Alan Chargin will be sharing stories behind how Capitol Hill small businesses got their start. This week, he sat down with Matt Wixon, owner of Bookstore Movers. The following conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.
Alan: So, what led you to owning a moving company?
Matt: It was a very interesting journey. I was kind of in a transitional phase and took a job at Capitol Hill Books, where I fit in very well handling rare and antiquarian books. I was considering grad school and becoming a professor, but wasn’t ready to commit yet, so I just kept learning a lot about leadership from the store’s owner Jim Toole. That, combined with working manual labor jobs in my spare time, led me down the unexpected path to owning a moving company.
What did you like most about moving and manual labor?
I found it strangely satisfying. I responded to a bunch of moving company requests from Craigslist, and I just really enjoyed making the customers happy and doing a tangible job that most people didn’t want to do. I also realized that many moving companies didn’t treat their customers all that well or take each moving job too seriously, so I started thinking that my friends and I might be able to do it better on our own. After receiving enough support from friends and some people I’d met through Capitol Hill Books, I decided it was time to jump in 100% and in 2009 we incorporated for real. It’s been lots of twists and turns from there!
What has changed the most about the business since then?
We’ve grown quite a bit. We now have 85 employees –8 of those at management level. We have 17 moving trucks and a permanent warehouse space in Hyattsville. We’re also looking at expanding to Baltimore.
Was there a moment when you really knew you’d made it?
I wouldn’t say I’ve ever thought we’ve “made it,” but there were a couple moments. When the Washington Post did a piece about us in the beginning, that definitely helped put us on the map. Getting the warehouse in Hyattsville was a super meaningful step for us. Before that, we’d been running the business out of a home office and parking the trucks in rented lots that we could find. Now having the warehouse really gives us a sense of permanence and a stronger foundation from which to grow and expand.
What’s most important to you in an employee?
Honestly, I just need them to be hard working and nice people. It sounds simple, but I’ve learned that while I can teach anyone how to be a mover, I can’t teach them to be a good and nice person. I think that’s a big part of our brand.
Why the name Bookstore Movers?
It’s a nice homage to Capitol Hill Books, where I learned how to lead people and run a business. Also, I’d love to buy the store from Jim if he ever retires!
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve encountered?
My answer is a personal challenge which has impacted me as a business owner. In December 2016, I was diagnosed with cancer–one month after the thrill of moving into our permanent space and two months before my son was due to be born. The diagnosis placed a huge burden on my wife and me as we faced the challenge and continued to deal with the business, while simultaneously celebrating the joy of being parents! Chemo has been tough, but I have every intention of beating this. I’m still working long hours and focusing on spending time with my young son, so here’s hoping I can win this fight.
I’m very sorry to hear that and wish you the best. How has cancer changed your business outlook?
You can’t battle cancer without all your perspectives changing radically. I’ve definitely delegated more than ever before. At the time of diagnosis, we thought I might be dead in a year, so I was in a pretty dark place. We immediately started delegating a lot to other company leaders, who did an extraordinary job keeping us true to ourselves, staying on track, and keeping our employees’ livelihoods intact. I want to run a company that gets work/life balance right, because life is short and you take it for granted working so hard and for such long hours. We’re also actively seeking out partnerships with nonprofits so we can continue giving back to the community that has supported us and contributed to our longevity.
Are there any organizations you’d like to credit or mention?
With my cancer fight, Colontown and Colon Cancer Alliance have been hugely helpful and supportive. They’ve been a great resource for my wife and for me, as we deal with my new reality. As far as organizations that Bookstore Movers is working with, I’d like to recognize N Street Village and Homestretch. They both work to end homelessness, and it’s powerful to hear the success stories. I feel like if our tiny company can help get even just one person off the streets, that’s a huge impact. We’re working towards many more stories like that.
What advice would you give to a prospective business owner?
This is a cliché, but prepare to make sacrifices. And most importantly, whatever you do, make sure your values and your idiosyncrasies shine through. Don’t try to be someone other than yourself just because you’re starting a business: It will be more successful if you’re just true to who you are.
What are your plans and goals for the future?
We have some extra space at the warehouse where we plan to set up an urban farm/garden where our movers can learn a new hobby and improve their “taquitos from 7-11” diet. We’d also like to offer continuing education for employees at our warehouse: financial advice, self improvement, etc. We are actively looking to expand to Baltimore and doing some moves there already. If you’re a go-getter who thinks you’d be a good fit to help us achieve this, please check out jobs page on our website!
We’ll finish with a couple of fun questions. Craziest moving story?
There are SO many of those! I’d say the craziest was when a customer showed us into his basement to move his time machine, made of delicate balsa wood. It was clear to us that he really believed in this machine, so we moved it with as much care as we’d ever moved anything.
Wow. Was that the hardest thing you ever moved?
There have been much tougher, actually. I’d say probably either a wooden old-fashioned telephone booth or some blacksmithing equipment.
Getting back to your roots a bit, what’s your favorite book?
Of the last couple years, I’d say “Greenglass House” by Kate Midford. It’s the first book that made me laugh since the diagnosis, and it reminded me that life can indeed be good.
Thanks for your time today Matt, and again, best wishes to you and your family as you kick cancer’s butt. Anything you want to close with?
Thank you. Our resident haiku-ist wrote a little something for Capitol Hill, the neighborhood that gave us our start.
Narrow walkways and
tricky staircases, but the
Hill welcomes you home.
Comments? Suggestions? Leave me a comment or email me at email@example.com.