01/17/2014 11:46 am ET Updated Mar 19, 2014

Women in Business: Q&A with Melanie Bergeron, Chair of Two Men and a Truck

Melanie Bergeron officially joined the family business in 1989 when she was awarded the first TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® franchise in Atlanta, Ga.

Bergeron also maintained a career in pharmaceutical sales while operating the franchise because all profits from the franchise were being reinvested into the family business.

Eventually she left her pharmaceutical sales career to focus on her franchise full-time.

At the request of her mother, Founder Mary Ellen Sheets, Bergeron came to work at the home office in Lansing, Mich in the 1990s. In 1994, Bergeron was named president of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®. In 2002, she became chief operating officer and in January 2007, she took over as CEO. She became chair of the board in 2009.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
In my early years, my family was lower-middle class working toward middle class, which taught me a lot about the value of hard work and leadership. My parents were never afraid to get their hands dirty and work incredibly hard to get the things they wanted, which gave me the inspiration and confidence to do the same. Now, I appreciate and recognize when others are ambitious, energetic and work hard to reach their goals. These are the very people I strive to be associated with.

I started working at age 15 in retail, then went on to be a waitress, bartender, even a magician's assistant! I've also had several different kinds of sales jobs, selling air conditioners and mainframe computers. I was a food broker, had my real estate license, and finally got into pharmaceutical sales. Even though they're all different, these jobs had one thing in common: serving the customer. I've always wanted to exceed my customer's expectations; I'm a people pleaser. As a leader, I have always wanted our team to hold these same values for customer service. One of our core values at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® is something we call the 'Grandma Rule,' which says, "Treat others the way you would like your Grandma treated." In other words, with patience, dignity and respect.

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as a board member of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®?
Working in pharmaceutical sales taught me a lot. At their annual conventions, they would bring in thousands of reps and really focused on training for a successful product launch. We had to know the basics, like the features and benefits of the product, but we also had to learn strategy, like how to combat competition and develop a method for consistent delivery. Then they would deploy us all out to our respective sales areas and we would execute with consistency. When I first took over as President for TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®, it was before the Internet and there were no franchising books that I was aware of, so I pulled from what I knew, which was the pharmaceutical industry. As a result, our franchise model focuses on providing solid training, consistent execution, and high quality customer service.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
The work part of balance requires knowing when to stop. After work, I turn off my phone, get off my computer, and turn into the mom, wife, daughter, volunteer or whatever it is that I need to be. As a leader, you set the tone. If you are checking emails at your child's birthday party, your staff will constantly be checking email at their family gatherings as well. Be present in the moment. The life component of the work/life balance, to me, means taking care of yourself so that you have the stamina to take care of others. Sometimes that means getting up an hour earlier to work out, eat healthily, get enough sleep, and take some quiet time for yourself.

I do think there is a third component to the balance. For me, that's faith. I became a very good expert at balancing work and life over the years. On the outside I had it together, but on the inside I was absolutely exhausted and worn down. A friend helped me to realize that I may be lacking inner peace. So I began my true faith journey in my 30's. Prayer helped me achieve inner peace and calm immediately. For one, give thanks every day; gratitude brings peace. Even on tough days when you aren't feeling so thankful, there is still much to be thankful for-- just look around you. Second, prayer for me is also a time of self-reflection. I know my weaknesses and/or trials, and I ask God to give me strength to get through them. You are never alone. Third, prayer helps me prioritize. God will show me (if I ask Him) what is most important in my life and where I should be spending my time for Him. The faith journey never ends and will lead you a peace you've never known.

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®?
It started with a lot of challenges, like lots of work with no pay and no money. We were operating out of the upstairs of an old house and I didn't really understand franchising. The first highlight was from our governor at the time, Governor Engler, who gave us a grant for one free year of consulting from Deloitte and Touche. This was during the recession in the 80's and the governor was trying to create jobs. That was a huge turning point--the consultant taught me everything there is to know about franchising. He told me the reason why we didn't have money--we weren't charging enough. He assured us not to feel bad because many women don't charge enough for their products or services. Back then, there were only two of us in the office; today we have 102 staff members!

Since that first set of challenges, the blessings and highlights have been phenomenal, and I'm incredibly thankful. At first, we wanted to get to 50 franchises, then to 100. Now we are at 260 locations in 37 states and four countries, with 1,600 trucks on the road. Similarly, at first we thought, "If only we can get one franchise to hit the $1 million mark." Now 61 percent of our franchisees hit that annually. Currently we're up 20 percent with 24 months of consecutive, double-digit growth. We're on track to hit $315 million. Our customer referral rate is at 96 percent. Our secret sauce is our great, hard-working people throughout the system that understand customer service and know how to deliver it. We're very excited about the future!

What advice can you offer young individuals hoping to establish a business similar to TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®?
The best advice I have is to seek out and use the resources that are available to you. Join your local chamber or industry association so you can build relationships. Making good impressions, whether on other industry folks or with your customers, is the best kind of advertising because it's grassroots and usually free. Also, seek guidance from the people who have experience, like insurance agents, bankers, or leads groups. These are all low-cost ways of learning the best business practices.

If you're interested in franchising, do your research--state regulations and restrictions are all different. Then think critically about your franchising plan. From a consumer standpoint, is your product or service sustainable? What will your customer demographic be 10 years from now. From a franchisor standpoint, will potential franchisees be able to get financing to start with your company? If you decide to move forward, get your name trademarked immediately. Work with a franchise attorney to put together your FDD (Franchise Disclosure Document). Start working on your operations manual. Make sure your current location is profitable. You have to find success on a small scale before expanding operations. Also, use the online resources. Go to or visit the International Franchise Association (IFA) website. You can also get a mentor through FranSHIP to help you through the process and give you seasoned advice.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
I think being prepared for uncertainty. No business, job or career has a 100% guarantee of being sustainable. Consider on-going education; you never want to be obsolete in the market place and a better skill set gives you more choices. I find it very empowering to have my finances in good order. Work with a financial planner. Perhaps you'll start your own business one day, at the very least you want to be financially prepared for when you do decide to make a change or retire.

Another issue is women feeling trapped in their workplace, in a rut, unchallenged, unappreciated, facing burn out. Take control! Change your landscape through volunteering, taking a class, changing the industry in which you work. Pray about it. Doors will open.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I haven't read Lean In yet, but I think that Sandberg has had a really important and positive impact for many women in business.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
My personal mentors have been my mom and my grandmothers. One had her own hat shop (she made hats) and the other was a nurse and farmer. I was always inspired by watching how much pride they had in their work, never complaining and working hard. I also serve as a mentor and find it extremely gratifying, especially when I can help others based on my own experience. I belong to many groups (IFA, YPO, Chamber, CEO Group). Networks are invaluable.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I really admire Dina Dwyer-Owens. We have a lot in common from a business, family and spiritual standpoint. She is a strong, selfless, energetic and passionate leader. I respect her a lot.

What are your hopes for the future of TWO MEN AND A TRUCK®?
Our BHAG (Big Hairy Audacious Goal) has always been to be a billion dollar company by the year 2020 while maintaining a Customer Satisfaction rate of 97 percent. This will be very hard, but it is our stretch goal. The exciting thing about that dollar amount is that we can give even more to charity. Currently, TWO MEN AND A TRUCK® collectively gives more than $2.5 million per year. Since our inception, we have given more than $36 million. Giving back to the community is one of our core values and it is something our franchisees, our corporate headquarters and my family take very seriously.