17 Trucks and a Blonde
|by Kim Epp Frenette, June 2013|
Somewhere around their late 50’s most couples start thinking of retirement. Not so Dottie Coll and her husband Ray – they thought about starting a new venture. After researching several opportunities, they decided in 2005 to buy the area franchise for Two Men and a Truck. Dottie, a petite and polished blonde who was already a grandmother, found herself in the moving business.
“Initially I thought I would be in a support role to Ray, more of a helper,” recalls Dottie. “As things unfolded we realized it could be an advantage if we each concentrated on different aspects of the business.” Dottie surprised herself with how much she enjoyed taking over the marketing, the interface with the public, and day to day operations.
“I loved it. I love just about every aspect of it – dealing with small business, networking, being able to provide jobs for people.”
In fact, Dottie Coll took to her new life stage with gusto. Two Men and a Truck has flourished, opening a second location in Sewickley in 2010. Dottie is now a well-known force in the South Hills (and Pittsburgh) small business community and she is a strong advocate for new businesses – particularly those run by women.
The current success of Dottie’s business doesn’t mean it was an easy start. Pennsylvania’s regulations for the moving industry allow competitors to file legal protests to halt new entrants. The Colls finally bought an existing company’s authority to get around the issue, but it was a long and difficult struggle. It only served to make Dottie more determined.
“Going through all that and making the capital investment…at that point I was totally committed. Whatever it takes I was going to do it, whatever I had to learn, whatever I had to do, I was going to make it work.”
Indeed, Dottie had to learn about her new industry from the ground up, from safety issues, regulations, big trucks (which she admits to finding intimidating) to dealing with vendors and promoting the fledgling business. None of that was part of her prior life as school teacher and stay at home mom, but some skills from those rolls where transferable.
“Because I had taught, I was able to do public speaking. I am not shy about talking about my business to anyone who will listen. It also helped with customer service. We put a big emphasis on customer service. And then multitasking… that comes naturally to school teachers!”
Dottie became very involved with the Brentwood Whitehall Chamber of Commerce, at the time somewhat male oriented and a little daunting given what she terms her “Mad Men World” upbringing. She got over it. “(At first) I assumed they knew more than I did. I learned from watching and listening that they weren’t necessarily smarter. Lots were in family businesses and they were just doing things the way they had always done.”
Dottie started a women’s networking group at the BWCC. The monthly luncheon meetings have become extremely popular and many a local newbie female entrepreneur can thank Dottie for important connections or an encouraging comment.
“I do believe women really need to support one another. I can appreciate what women have to go through to start a business. You have to step of out your comfort zone, put family on the back burning, rearrange your priorities, and you have to keep coming back at it.”
Dottie adds that, “In my age group women were not socialized to do that.” She doesn’t think that should stop women of her generation, or any, who want to venture out into business or the workforce.
“Do not underestimate yourself or your ability. Wisdom comes with age. In the long run it is an asset. You don’t realize how much wisdom you have accumulated until you get out there with others and you see what you have to contribute.”
“The other side of the coin is you have to be open to change, to new opportunities and to doing whatever differently. There has to be a willingness to see things differently.”
Dottie’s willingness to see things differently paid off. She and her husband started the business, as she puts it, because “we did not want to depend on Social Security or the stock market for retirement. It absolutely worked. I am writing pay checks for over 50 employees, including my son and son-in-law.”
There have been other benefits too. “It has opened up a whole new world. I can’t tell you how many people I have met….It is quite a ride to pour yourself into a new business. It takes a lot of hours, no way around that. But the other side is you see what is yours. You see it growing. You are literally at the steering wheel.” At least if you own a lot of trucks
We met with Dottie Coll in late May of 2013. She was happy to share her story and her insights with Wise Women and thinks women shouldn’t hold back from participating in business and in their communities. Below are some excerpts from our conversation.
Best surprise discovery in business:
It is really rewarding to be part of the economy and help people who might not have pay checks if we weren’t growing through the business.
Networking pays off.
Why she thinks PA’s moving industry regulations are antiquated:
I have never protested anyone (from entering the industry) and I am not going to. The consumer should make the ultimate decision as to who thrives and not.
I have very little patience for fraternizing with the Good ‘Ole Boy system. That’s why I send my husband to talk to them
Why she won’t stop:
I love getting out of the house and doing things. I don’t want to retire; I don’t golf; I don’t want to go to Florida. I love my grandchildren but I don’t want to babysit everyday!
On a newer generation:
Younger women accept and expect to work their entire lives and to have a career. There is more of an expectation to be a financial contributor. I think it is really good; it changes the relationship between a man and a woman.
Benefits of women working:
It changes parenting. Fathers have to invest more time in raising their children, inside and outside – not just for sports but for day to day things… I see that in my sons. They are amazing how involved they are, cooking and care giving.
How her grown kids perceive her:
They still think I am mom and ignore the fact that I work everyday. They still expect help with babysitting and driving kids to and fro. I am sharing that more now with my husband, so even we have changed!
On work/Grandma balance:
I had a 2-year old on my lap for an hour today at the office.
A family affair:
Early on two guys had just quit. My daughter said her boyfriend had worked for a mover. I said, “Please, get him over here!” So I had experience right under my nose and I took advantage. He is a great guy. It made me a little nervous but it worked out. They got married; he is now our general manager.
On life long learning:
Life gives you experiences wherever you are. You have the opportunity to learn through those experiences. When I was a PTA mom at the State and National levels I learned Roberts Rules of Order. It’s come in handy.
On the new world order:
We can’t go back to a Mad Men world. That is what I was raised in. It is much healthier for women to put themselves out into the world. The world is a better place with the women in it. There needs to be a balance.
A speaker at a meeting said “you have to meet your fears every day, and do something to push yourself, and your business forward. “ I try to do that. You are not going to be successful every time but when you get a couple of successes it motivates you to keep going.
On foreseeing success:
Who knew?! Nobody – least of all me!