more and they're strangers and they work and perform manual labor, and that's how the service is defined. So I felt like we could do more than just perform good manual labor. I wanted to create a relationship with our customers. And so I chose the emotion, fun and happy to do it because.

    Pete Neubig: [00:32:24] funny is money. Yeah, funny means money. Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:32:26] And so we try to bring our customers as close to us as we possibly can by the end of our journey with us. They know who we are and we know who they are. And so it starts with the free food. We everybody loves the free food. Uh, one of our other sort of trademark moves is, uh, toward the end of the move experience with us. We'll leave behind what we call a surprise box. Inside the surprise box is, uh, all sorts of things, from just chocolates and sweets to a personalized gift of some sort. So if you were a, uh, going to make up something here, if you were a Notre Dame fan living in Florida, that's kind of different, right? And we would use that to our we would use that personal knowledge to our, to our advantage. And we would maybe throw in a, you know, a. Irish you just get.

    Pete Neubig: [00:33:11] You just get that knowledge by having relationships with your clients.

    Ron Holt: [00:33:14] And there's a little cyber stalking or.

    Pete Neubig: [00:33:16] You stalking them. Yeah, you're stalking.

    Ron Holt: [00:33:17] Them, but there's a lot of questions. Involved as well. And so we do that. We play music throughout the house. Um, we have a mascot named Zeke who comes out, and he's always fun. We do a little exercise routine to start the day. They do jumping jacks, push ups, you name it. All in all, we think moving is theater, and we literally put on a show. And while we do perform manual labor, there's some hard work done through all this fun stuff.

    Pete Neubig:  [00:33:42] I bet at.

    Ron Holt: [00:33:43] The end of the Day.

    Pete Neubig:  [00:33:43] Moves. Couches before it's not.

    Ron Holt: [00:33:45] Yeah, yeah. Um, what we want, at least at the end of the day, is for our customers to go. Man, that was that was fun, you know? And we want them to tell other people like you, you gotta hire Pink Zebra moving. They're they're fun. Um, because it doesn't have to be so horrible, right? You know, when you think about a moving company that you've hired in the past, if you've ever done this before, usually it's so sterile and at best it's just okay. It's never great, right? It's just okay.

    Pete Neubig: [00:34:12] Take a. Commodity. Almost.

    Ron Holt: [00:34:14] Right. It's exactly. So we we think we can do different. You know, like I said, we call ourselves the world's first happy moving company. And we think that down the road, you ask how we're going to separate ourselves. We think down the road there's going to be people who go, hey, did you hire one of those old school movers or one of those happy movers? And that's us. We're going to start that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:34:34] We're going to create a whole new genre inside moving industry.

    Ron Holt: [00:34:38] Exactly. We're we're right now we're a category of one, you know, but we're going to we think other people are going to follow along with us, including our franchisees, of course.

    Pete Neubig: [00:34:46] Now, uh, how many how many franchisees do you have at Pink Zebra right now?

    Ron Holt: [00:34:50] Yeah, we have. Ten locations open, um, mostly in the southeast because we're based here. But the national growth has begun now. And so we have several we have seven more in Pre-open what we have pre-open takes about four, four months. So we have some as far north as Boston and Jersey, some some down in Florida as we go out far, far out west as Denver, Colorado. And so we're pretty excited about what's in front of us. And again, we're doing this all over again. We've already done this with two majors.

    Pete Neubig: [00:35:16] And I have to assume. You didn't spend any days moving anything.

    Ron Holt: [00:35:20] You know? So yes and no. I have driven the trucks just because I wanted to say I could do it. And I have spent one day out in the field just to say I've done it, but I'm not a I'm not young anymore, you know, and so I can't, I can't this is a young man's profession.

    Pete Neubig: [00:35:34] So. Well, yeah. Exactly. Because I'm thinking like, man, I'm in my 50s, I, I don't really want to be moving, you know, furniture and couches and pianos, you know?

    Ron Holt: [00:35:43] You know who some. Of our best movers are? Females. You wouldn't

    Pete Neubig: [00:35:45] It's really.

