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Our guest is COO Alliance Member Roman Cowan, COO at College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving.
Being successful in company culture, branding and marketing, and even with franchisee satisfaction are just some of the things that College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving pride themselves with. College Hunks is the premier moving, junk hauling, and hourly labor service. It is also the fastest growing moving franchise in the country. One of the people behind its success is Roman Cowan, the Chief Operating Officer. When he started with the company, Roman’s natural charisma led to him acting as an unofficial leader for the financial teams and affiliates. He has officially been playing the COO role since 2016 and has guided the company to achieve record growth in that time. He joins us to talk about his background, the skills he’s had to have to come into the COO role, building their brand, overwhelming the market, company culture, and more.
College Hunks Hauling Junk & Moving COO, Roman Cowan
Roman Cowan is the COO for College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving. From humble beginnings in Jamaica to success working in accounting at a national outsourced call center in Tampa, Roman leveraged a positive mindset with goal setting and execution to achieve his personal goals. Roman has led the financial teams of College HUNKS and its affiliates over the years. He’s officially been playing the COO role since 2016. He’s been seeing the company grow by record revenues and profits in that time. He is also one of the founding members of the COO Alliance. Over the last couple of years, he and I had become good friends. Roman, it’s great to have you on the show.
Cameron, it’s great to be here. Thanks for having me.
Tell me how you came into getting involved with College HUNKS. How did they find you? How did you find them? Give us the background.
It’s somewhat an interesting story, Cameron. I met them in my senior year in college. I was going to the University of Tampa. My entire graduating class in the business school did a case study on College HUNKS Hauling Junk and we formed about 60 groups. Those 60 got filtered down to about five groups that got to present to Nick and Omar. Nick and Omar are the Founders. My group was in the top five. I made somewhat of a good impression back then. I tried to join the company at the time, though I was passionate about the brand, they weren’t as passionate about me at the time. I was young. I didn’t have any experience. Nick and Omar advised, “Go and get some experience in the real world and follow up.” That’s exactly what I did. I don’t think they expected me to follow up with the level of perseverance that I did have. I reached out a few times via LinkedIn. The opportunity came in 2013 where I was able to join the team. That’s pretty much how we got connected was through me staying connected with Nick and Omar via LinkedIn several years after being turned down for a job.
I’m sure the perseverance is what attracted them to you right away as well. Tell us a little bit about your rough background and what gave you the skills to come into the COO role then.
I grew up in a pretty humble background. For whatever reason in my time in Jamaica, ever since I was a youth, teenage years, I always somehow had people following me who were my age, younger and oftentimes much older than myself. There were some innate leadership abilities that I didn’t recognize at the time. It was natural for me. Over time when I went to college, it continued to happen. When I came into the company as the Financial Controller back in 2013, I soon started leading the team unofficially in the sense that Nick and Omar were the acting presidents and CEOs, but they were often moving around. We started following the Traction model, which is a form of managing your business using a language that allows you to communicate throughout your organization.
Traction is something that we utilize here at College HUNKS. When I read the book, I found myself acting much like the integrator role. Nick and Omar, the President and CEO were acting more like the visionaries. It was an organic fit based on my historic, natural leadership abilities. My experiences going through college where I had a marketing degree and accounting degree, I went again and I got my CPA and Master’s in Accounting as well as an MBA. After the textbook knowledge, I went out and got some industry-relevant experience when I worked at a large call center with College HUNKS having a large call center. As a T-Mobile Master dealer, I was pretty much an accountant that did everything for that operation. I got some good real-world experience along with my natural leadership abilities that positioned me well to be considered for the COO role a few years ago, which I accepted.
I’ve teased you along the way because obviously, I came out of the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? background. I’ve always teased you that you are solid number two. In a lot of ways, you are number one. You have done a fantastic job with your company culture. You’ve done a fantastic job with your marketing and your branding and even your franchisee satisfaction. Your franchisees are super happy. Talk to us about what you believe are some of the core competencies for College HUNKS then.
