By Mark A. Diaz
It is common to see businesses raising funds for good causes or hosting food/donations drives to assist those in need; however, few companies will pack the supplies and personally drive them over 1,700 miles to those in dire need. Meathead Movers (MM), a student-athlete moving company, recently helped collect and deliver, free of charge, 50,000 lbs. of goods to Hurricane Harvey victims. The spontaneous philanthropic effort, devised by co-founder and CEO Aaron Steed, is only one in a long list of ways the company has assisted the Central Coast Community and people all over the world.
“I feel like we’re the community’s moving company,” said Aaron, “A lot of people want to help and I have 400 movers and over 100 trucks, and we’re really in a good position to do a lot of good.”
Contrary to popular belief, Cal Poly was not the launching point for the business—that honor goes to San Luis Obispo High School. Aaron Steed was only a junior in high school and his brother Evan a freshman when they started toting boxes. Both boys were athletes, wrestler and football player respectively, and the ability to earn some cash while working around their busy school and sports schedules was a perfect fit. However, it was neither the much-needed money nor the occasional free meal (motive enough for any teenage boys) that inspired the Steeds to create the company, but rather the profound joy of helping people that spurred them on to greater things.
“It may sound surprising, but it’s hard to wake up excited about moving furniture,” Aaron said. “That’s not really what it’s about. It’s about the people and what kind of unique impacts you can make with your business in different ways.”
Since its inception in 1997, Meathead Movers has assisted those in need a number of ways, whether it is bringing aid to those who suffered in the San Diego wildfires or collecting goods for Hurricane Katrina victims. Arguably, the greatest work the company has done is helping those who have experienced domestic violence (DV) and moving them for free to escape a potentially lethal situation.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence states that one in three women and one in four men have been physically abused by an intimate partner.
“Very early on I would get calls from women who were literally pleading with me to help them move,” said Aaron.
People would offer their couch or their TV if the company would help them relocate before their abusive partner returned. MM would perform the move free of charge, something Aaron believes any company would do “because it’s the decent thing to do.”
It was an altercation that occurred when the abusive partner came home during one of these moves resulting in Aaron calling 9-1-1 after a toaster was thrown at him, that made the brothers realize that there might be a safer way of helping. Aaron contacted a local women’s shelter, he was 20 at the time, and worked out a solution that benefitted both parties. MM would help women at the shelter move and if people called in need of help, the company would direct them to the shelter. As the company grew, it continued its work for DV survivors. Currently, there are nine shelters that MM works with.
“I am certain to this day that there is no more valuable way for a moving company to utilize their products and services to make a bigger impact than to be potentially saving someone’s life by moving them out of a domestic violence situation,” said Aaron.
After a 2015 LA Times article highlighting the company’s DV assistance, MM received a tremendous response that stretched across the globe. Seizing the opportunity, the brother’s started the non-profit organization #MoveToEndDV which offers businesses the opportunity to donate products or services to help offset the costs to their local shelter or to pledge how they will use their business to assist survivors of DV. Currently, 209 businesses have promised to help in seven different countries. In October, the Steeds will meet with the Lieutenant Governor of Massachusetts, Karyn Polito, to discuss how to incorporate the program on a localized basis throughout the state.
Apart from its philanthropic work, the company has made its mark in the business world as well. Empact 100, an organization that highlights the top 100 young entrepreneurs (35 and under) in the nation, choose to honor the movers in 2011. Unfortunately, Aaron was too busy to receive the award at the White House but made time to go in 2013 when they were selected again. For six years in a row, the company has made Inc. magazine’s honor roll as being one of the top 5,000 fastest growing companies in the nation. Aaron and Evan were named Central California’s SBA Young Entrepreneurs of the Year by the SBA. The company also has numerous “best of” or “# 1 moving company” awards from central and south coast counties and most recently in the Fresno Bee’s People’s Choice Awards.
The company did not get to where they stand now without some hardships though.
“We almost lost the business three times for crazy reasons,” said Aaron.
When they first started, the Steeds classified the company as a student labor service. The customers would rent the trucks and even pick up the student movers at times. The trouble began when some of the larger moving companies saw MM as a threat and complained to the state of California. Declaring that the MM needed a Public Utility Commission Permit, a permit required by moving businesses, the companies were able to have MM’s phones turned off. It was then that the brothers decided to purchase trucks and become a true moving company.
“I considered it an act of war,” said Aaron.
The worker’s compensation overhaul in the early 2000s also nearly buried the business. The cost to the company increased five times in a short period of time. Their insurance rates went from $50,000 a year to $300,000 a year. As a result, MM had to lay off 80% of its administrative staff, the brothers had to sell a car, and Evan even moved into the office to help make ends meet.
“We were so poor during that time,” said Aaron, “that we canceled the fresh water service to our company. If we were motivated by money, we would have given up right then and there.”
Through that experience, the brothers created a comprehensive system to ensure that employees are safe and healthy. MM is one of the safest moving companies in the nation and is, therefore, able to self-insure. In turn, the company has created an environment that encourages their athlete-movers to ask for temporary duty changes when they feel their backs need a rest. Masseuses and chiropractors are also utilized in maintaining a healthy body.
The Great Recession dealt another heavy blow to the company. During that time, they had to reduce their moving prices by 40%. To make matters worse, their bank at the time pulled the company’s line of credit right before the ‘slow season’ which crippled their ability to make payroll. Aaron said that he had to personally call up his vendors and ask them to renegotiate services to help the business stay afloat. He believes that difficult time ended up building a stronger rapport and sense of partnership with the business they work with.
“This community is so unique and so special,” Aaron said, “the more you give, the more you get in return.”
Aaron believes that one of the reasons the company is still around to do good work is because of the overwhelming generosity of the San Luis Obispo County community.