Bryan and Rebecca Feldman didn’t know they’d hired a future business partner.
But that’s exactly what they got when the Upstate franchise owners of Two Men and a Truck brought Robert “Robbie” Barnes, a former U.S. National Guard soldier, aboard as their operations manager in 2012.
In the coming months, Barnes, who recently earned a prestigious $50,000 scholarship from the Michigan-based moving company’s founder, will help his former bosses, now partners, establish a foothold in the lower part of the state.
“What I like about this business is that it is about helping people, but it’s also a family atmosphere,” said Barnes, a native of Lexington who graduated from The Citadel in 2007. “The core values of this company are based on integrity and care. We have the ‘Grandma Rule.’ You know, ‘Treat everyone like they’re your grandma.’ That’s just a good way to treat people in general.”
The Feldmans opened their Greenville-based franchise for Two Men and a Truck in 2002.
During the past 15 years, the franchise has grown to include three locations in Virginia and one in Tallahassee, Fla.
All locations combined, the franchise has 130 employees and more than 40 trucks. About 70 of those employees and 20 trucks serve the Upstate.
Barnes moved to Spartanburg almost five years ago after returning from duty in the Middle East and began working for the Feldmans.
In the summer of 2016, Barnes approached the couple about the possibility of applying for Two Men and a Truck’s Moving People Forward scholarship. He was selected as one of three finalists for the scholarship in September 2016.
The company’s founder, Mary Ellen, established the scholarship three years ago to provide employees with a pathway to opening their own franchises.
Barnes said the program requires candidates to go through one year of intensive training that includes coursework and the development of a business plan.
In August, Barnes was named the winner of the scholarship.
“We are very excited for him,” Rebecca Feldman said. “He has worked incredibly hard for us, especially during the past year while he has gone through this intensive scholarship program process. It’s exciting for Bryan and I to see our employees succeed. … We’re thrilled!”
Earlier this month, Ellen visited the Feldmans’ Greenville office and surprised Barnes with oversized check.
“I’m so proud and grateful Two Men and a Truck can create new career paths for so many,” Ellen said in a statement. “These opportunities arise in every one of our locations as fantastic and deserving people are able to move up throughout the Two Men and a Truck system. Robbie was our third Mary Ellen’s Moving People Forward Scholarship winner. … It was such a thrill to walk around the corner of his office in Greenville with a big cardboard check for $50,000 for his new franchise investment. The look on his face was worth more than $50,000. It was priceless!”
Barnes said he will set up his franchise with a location in Bluffton. Hurricane Irma delayed his plans a little bit, but he hopes to have a lease signed soon.
The office will serve a territory that spans counties surrounding Beaufort over to Aiken.
Barnes said his target is to open in 2018 with two trucks, growing to three trucks and 15 employees by the end of the year.
At full capacity, he hopes to have 12 trucks and 50 employees. He will later purchase or build a new facility.
“Win or lose [the scholarship], I wanted to go forward with plans for this office,” Barnes said.
The owners said the location could incorporate some of the new services implemented by its affiliate in the Upstate, such as onsite storage, portable storage, and Value Flex, a new long-distance moving service.
The Feldmans will be partners with Barnes, but Barnes will relocate to Bluffton to run the franchise on a daily basis.
“South Carolina is doing great,” Rebecca Feldman said. “We’re excited to be in this state. Greenville is growing; Spartanburg is starting to pop; and there is great opportunity in the lower part of the state. … We think Robbie is going to do a excellent job.”
Feldman said this isn’t the first time the couple has trusted its employees to spearhead new growth.
In 2012, the Feldmans partnered with Nathan Bocock, manager of the Greenville franchise, to open in Tallahassee.
“We worked very well together and have since purchased the three Virginia franchises with Nathan,” Feldman said. “He has since moved to Wilmington, N.C., where he is part owner in that franchise. We have a funny web of Two Men and a Truck franchises-ownership, but it works for us.”