At fast-growing Gorilla Movers in Sun Prairie, fun is a key to retention.
From the pages of In Business magazine.
Gorilla Movers of Wisconsin is a family business that’s still riding high after being named one of Dane County’s best small businesses at the annual Dane County Small Business Awards. In fact, this was its second notable honor, having earned a silver award in Madison Magazine’s 2017 Best of Madison reader survey — as a write-in candidate!
The company appears on the fast track to success, thanks primarily to brothers Dustin (33) and C.J. Olson (35), and lifelong family friend Curtis Wilson (34). Mom Sue Olson is the glue that keeps the office running.
Madison eastsiders Dustin and Wilson founded Gorilla Movers in April 2015 and C.J. quickly made it three men and one truck. Each had previous moving and/or managing experience before being egged on by a casual customer to get bonded and insured.
The company has since grown to nearly 30 employees and a seventh truck will arrive soon.
Sue pinches herself. She thought she was headed to retirement after a career in accounting and management when the boys announced they’d be pooling their money to buy a truck. Now she’s overseeing the business side of things and is thrilled to be working alongside her sons and other family members. Even her grandchildren get into the act, helping prepare promotional items for giveaways.
“I remember asking Dustin, how do you know what needs to happen?” Sue recalls. “Basically, we all learned on the job and one thing led to another, to another. We were so naïve.”
Gorilla Movers handles residential moves primarily but is pursuing corporate accounts, as well. The only thing they won’t move is a gorilla, the owners joke, but they’re making a name for themselves moving other unusual items, like a 1,500-pound gun safe or hot tubs.
The company works hard to make a hard job fun. Pieces of equipment have nicknames: Chug, a noted gas-guzzler, was the company’s first used truck. Kenny is the company’s first Kenworth truck and allowed for entire-house moves. There’s also Transformer, Donkey Kong, and Kerchak. Iron Kong is the motorized dolly used for the gun safe.
Committed to supporting veterans, Gorilla Movers employs nine young military vets representing all branches of the service. “They are the greatest group of guys I’ve ever met. They’re fun, committed, and proud of who they are,” C.J. says.
And while many companies struggle to find employees, this gorilla troop works hard to make it difficult to leave. The company decided early on to focus not just on customer service but also on employee retention and recognition, as well. For example, it will pay for two massages per month for moving staff. “They need it for their health. They’re movers!” notes Sue.
The company also schedules employee events such as rafting trips, paintball games, Mallards games, or dinner out.
But it’s not all fun and games. Moving is tough, sweaty, and the potential for injury is high. Three-man crews are assigned to each truck for safety and efficiency, and the company pays for uniforms right down to the tennis shoes (management wears gray, staff wears blue). “Shoes are our biggest uniform expense,” C.J. says, “but we’re keeping our guys safer, and it pays for itself 10 times over.”
One day soon, Sue hopes the company can offer employees insurance. “This industry has the highest worker’s comp claims. Knock on wood we haven’t had any, but it’s just so expensive.”
After starting the company, Dustin (who was not available for this interview) and Wilson worked 14 months without ever getting a paycheck. “We just kept looking to the future,” Wilson says. “We also had good women supporting us and pushing us forward.”
The company’s goals include having 100 trucks serving Wisconsin in the not-too-distant future, and it has plans to expand into the Milwaukee market soon. Other states are also a possibility.
One thing is certain, Sue insists: “We will never be a franchise. With 12 grandchildren, we have too many kids who will grow up in the business.”
Gorilla Movers of Wisconsin Inc.
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