    Ron Holt: [00:35:47] Surprising. But yeah, we have some female movers that are really strong people that because they not only can they do the work, but they can relate to the customers. Um, the, the young and gruff men just, you know, sometimes they want to just pick up stuff and move it.

    Pete Neubig: [00:36:01] See thing. Move thing.

    Ron Holt: [00:36:02] Yeah.

    Pete Neubig: [00:36:03] Oh, see, if you're if you listen to this and your property manager and you sold your business, you know, give Ron a call. Maybe, uh, maybe you want to get a franchise with, uh, with the first happy moving company in, uh, in the country. In the world, even, uh, I want to take a quick break, and then we're right back, and we're gonna put you in the lightning round where I'm gonna ask you a series of questions. We'll be right back. Everybody. 

    Pete Neubig: [00:36:24] All right? Welcome back. I got Ron Holt here with Pink Zebra moving. Ron, thanks so much for jumping on the podcast. Are you ready for the lightning round?

    Ron Holt: [00:36:32] I hope so, I'm a little nervous, Pete. So we'll see what happens here.

    Pete Neubig: [00:36:36] All right. Uh, what's one piece of advice you give somebody just starting out in business?

    Ron Holt: [00:36:41] That's a great question. And I love it because I think it's more important than anything else. So I said this during our interview vision. You got to you got to be able to dream big. People get so caught up in day to day nuances of a business, and those are obviously important. But when you go through those day to day operational things, they're going to drag you down. In some cases, some problems are good, a lot of problems are bad. And so when you get caught in that bad, just sort of cycle, you sometimes can say, you know what, this is painful. Like, I'm tired of losing money. I'm tired of dealing with this. I quit. And if you don't know where you're going and you don't know why you're going somewhere, then your work will never feel like it matters. And so if you have a plan, if you have a vision for your future, and you actually articulate and document it, and you truly 100% believe in it, then all those bad problems, even good problems, won't really feel like problems. They'll just feel like a step toward the dream of making that vision come, come to life. 

    Pete Neubig: [00:37:45] Love it. Does pineapple belong on pizza?

    Ron Holt: [00:37:48] Yeah. It's good. Yeah. As long as cheese is on it.

    Pete Neubig: [00:37:55] Okay. What was your first job?

    Ron Holt: [00:37:57] Okay. Well, you mean like as a teenager or as a as an adult?

    Pete Neubig: [00:38:00] Yeah. In general, the first job as a teenager.

    Ron Holt: [00:38:03] So I, um, was on a crew. I'm a big sports nut in my, my dad was too. And so he somehow landed me this job at my local high school. We built the high school football stadium. And so I was this young idiot that didn't know how to use a screwdriver. Uh, building the bleachers and the press box and all the things you need to build a football stadium. So it was very cool. It was eye opening for me.

    Pete Neubig: [00:38:26] Uh, what is your ideal vacation?

    Ron Holt: [00:38:28] Oh, that's an easy one. I am a this is going to sound crazy to most people at least, but I am a huge fan of heat and humidity. Not just heat, but heat and humidity.

    Ron Holt: [00:38:38] So I would go. As far south as I could. Um, and if I could live there. But at the very least, vacation there. So from the Virgin Islands to South Florida, you throw me there and I'll. I'll land there and stay as long as you let me.

    Pete Neubig:  [00:38:52] Right. If you could have. Dinner with anyone alive, who would it be?

    Ron Holt: [00:38:57] I bet you know the answer to this one.

    Pete Neubig: [00:38:58] I do know the answer.

    Ron Holt: [00:39:00] Warren Buffett, no doubt about it. Yeah. Uh, he's he's my hero.

    Pete Neubig: [00:39:04] I think. I don't answer this one, but what is one book you currently reading or one that's impacted your business or life?

    Ron Holt: [00:39:10] Yeah, well, I've read way too many books in my life, but I. I have to say the same thing I've already said, but definitely the Purple Cow. It is a great book. When you read it, you're going to go, well, I get that. That's common sense. But very few businesses actually put those principles into place. People think hard work and money are the secrets to business success. Obviously they're a part of it. Can't do it without hard work or money, but hard work and money alone is not what builds great businesses. Being different and unique is what does that in. Purple Cow is the perfect story to learn from all that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:39:42] Don't be better. Be different. Right?