From a core competency perspective, I’d probably say what differentiates us from the competition is that we are truly values-based. Our BHAG or our long-term vision in summary says we want to become an iconic brand. For most people when they hear that, it sounds vague. We say, “If you think of the business as the Apples, the Starbuckses and the companies that you are going to spend significant amounts of money with where otherwise you didn’t have to. For example, paying $4 or $5 for a cup of coffee where you’d pay $1 for that same coffee in a white cup. That’s the type of brand we’re trying to become. We want to be recognized for our culture, which we’re starting to be recognized for our client’s service experience and our franchise partner fulfillment.”
To do so, we think if we are purpose-driven, values-based and socially conscious we can get it done. We are actively trying to become more socially conscious in our franchise partners territory all across the US and in Canada now. Share at the corporate level where we’ve partnered with Feeding Children Everywhere, an organization that allows us to donate two meals for every junk job we do or remove job we complete. That’s something that takes us a little bit further from a moving company or junk removal company into a purpose-driven, socially conscious company. We celebrate our core values every day. We hire. We retain, we promote and we quite frankly fire based on our core values and we take it extremely seriously.
Those are some of the things that are separating us apart from the sizzle which is our name. It’s the fun, catchy name College HUNKS Hauling Junk and then our fun colors are orange and green, but beneath the layer, we are much more. When I come to work every day and I look at the type of people we’ve let in, I like to call them our lion pride. What we’re trying to do is an interview and sifts through people that don’t quite fit in the pride and that doesn’t make them any worse or any better. They can be a tiger somewhere, but we’re trying to get a pride of lions. They all have one commonality, which is culture for socially conscious, purpose-driven and they fit our core values. That I think is what differentiates us from a lot of different companies out there.
I’ve seen you as a company living that whole purpose driven, values-based and socially conscious as well. One of the things I was impressed on the values-based side, you invited me to speak at your company conference. You had about 400 people at your conference and I came out to do a keynote at it. About a few days before I was set to arrive, you called me to let me know that someone fairly senior on your team had been let go and it was because of a values breach. A lot of companies don’t make those decisions. You made a pretty tough decision at a pretty tough time. Can you walk us through how you as a leadership team rationalize doing something that was senior? How that’s played out?
First off, in the earlier years, we weren’t doing enough to prevent people that weren’t a core value fit to come on board. We would hire based on skill and not so much based on values. We’d end up paying the price for that. Any leader in any good organization will tell you that’s a recipe for disaster in the long run. When you’re a startup, you’re going to need those experts to get you through. There are enough candidates out there that if you call yourself a pride of lions. You can skip the cheetahs, the hyenas and whoever else. They’re not any worse. We can go ahead and skip those. Even though they can get the job done, they won’t fit. That’s the first thing that we’ve done is implement it as a screening step during the interview process where we have our team members and myself. I do this for every team member we hire. I screen them for core values fit.
Even though we get it wrong, upfront we tell them, “Here’s what we’re looking for and let’s not join this team if you can’t fit in.” In regards to the situation that happened at our conference, this was a key employee, someone that I consider a friend, but there was a significant violation of our core values. It wasn’t a question of if we’re going to make the decision, it was a matter of when and how we communicated. We pride ourselves with great communication. We reached out to our franchise partners, who quite frankly that individual had great relationships with. We explained not in detail, but we explained that something happened and we had to part ways and I think we handled it well. We’ve been commended since for how it happened. We let that employee step away with dignity. We hope that they’re doing well and we’re going to continue to chug on as well.
The hiring process is when you’ll avoid having to fire those people. Ben Horowitz and his book, The Hard Thing About Hard Things talked about how many companies skip over that. They start to externalize and blame why they fired somebody. They blame the person. Instead, what he tries to do is get them to do an introspective and look at their own contribution as to how they let that person get into the company, how they onboard him maybe improperly, how they maybe didn’t train him properly, how maybe they promoted him too far. You have done a good job of recognizing that at a pretty early stage. About your marketing, you came out with colors that are pretty out there. Orange and green aren’t exactly colors that anybody would grab as company colors, but they’ve stood you proud. You can see your trucks for miles as they’re driving down the road and your signage everywhere. Can you walk us through some of the beliefs that College HUNKS has in marketing? Maybe the guerrilla marketing side or the branding, positioning or anything that you think has helped you build your brand?
