More Than an Internship
As the calendar rolled over into 2014, Colin Luz entered the final semester of his college career. In a few months he would be graduating with a degree in Sport Management from Viterbo University, a small private school in western Wisconsin. This is often a milestone that is cause for feelings of both excitement and anxiety; the shackled comfort of routine gives way to the terrifying and turbulent sea of unknown, yet limitless opportunity. Colin was no exception to experiencing these mixed emotions, despite accumulating an impressive resume that included working for the La Crosse Loggers (a baseball team in a league that has produced many successful MLB players) and Real Salt Lake (an MLS team), so he decided to add a sales minor to supplement his degree. In order to fulfill the requirements for the minor he needed to pick up an internship in sales. He hadn’t had much success so he scoured Craigslist for open positions before finding a listing for U-Haul. He went in to inquire about pursuing this prestigious internship and, like most people who visit their local U-Haul branch, left with a potentially life-changing idea.
Throughout college Colin worked at FedEx so he knew the basics of how to load and unload trucks safely and efficiently which got him to think that he should start his own moving company as an internship. After approving it with his advisor he joined the U-Haul Moving Help Affiliate program. After a few moves as a moving helper, Luz did a little bit of research into the moving business before filing the paperwork to become organized as a Limited Liability Corporation (LLC) in February, 2014; Coulee Region Moving Services was born. Before we get too far let’s back up to Colin’s first creation, a project that became the genesis of his career path.
The Influence of HABSL
As a junior in high school, Colin co-founded and managed an organization called HABSL, Holmen Area Backyard Softball League. It was a slow-pitch softball league, featuring 3 teams, open to any Holmen High School student at a cost of about $5 for the entire summer. He coordinated with the Park and Rec for field time and lights, advertised the league throughout the school and booked celebrities for the ceremonial first pitches. The first year was filled with ups and downs but proved to be successful enough to try again the following summer.
Colin spent the months leading up to the second season going around the community to spread the word and gather sponsors. The effort paid off as the league exploded in year two, doubling in size to six fully loaded teams. When all was said and done he was able to provide jerseys for all six teams and pay for the lights at no cost to the players. There was a buzz around the league highlighted by drafting the teams live in the school auditorium.
As someone who played in the league, I can tell you that HABSL was the highlight of the week and a priority on the social calendar. Hundreds of people, including parents, classmates and people from the community started coming to watch. There were concessions, All-Star activities and statistics were even kept for online posting. Colin was the face of something truly special enough that it drew media coverage from a local newspaper and television station.
HABSL left a significant mark on Colin. He loved the work so much (and was great at it, quite frankly) that he chose his major, Sport Management, in order to continue working on similar projects while making a living doing so. His opportunities with the Loggers and Real Salt Lake were enjoyable, to a degree, but they ultimately left him unsatisfied. The work he and those around him were doing just didn’t get him excited, it wasn’t challenging or stimulating enough and the incentives for success weren’t evident. After some reflection, he realized that HABSL appealed to him for an entirely different reason and that the sports component had been merely a coincidence. In actuality, the thing that Colin found alluring was the process of building and cultivating an organization, providing value where it previously did not exist.
Constructing a Culture and Building a Vision
As he began to develop Coulee Region Moving Services there was a central tenet that Colin wanted to emphasize, from which his company’s differentiating qualities would emanate. He felt the area could benefit from another moving company so it was crucial that the business felt as if it belonged to the community, beginning with the name. The Coulee Region, affectionately referred to as God’s Country, is the scenic territory tucked neatly between the bluffs that sandwich the Mississippi River in western Wisconsin and southeastern Minnesota. La Crosse is the largest city in the area and is centrally located making for a logical headquarters for the company. He wanted to re-establish the trust in the contractor – client relationship that he believed had been severely damaged by his competitors. The existing moving companies in the area seemed to have lost touch with proper customer service and in some cases, professionalism. He says, “If you want to change a behavior you first have to change the perception.” CRMS takes great pride in protecting items from damage but if something were to go wrong customers are fully insured.
Luz wanted his moving staff to be comprised of students who had a presence in the community so that they could connect and relate to the customers. Student-athletes made a perfect match; college-aged, visible in the community, capable of performing physically demanding tasks and fit in with the culture he was trying to foster. Colin, who is a good athlete in his own right, has applied several sports motifs to the job. One of the things he enjoyed about his time at FedEx was the youth; it was a fun environment in which everyone worked together while pushing each other to improve through healthy competition. Luz has a sarcastic, dry sense of humor mixed in with his steadfast professionalism that makes for wonderful blend and motivates his staff without condescension. He refers to himself and his staff as a team of “industrial athletes”, going so far as to develop an app for them to track and view their stats, rankings and even Madden-esque mover attributes. Things like this sound simple, or trivial, but are actually brilliant management strategies. They make it fun to come to work, keep morale high and also serve as extra motivation to do a better job; everybody wins.
Coulee Region Moving Services truly has emerged. In 2014 the company scraped by on 80 moves. However, in 2015 they have had the capacity to go for both a higher volume and larger-sized moves. After recently coming off an 11 day period in which they completed 13 moves, they have already seen more than a 250% jump in revenue that will be even higher by year’s end. This is just the start, they are going to keep growing and innovating. Colin enjoys working with U-Haul so he doesn’t plan on buying his own truck at this point but he does have a couple of other ideas for how to expand. In the coming months Colin is going to be unveiling two new tangential services, through his moving company to address some key dilemmas that people face when they move. Being in my mid-twenties I have done my fair share of moving over the last half-dozen years. I’ve had enough, it always ends up being way more work than I anticipate, I’m calling Coulee Region Moving Services next time and maybe you will consider them too.
Colin has also appeared in front of high school and college business students to share his story and give advice such as,“Be open to opportunity throughout college, don’t necessarily go to college to find a career but go to find your calling. Diversify your experiences and be open to trying things in a variety of industries.”
Colin’s story is inspirational – one guy with a relatively simple idea and not much of a plan was able to do something exceptional because he was willing to try and work hard. Maybe his story provides you with the confidence to start thinking about improving your own situation. It took courage for Colin to roll the dice and try to make it on his own but was it really that big of a gamble? Had the business failed he would have traded a lot of his time in exchange for learning some important lessons and skills – sound like anything else you have heard of? (*cough college cough*) I encourage you to try something bold; don’t be afraid to create your own success (whatever that might mean to you). We often settle for the comfort of mediocrity, because it feels natural, even when it is objectively less desirable. Greatness is unfamiliar so it makes us uncomfortable; embrace the idea of being extraordinary rather than selling yourself short.
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