    Ron Holt: [00:39:44] That's right.

    Pete Neubig: [00:39:45] What Disney character do you most associate with?

    Ron Holt: [00:39:50] Well, you know what? If I just said Walt Disney? Is that okay? If I.

    Pete Neubig: [00:39:55] I'm good, you know? Well, I'm not going to edit it out, so if you want to say Walt Disney, I'm good with that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:40:00] Yeah. I mean. I actually, um, I actually, uh, associate more with Roy than I do Walt.

    Ron Holt: [00:40:05] I could see that.

    Pete Neubig: [00:40:06] On the process guy, you know? So. Yeah. Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:40:08] Walt Walt likes the show, you know, and that's what Pink Zebra movies is known for.

    Pete Neubig: [00:40:12] You know, I'll say Jiminy Cricket. How about that? Well, we'll call you Jiminy Cricket. He's he's the show. He's the showman. Um, what's one challenge you're currently facing in your business?

    Ron Holt: [00:40:22] So the current challenge is I didn't live this at Two Maids, so I had 12 corporate stores and then basically sold 11 of those 12 as franchises and then said, let's go. Well, what I didn't realize is those 11 franchise owners were validators for all the new guys. And so when a new guy hit a valley or you had some kind of issue they were dealing with, they could just reach out to one of those 11. And one of those 11 franchisees said, well, this is how you do it, and this is why you should do it.

    Pete Neubig: [00:40:55] And they're done. Yeah.

    Ron Holt: [00:40:56] Well, here at Pink Zebra moving, everybody's young, our oldest franchisees only 14 months old. And so there's no there's no mentor to look now that will change time. Time will cure that. But we don't have old franchisees right now. So the only people they listen to for mentorship is me. You know, our our home office team. So that's a huge challenge because, you know, it takes some belief there's not enough real life results or success. Um, and so it takes a lot of believing, which we're we're getting there. Things are going really well. Uh, but that's that's our biggest challenge right now.

    Pete Neubig: [00:41:30] Prefer dogs or cats?

    Ron Holt: [00:41:33] 100% dogs. Yeah. Oh, guy. How about you?

    Pete Neubig: [00:41:36] All right. I'm a dog. I have one of each. But I'm a dog guy.

    Pete Neubig: [00:41:41] All right, well, you're out of the lightning round, Ron. So congratulations. 

    Ron Holt:  [00:41:46] Did I. Pass?.

    Pete Neubig: [00:41:48] You've passed Flying colors. So if somebody is listening to this and they want to get in touch with you, whether just to pick your brain or, or maybe even buy a franchise from you, how what's the best way to get in touch with you?

    Ron Holt: [00:41:57] Yeah. So I'll give you two options here. If you're a consumer that just kind of wants to be a part of the show and see what all the crazy stuff that we do looks like in real life, then go to pinkzebramoving.com. We're in multiple markets again across the country. Hopefully we're in your market and we'd love to put the show on for you. If you are interested in the franchise opportunity go to pinkzebramovingfranchise.com. And we've got investment expectations. Um, things that we do for you as the franchise. Or we even got some testimonials from some of our franchise owners to see what their life has looked like so far. Um, and you can also apply to become a franchise candidate with us there as well. So either one of those, if you want to see the show live in an action pinkzebramoving.com, or if you want a franchise opportunity, it's pinkzebramovingfranchise.com

    Pete Neubig:: [00:42:42] And if you want to join NARPM and you're not a member, then go to narpm.org or call them at (800) 782-3452. And if you're looking to hire low, low cost, high valued, uh, remote team workers, then give us a shout at vpmsolutions.com. And uh, we have over 38,000 profiles on the platform at these times. Ron, thanks so much for being here. All right, everybody, we'll see you next time.

    Jun 20, 2024

    The Entrepreneurial Journey: How to Scale Your Service Business | Ron Holt

    Ron also founded Two Maids and a Mop.  He started with one location, franchised it, had nearly 100 locations when he sold that business.  Like a true entrepreneur, you quickly got bored and started Pink Zebra moving.  He aims to disrupt the local moving industry by providing a better, more positive customer experience.