What I would say that our beliefs are you overwhelm the marketplace and own your market. We teach our franchise partners proprietary information about how to do so. Any person that’s in a market where there is a College HUNKS franchise partner, they should feel as if they’re 5X the number of trucks that we have in that market. That’s when we say you’re winning. When people are saying, “You’ve got so many trucks around here,” when there are only two or three trucks. We believe in overwhelming the market. We believe in excellent customer service, which is the first line of a great market. We think that if you want to retain and have repeat clients and referral clients, excellent service is where it starts. That’s why we want to become that iconic brand where when a College HUNKS franchise partner does a job in someone’s home, that person speaks about that job for weeks and weeks to come.
Hopefully, we’re going into the right people’s homes, the target audience. They’re talking to people who are similarly made up so that we’re getting more repeat jobs that are relevant to our industry in terms of our average ticket. We call it the average job size. We believe in standing out. You mentioned the colors. I’m sure you’ve read the book, the Purple Cow. It basically talks about if you see a field of cows, the black and the white typical or brown cows, you see one big old purple cow. People are going to drive pass and stick out and look and say, “Look at that.” People might even be interested in going up and saying, “I want to see the milk from that cow and not the milk from the other cows.” It could be the exact same but that allows you to stand out from the bunch. I love competitors as well. If you stick our truck beside them, the average person is going to take a look at the big old orange and green one.
We’re big on standing out for the right reasons, obviously for the physical appearances aesthetically. We’re also big on standing out for our service, which I mentioned our service philosophy. That’s a huge piece of our success in gaining so much market share in the moving side and on junk removal. We’re big on overwhelming the market in the sense that we want to appear larger than we are. It’s now that the image of College HUNKS that has been portrayed out for years has always been much bigger. The brand has always been much bigger than who we are as a company. As we’ve been doubling every two years, we’ve caught up to the brand, which is awesome that I’ve been able to be a part of the team to do that.
You’ve talked a couple of times about overwhelming the market. How do you do that?
We don’t want to give away the recipe if you’ve got a secret sauce. Some of the key things we do, I’m familiar to 1-800-GOT-JUNK is finding great parking, obviously finding good office locations. For example, one of our corporate stores moved opposite from one location to another location that was more prime. We saw our revenues doubled month over month from moving from one location to another location. We paint our offices very bright. They stand out. It won’t be discreet when there’s a College HUNKS near you. We do activities based on zip codes. I can’t give all the proprietary information, but we do go out and do the typical door hangers and yard signs.
Anyone that’s familiar with College HUNKS is going to say, “Yes, I’ve seen the yard signs. I’ve seen the trucks.” The activities are online. We’re doing a ton without programmatic or display, we advertise on YouTube, Facebook, Instagram. Standard PPC where we think we’re going to win by getting in front of people. The more we get in front of people, we think that if you get in front of the seven different ways, it’s going to leave a lasting impression so that when they have a need, they won’t think about who they’re going to call. They’d already made up their mind. That’s a key ingredient. I can’t get into all the specifics what we coach because otherwise we would encourage you to buy a franchise and you could come in and learn all of that.
The visionary role is played by Nick and Omar. How do you sign off on their vision? How do you get on the same page with where they want you to grow the company? How do you get them to sign off on your plans and what you plan on doing to execute their vision?
First off, they have a long-term vision, which I try to make sure it fits within the realm of what’s possible. If you know the acronym, SMART: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic and Timely, I try to make sure that the vision is something that we can articulate. To folks when we sit down in an interview setting or to our team members because quite frankly, we want a vision. That’s not shared with all of our team members but shared by all of our team members. We create a vision cheat sheet when we put it all around and we talk about it periodically. We talk about different milestones that we’ve hit. If we’ve hit a certain revenue target or if our franchise partners are doing something, or for example, when Zappos started to follow us on social media. That was a huge milestone for us as being recognized as a world-class culture. Those are some examples.
In terms of them being held accountable to the vision that they set and we interpret it, understanding it, taking that and executing it. We meet once a month. It’s an all-day affair with both visionaries, Nick and Omar and myself. We go through a list of items that I might bring to the table or they might bring to the table of whether it’s something that I’m executing on or my team is executing on or something my team has brought up. I want their advice as a visionary so that I’m not going out of the realm of their vision. We sit down and we’d go through all those items on the list. It’s a part of the EOS process. It’s called our same page meeting.
