Ron Holt likes to be disruptive.
After starting, growing and selling a company that shook up the housecleaning industry with its innovative performance-based compensation model, the Birmingham-based entrepreneur now aims to disrupt the moving industry with Pink Zebra Moving, currently expanding across the country.
“I want to create a real legacy,” says Holt. “It’s not just about making money, but about growing a business to change an industry. That’s my motivation…to keep moving and to totally change how people perceive moving companies.”
Since selling Two Maids & a Mop for an undisclosed amount in 2021, Holt says he gets calls or messages “every day” from people asking for advice on starting and growing a successful business.
“The problem is, everybody seems to want to take quick steps to success,” he says. “And I tell them, ‘I’ve got the solution for you and I’ll give it to you for free.’ But when they hear my way is really a 20-year plan — it took me 19 years to achieve my dream — yeah, it really scares them. It might not take them that long, but it’s just not an overnight thing.”
Back to the Beginnings
Twenty years ago, Holt started a residential cleaning service in a 250-square-foot office in Pensacola, Florida, and developed it into one of the fastest-growing cleaning companies in America. He sold the company in 2021 for an undisclosed amount and turned his focus to moving and relocation.
Two Maids & a Mop was shortened to Two Maids after its sale to Home Franchise Concepts and has continued to spread across the country with franchises from Connecticut to California. The company’s pay-for-performance plan allows customers to rate the team that does the work and their pay is directly tied to that rating — the better the job and more satisfied the customer, the more an employee gets paid.
And while Holt founded his cleaning business based on his research into scalable business opportunities, his latest venture is much more personal.
“A few years ago, my mother-in-law was downsizing in Birmingham and hired a moving company to move some of her stuff to her new place and the rest to storage,” Holt says. The experience was a nightmare, he continues, with the bill at the end of the move triple the original quote and a good many of her things damaged.
That prompted Holt to put on his entrepreneurial glasses and take a closer look at the moving industry nationwide. What he found was a lot of dissatisfaction — and an opportunity. “I started by Googling moving companies in Seattle, Omaha and Miami and checking their Yelp reviews to get a quick feel for the industry across the country,” he says. “And in all three of those cities, I found my mother-in-law’s experience being replicated over and over again. I felt there was an opportunity here — I was already involved with franchising with Two Maids & a Mop and I decided to use a lot of what worked to create a successful moving company.”
“I love going to work, which is probably weird to say out loud, but I love it. Not just because I like staying busy, but I have a purpose,” says Holt. “Take Two Maids & a Mop — my purpose there was to build it into a nationwide brand, and I now want to do the same thing with Pink Zebra, and we want to do that by disrupting an industry. So every day, every minute of my workday means something now.”
Founded in 2020, Pink Zebra started with a Southeastern base, but this year opened the doors to nationwide growth. Holt says they are expanding into places including Oklahoma City and most recently, Denver, Colorado.
“To do that, we want to be different than everyone else in our industry, so everything from our name to the colors that we use to our slogan,” Holt continues. “Our slogan is ‘We Make Moving Fun’ — because nobody thinks moving could be fun, right?”
From surprising customers with dinner the night before a move or leading an exercise/stretching routine before starting work to playing “happy” tunes throughout the house and sometimes having Zeke the Zebra visit if children are involved, Pink Zebra constantly seeks to impress customers with the unexpected.
And Holt implemented a performance-based pay system, similar to Two Maids & a Mop. At Pink Zebra, he calls it the pay enhancement plan, allowing customers to rate their satisfaction after a move. “It works because it gives employees a sense of ownership and purpose,” he says. “Their pay is directly based on how well they do their jobs. The happier the customer, the more the employee is paid.”
Taking on a new industry may be intimidating for some, but Holt says he is pulling lessons he learned with his first company to drive his success with Pink Zebra.
“Franchising was this foreign language to me when I first started 20 years ago,” he says. “And we made a lot of mistakes along the way. I knew the business, but I did not know how to teach others the business, and that’s the key.”
Holt accepts he made mistakes when he began the franchising process with Two Maids & a Mop. “It’s not as simple as sending out a manual to a new franchise,” he says. “Just being good at your business is not enough if you want to go the franchise route. It takes a lot of hand holding to get people from the idea that they want to own a franchise to actually growing it and making money on it.”
Other challenges he faced included not knowing exactly how to create and staff a call center and how to best utilize marketing agencies.
Best Laid Plans
His best advice for budding entrepreneurs? “First, dream big,” says Holt. “Dream as big as you could ever dream. Like maybe you want to dominate your ZIP code or maybe you want to disrupt an industry like we’re doing, but whatever it is, build that dream in your head and then figure out a way to make it happen.
“After you make a plan, break up that plan into chunks — what do I want to do in 2023 and what do I want to do in the first quarter of 2023? Once you have that plan and the shorter-term objectives,” he explains, “when you succeed, celebrate and recognize what you just did. Have some fun. For me, that’s always kept me going. That’s what gives me the fuel and the confidence to take the next step and the next.”
“If you don’t provide yourself with fuel during that journey,” he cautions, “at some point you run out of gas and you quit. And that’s the best thing and the worst thing about being an entrepreneur…there’s only one way to lose. I feel like most people who end up quitting quit because they forgot why they started their business in the first place.”
The Next Dream
Holt continues to dream big with his latest venture, recently converting Pink Zebra to a franchise-only based business, so he can concentrate primarily on the creative side of things and can support each location so they can thrive. “My big dream now is to totally change how people perceive the moving industry. I want to see that through,” he says.
Holt plans to work “as hard as I can” for another 10 years to see how far he can take Pink Zebra. “This is it for me. Fifteen years from now, I want people to see Pink Zebra as the Starbucks of the moving industry.”
Jennifer Williams and Art Meripol are freelance contributors to Business Alabama. She is based in Hartselle and he in Birmingham.
This article appears in the July 2023 issue of Business Alabama.