We do a monthly same page meeting on the same day every month. We go through every topic that they have. Most of the time, it’s to get the idea out of the visionaries’ head because they’re entrepreneurs. They’re thinking about 100 things a minute. It’s oftentimes easier for them to be able to dump it on someone like me who can take it and push it off as opposed to bringing it to the team and distract us from what we want to focus on all year. We do have objectives that we’ve set out at the start of the year. Had those thoughts kept getting interjected every other day, it would distract our team from getting things done or getting the big-ticket items done. I take most of those and I see if there’s anything inside of that feedback from the visionaries and see if there’s anything I can take back to the team now and try to implement along with what we’re doing.
It’s a good process. It’s allowed us to stay connected. It does get tense at times because we don’t always agree, but once we leave that room, we’re committed. We have a strong trust and a strong bond between us. Even when things get heated, once we get out of there, there’s a tremendous amount of accountability that they know I will have for this action steps that we’re coming out on either side. There’s a tremendous amount of confidence knowing that we’ve committed to whatever decisions we’ve made. Nick often brings a lot to the meetings and 80% of it, I push back or I put in what we call a parking lot to be addressed later. He understands that’s not to demean or to say anything that he brings to the table is not important. It’s to understand that we have a lot of things to focus on and we can’t overwhelm our team with different requests that don’t align with our vision. It’s a tug of war and trying to make sure that we stay aligned to our long-term and our short-term vision.
How do you work with your franchisees? Do you actively coach your franchisees? Do you teach them the systems and let them run? Can you give us maybe some insight there?
We have a ratio that we try to maintain of franchise business coach as we call them to franchise partners. About 25 to 30 franchise partners have a dedicated franchise business coach. We also have financial coaches where we have an in-house financial services organization that we’ve built out that does the accounting and bookkeeping for our franchise partners. They set their books up from an org chart perspective all the way out. We do monthly calls with them to talk about where they are compared to the benchmark, compared to targets and help them with forecasting the following year and have different conversations about, “Should I get this new truck? Should I move to that office? Should I hire this GM?” those conversations. We have an in-house marketing coach, separate and apart from our franchise business coaches, that goes to our franchise partners and helps them with specific marketing-related activities. If there was a franchise partner not ramping up at the level that we expect, we might send the marketing coach.
We also have what we call a ramp up coach, which was one of our franchise business coaches. This role specifically stays with the franchise partner for their first six months or so or for locations that are struggling to ramp up like others are doing. We might send out the ramp up coach to a location that’s not growing as fast as we expect in a certain market. On top of that, we have a move-specific coach because moving is a little bit more technical of a field than junk removal is. In junk removal, you’re going to take that. Oftentimes persons don’t care if their item was damaged unless it’s being donated, but it’s a lot less care needed and a lot less technical expertise needed on the junk removal side. On the moving side, you need technical training. We have a move-specific coach. I would say we support our franchise partners a lot more than most franchisors that we encounter, but it’s paying dividends where we see our unit level economics increase year over year substantially. We had over 30 locations do $1 million this year for example, which is amazing because it was only a few years ago that we had one or two people in The Million Dollar Club. Now almost 30% of our system is there. We’ll have close to 50% of our system doing $1 million, which is an amazing accomplishment. We have a tremendous amount of coaching.
Talk to me about the value side of the business. You talked about being values-driven. Maybe give some examples on the value side, but also talk to us a little bit about the culture and how you build a culture inside the head office and also with your franchisees?
We have four core values. Unlike a lot of companies where you have some nice sounding core values, we talk about our core values. We live them on a daily basis. One of them is to create a fun, enthusiastic team environment. When Nick and Omar started the company, they were both in an office job. They were not fulfilled. Even though they do think that there are people who don’t necessarily need to be entrepreneurs like myself, for example and others that work for them. They wanted to make sure that they built a company that was fun. When you went to work, you said, “I want to be there.” The fun, enthusiastic team environment core value is huge for us because we want to create an environment where people want to go there, but it’s not about ping pong tables and pool and laughing in the office.
Fun and enthusiastic team environment for us is about creating a safe environment where someone who’s introverted feels accepted. We do PI, Predictive Index profiling where we say if someone is a little bit more outgoing, we are going to treat them differently. If someone wants more structure, they’re going to have a traditional 8 to 5 job. They might not have as much flexibility and not as much work from home. We basically try to tailor our leadership approach to our individual team members, which has paid off. That’s a part of creating a fun, enthusiastic team environment. Always branding is the second one. A lot of people tend to think it means wearing a shirt or looking nice, but always branding is pretending you’re on a stage and there’s a fly on the wall when you’re having a conversation. Someone is watching, someone could share this conversation.
Always branding could mean not gossiping. It could mean being an optimist, not a pessimist. It could mean many things. In short, always branding is about how you represent yourself and trying to become a better version of yourself each day. Building leaders are the one that resonates with most people. A lot of people come into this organization to help build young people into better versions of themselves. We also say we want to spend a significant amount of time on that person themselves, that franchise partner becoming a better version of themselves personally and professionally. If someone enters our organization as a hunk or the franchise partner or what we call grand central team member, if and when they leave, a better version and be able to exit and do great things and ultimately may come back.
Finally, we have listen, fulfill and delight, which is that wow factor, which is going above and beyond for your team members, for your franchise partners and for the end customer. Those are our core values. How do we try to build the culture every day on a daily basis? We have monthly all-staff meetings at the local level. We have these at the corporate offices as well. We have daily huddles where we talk about our core values every day. We share what’s going on in the different business areas. We call them teams. We read books together like The Five Dysfunctions of a Team where we talk about trust, having healthy conflict, having the commitment, accountability and results. We have our team members read Traction so that they’re all on the same page to how we operate. We recognize people for living our core values every day. We shout out someone who has lived their core values and we explain what our core value means.
There’s so much that we do from a core values perspective to help build their culture. I couldn’t tell you each thing right now because it’s daily, weekly or monthly. The biggest thing that I could say that we do that helps our culture be what it is, is we listen. That’s that last core value. We genuinely do listen. Our team members get to chime in on the vision that Nick and Omar set. We’re going to have an idea jam where all of our team members are going to sit in a room and sprout out ideas where we want to be in the next several years, where we want to be in the next few years, we’re going to write our vision. Those ideas get to Nick and Omar where they’re going to sit down and write their vision. Unlike a lot of companies where maybe the visionary is sitting in the room and come up with a vision on their own, we sit and we listen to our team members. When coming up with our annual rocks or quarterly rocks, these are objectives for those who don’t know EOS. We listen to our team members. We listen to our franchise partners and we try to hire people that will do the same and will care about people. Hopefully, that helps you understand our culture a little bit better.
You’ve done an amazing job with culture, with values and you’ve also codified everything. It’s not like it’s something that’s loose. You’ve done a good job with codifying it and branding it. It sounds like bringing it deep into the organization. You almost make it too easy. Are you struggling with anything anywhere? Is anything tough?
What I would say is tough is with the job market improving, franchise sales have taken somewhat of a hit. It is something that’s happened industry-wide where folks are not necessarily leaving jobs to come and start new franchises as much as we’d seen when the job market wasn’t doing as well. I wouldn’t say it’s a struggle because our existing franchise partners are doing as well as they’ve ever done. They are more profitable than they’ve ever been. That’s an area that we want to improve on. We’ve had some misses on some key hires that we’ve had in the past. We’re putting some systems in place because I don’t think people fail. I do believe that systems are the ones that fail. We missed an opportunity when it came to hiring senior leadership to have a system that helped us vet people properly and not necessarily listen to consultants and those outside of our organization. Some of the misses were from a cultural perspective. We’ve got to take that as seriously because you’ve got to set the tone at the top. We struggled a little bit with that. We are actively working through that process. We’re on a good path to making sure that we solve that error and we won’t make it become a mistake, which is a continued error for us.
How do you filter for that? How do you find out if the people are the right cultural fit in the interview process?
I almost begged people after explaining what a lion looks like. I had mentioned the concept of the lion. What does it look like to join our pride, our tribe College HUNKS? What type of person do you have to be? I almost begged that person. I said, “Please, don’t join our team,” because oftentimes we’re relocating folks from other states. “I would hate for you to be relocated and then it turns out you’re not a fit. You painted your stripes to look like a lion. It turns out you’re a cheetah, which we like cheetahs or you’re a leopard. Now, we have to fire you because you’re going to mess up the hunt. We all crouch at the same time. This is how we operate when we’re getting this gazelle and you’re messing it up.”
I know that’s a somewhat simplified way to look at it, but you basically can’t hide your spots for too long. I upfront tell people here’s what we’re looking for. We will train for it. If you slip up in a certain area, let’s say you come on board and I’m the old company you used to gossip all the time. That’s a part of the culture. You come here, we’re going to say, “Knock it off.” If you knock it off, we’re good to go. If you can’t knock it off, if you start treating people differently based on their age, their sexuality, their gender or their religion, that’s another violation of our core values. We’re going to ask you to find another role somewhere else, not inside of College HUNKS.
In the interview process, we spend a lot of time trying to give people a fair understanding of the expectation and begging them not to join our team if they know they’re not aligned ultimately. We ask them to be introspective after explaining what it looks like to join our tribe. I’ve picked this up at the last COO Alliance event that I was at. We’ve added group interviews for senior leadership hires, which is something that we hadn’t done out of somewhat respect for the rules or whatnot. Out of respect for what we’re trying to build here, we’re going to be doing that. One of the things that we were going to start doing is if we have five people interviewing for a role. We’ll ask each five individually, “Who would they hire if we needed to hire two,” and that should help us. We’ve tried that and it was pretty powerful seeing that. I picked that one up from you, Cameron.
You are doing a great job with all this stuff. How about yourself personally? Where are you growing? Where are you working on in terms of your leadership skills?
Every day I try to learn. I’m an introspective person. One of the things that I’m working on is trying to maintain my humble stance on things. My nature is to be humble when it comes to most things, but as any success will do with anyone, it can change you. I’m working on staying grounded. What goes up I do believe will come down. I want to make sure that I’m still the person that is approachable, friendly. No matter what level of success I might see, I want to maintain the core of who I am. It may not be the traditional answer you would hear. I’m big on family. I’m big on genuine friendships, having meaningful conversations with people that are not surface level. I’m trying my hardest to maintain that as I have seen my career progress year over year in a positive way. I don’t want it to compromise my personal wishes because the one thing I do believe is not to be on your deathbed thinking I wish I did. I would like to think every day if I were on my deathbed, would I do this or not? That’s helped me a tremendous amount.
You’re totally a values-based guy. Every interaction I’ve had with you, those are hugely apparent. What were you saying about your team?
That was just me personally. I’m big on the personal side. In terms of leading my team, I have an active group of mentors. You may not know this but I call you one of them. I reach out to my mentors as much as I can because I do accept that I am young, but also I don’t know everything. That’s okay because many people have written about so much that I can read. It’s something that I didn’t do when I was younger. I watch a lot of TV. Reading has helped me. I’ve mentioned a few books that any business owner should be reading, The Five Dysfunctions of a Team, for example. The reason is what I work on getting mentors and joining groups like the COO Alliance where I have a bunch of likeminded folks that are going through the exact same things that I am going through.
No matter how big or small they are relative to my company, it’s interesting that we share common successes, but more importantly common challenges that we can talk through. I have enjoyed your group because of that and not because I’m on this show why I’m saying that. I generally enjoy that. At our company, we have a professional development budget for every team member where we encourage our team members to utilize that to become better versions of themselves and come and help our company as we double up for a year when we don’t want the company to grow past our team members. We try to help them each year come along for the ride.
Can you talk about how radical transparency, what that means to you and how you practice that daily ongoing through your business?
Sometimes we get criticized for being a little bit too transparent. I’ll give an example. Prior to us being extremely transparent, everyone complains. We hear some complaints about something here at grand central or the website or the call center did something or there was an outage. Now we said, “We’re going to communicate whenever there’s anything going on.” You could see the heightened level of awareness once you start to be transparent. What it’s done for us is allowed us to set the tone for the organization, for the leadership team to let our franchise partners and our team members know that we’re going to be very transparent with them. Whether it’s good or bad, we want our team members and our franchise partners to know that we’re going to be honest and transparent and we will tell them though what we’re doing about it. For example, if we have an outage in our call center, we’re going to tell them this is what happened, here’s why it happened and here’s what we’re doing to make sure it never happens again. Though we cannot prevent issues, it’s critical that we take ownership when something bad happens and we explain what we’re doing to fix it.
It’s not only the bad stuff. We’re transparent with a lot of the good stuff internally. We don’t necessarily brag about how many meals we always give away or what we’ve done from a charity perspective because it takes away from what we’re doing but internally we share those stories. We share numbers. We share so much. We have a benchmarking report that I’m happy that I was a part of building where we have our franchise partners that are participating with our bookkeeping service where we stack rank them from a profitability perspective. We share who are doing well from a labor perspective, from marketing, from a percentage of revenue perspective, from an NOI, net profit perspective. We share that with all of our franchisees across the system and allow them to say, “I have the same revenues as you. I did $150,000 this month. You did $150,000. Why is it your home team?” which is what we call our labor costs, “Why is it your labor cost is 18% and mine is 25%?” You can have those conversations.
We’re an extremely transparent organization. We communicate well. We have a FAC, Franchise Advisory Council, where we meet with them twice in person. We go over what every single team at our corporate office is doing. They get to poke holes and ask questions. We even have FAC subcommittees where members of the FAC break off into what we call subcommittees. Members of our FAC have a sub marketing committee. Folks who are interested and have an aptitude for marketing might sit in the FAC marketing subcommittee and talk through what we’re working on. They can help influence what we’re working on, likewise in IT, in accounting, in our operations team and so on and so forth. I can’t necessarily go into specifics, but I can say we’re extremely transparent of what we share.
You’re juggling something that a lot of COOs don’t have to juggle and that’s you have two CEOs. You’ve got two cofounders that operate as CEO. How do you juggle two guys? They’re both fairly different in terms of their personalities. I’ve spent some time one-on-one with Nick and then also some time one-on-one with Omar. How do you juggle both those guys? How do they operate with you?
I think of myself as extremely lucky, fortunate or blessed or whatever word is there to describe the situation that I’m in because Nick and Omar, fortunately, are a Yin and Yang. Omar is laid back. He’s the true CEO if there ever has been one. He fits the profile. He is not as structured as Nick is. Whereas Nick is the one who’s pioneered so much of what’s made us successful. I would say Omar is more of a true visionary. He’s the one who thought of the idea in college. His mom gave us the first beat up cargo van to do with the junk removal. Omar is the true visionary in the spectrum of visionaries. Whereas Nick is somewhere a hybrid between the visionary and integrator.
I was able to look at Nick in my few years when I came on in 2013 and take from him the integrator side of his behaviors and his patterns while I was reporting to him. I’ve learned so much from Nick. Even though Nick and Omar are in the same roles, I spend more time communicating with Nick in the sense that he’s a little bit more connected to the day-to-day. Omar is truly the visionary. It’s almost like a true visionary, the true integrator and myself and then Nick in the middle of that. It’s a very good dynamic when we have our meetings. I am the tiebreaker. Having someone like Nick that has the frame of mind that I have, he understands things a little bit better on my side. He also understands things a little bit better on Omar’s side. I don’t want to say it’s easy because all of our arguments end with respect. I’m in a good setup. I’m grateful for the two guys that I get to work with as our visionaries.
You have done a good job with having a good strong debate and good conflict and then walking out of the room with consensus and with respect. That’s a powerful part of your success at College HUNKS for sure. It’s something that I don’t think Pat Lencioni in The Five Dysfunctions of a Team talked about was how do you wrap up that healthy conflict? How do you wrap up those meetings and walk out with respect? Is there anything that you do to finish off that good healthy debate and healthy conflict so that you walk out with respect or is it an underpinning of your core values?
It’s how we start the meetings. We set the tone where everything we talk about here will not be personal. Everything we talk about here will be about what it is and not who it is. I do think what Patrick laid out well was the foundation being trust. When you have a healthy amount of trust, no matter what you talk about, you know that person is thinking about a positive or you go to what we call a generous thought. I should mention something else that Nick brought to the table. It was on an Oprah Winfrey series that she does. There was a lady who spoke about marvel and trust. She talked about acting with generosity towards people. That’s been molded into our fiber and a part of our culture. Generosity is not, “I see somebody walk in with a bunch of groceries and I want to offer help.” That’s kindness and we hope that our team members are kind.
Generosity is in the face of an argument or in the face of someone doing something despicable or mean or whatever you take it as, you think to yourself, either, that person might be going through something or your mind goes to the generous place. We sat down and watched this in 2014. It stuck with me. We have our team members watch it when they come on board. That helps us so much. If Nick, Omar and I are yelling at each other about something we are in disagreement on. Let’s say they won the argument in the state because there’s no winner or loser, but let’s say their side of the argument is what we went with. I come out of it not thinking, “They’re foolish.” I come out of it thinking, “They’re thinking that because they’re thinking the best interest of the franchise partners.” Even though I think different, I have to understand that. I train my mind to act with generosity.
If someone even where to say something rude, even in my personal life, I see it happening. If someone were to maybe say something that would be negative about me or gossip, I think immediately, “They’re probably going through something with their spouse. They’re going through a divorce. They’re trying to soothe themselves by doing that.” It’s not being negative or whatnot. Nick, Omar and I have grasped that concept. We try to inspire that into our teams and then ultimately into their teams where we act with generosity with each other. There isn’t anything that they could literally say about anything to me. I flip it positively. It’s a part of being optimistic. Watching that video, it explains it well. It’s acting with generosity towards your team members and anyone that you interacted.
Have you ever read the book, The Five People You Meet In Heaven? It’s a great little read but that’s what it talks about. One of the examples I always remember is when we’re driving in traffic and that person is speeding and they cut us off, our normal response is to get upset with them. The book tells the story of the guy who’s racing to get to the hospital to see his daughter deliver their first child. All of a sudden you’re like, “Go faster.” It does change everything. It is a mind shift that you have to work on. Roman, you’ve been with College HUNKS for a few years, can you tell us what’s one big lesson that we want to wrap up with? What’s one big lesson you want to give to anyone who may be in the COO role or any emerging leaders in their companies? What’s one big lesson that you’d like to give them?
It’s all about the people. Everything that you will do and no matter what level of success you’re trying to achieve, it will depend on the people you have supporting you. The people that you hire to figure out who you want on your bus, the type of people, not technically, “I want an IT leader. I want a marketing person.” Who are the types of people you want and try your best to get the hiring right. If you don’t, fire quickly and move on. Even if there’s chatter around, put your head down and make the right decision. That’s the last piece that I like to share with folks. Cameron, you said we’re all going on the same path to a grave. Early graveyard death or whatever you do, cremate. I would say not to take life too seriously. Don’t put yourself around people that you can’t go and see on a daily basis. Though you should have independent and different types of thought process in a diverse group, I would definitely say the people that you bring on board, make it that they like being around each other. We’re all going to die so might as well have fun while we’re working. That’s my last gift to anyone who wants to hear it.
Roman, thank you. We are all walking each other home. I appreciate you sharing. I appreciate you running such a great business. You do a great job of living your core values. Congrats to all of you.
Thank you for having me, Cameron.
- College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving
- COO Alliance
- Feeding Children Everywhere
- The Hard Thing About Hard Things
- Purple Cow
- The Million Dollar Club
- The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
- The Five People You Meet In Heaven
About Roman Cowan
Roman started his career with College H.U.N.K.S. Hauling Junk and Moving® as the corporate Financial Controller. He experienced tremendous success transforming our finance team into the force it is today, through driving greater focus on understandability and transparency of our financials and metrics. He has taken on other roles in the company during his tenure, heading up several departments along the way while being instrumental in holding the leadership team accountable to our business plan, Franchisee needs, and our overall financial health. Roman was promoted to VP of Finance and Operations, where he is tasked with continued execution of the business plan and expanding financial accountability to the entire corporate team. His accountabilities include ensuring the health of the corporate team (financial, operational, emotional), and executing on our core focus, which is franchisee satisfaction.