Expectations, far exceeded: Marty Luttrell, owner of 30 AtWork staffing franchises, doubled down on luck with hard work
For AtWork Group franchisee Marty Luttrell, it was all about being in the right place at the right time.
Luttrell had a degree in accounting from the University of Tennessee Chattanooga, but was working as an industrial mechanic and couldn’t figure out how to put his degree to work without giving up a nice salary.
Then opportunity knocked: He went to work for his brother, David, an original AtWork franchisee, in 1994. In 1996, his brother needed to cover some workers compensation premiums he couldn’t afford, so he sold Marty the Bristol, Tennessee franchise he was operating.
Their fortunes turned for the better and now Marty and his brother are about to open their 30th franchise.
It wasn’t just a matter of luck – that had to be followed up with hard work, integrity and a habit of doing the right thing.
Marty shared his staffing franchise success story during a telephone interview in May.
Question: How did you get into the AtWork franchise business?
Answer: My brother started the business in 1993 and I came to work for him in 1994. And then a couple of years into that, I think it was in 1996, he had some really large workers compensation insurance premiums come due he could not afford to pay. The only thing he could do at that point was sell off some offices. He had four offices, so he offered to sell one I was managing and doing sales for in Bristol, to me, so I bought that office and he sold off two other offices and he kept one.
So for the next four years, we operated independently, and then in 2000, we came back together and combined our companies. We each owned 50 percent of the businesses we had.
Q: How many franchises do you operate now?
A: We have 29 separate offices. We’re about to open No. 30.
Q: What are the main staffing needs you are filling and how has that changed over the years?
A: It hasn’t really changed much, we’ve done forays into some other areas, but nothing I would consider big. We’ve been doing industrial staffing, basically working with manufacturing, placing entry level positions, usually for flexible, temporary type positions where they need people for three months, six months, two months type of thing. We’ve pretty much stayed to that. We’ve done some in the medical field, but not very much. We’ve done some professional placement, skill-level placements like engineers, IT people, but still that has always been a very small percentage of our business model. The most it’s ever gotten to is about 2 percent of our total revenue. We sometimes work with manufacturing and food service companies, not restaurants, that package food products, like Bush’s Beans.
Q: For what company have you provided the most staffing for?
A: We have provided staffing for more than 300 businesses. We have a lot of clients. There are definitely some we do more staffing for compared to others. One that comes to mind is TRW, simply because we have a lot of locations and we service a lot of their locations. Another large manufacturer we do a lot of business with is Rubbermaid.
Q: Where are your franchises?
A: “We’re all over. We have about 12 in Tennessee, six in Kentucky, six-seven in Virginia, one in Georgia, Chicago, and one south of San Francisco in Salinas, California. We’re in a lot of big markets.
Q: So next year will be your 25th year. Has everything worked out as you hoped it would? Has it exceeded your expectations?
A: I would say it has far exceeded my expectations. I had no expectations when I got into the business. Even though I graduated with an accounting degree, I was working as an industrial mechanic, and I was making pretty good money at a company in Chattanooga. I couldn’t make the switch over to accounting without losing a lot of money so I just stayed on as a mechanic. And it was my younger brother, who’d never been to college a day in his life, that got into this business and got me into it, and when he invited me to join him, I didn’t know a thing about it, nothing at all. It was totally a new thing to me. You may know the story of how John Hall got into it, the owner of the AtWork franchise. He kind of lucked into it as well, in a way. So many things in life just happen to be being in the right place at the right time. I think that’s the case for me, that’s the case for John, that’s the case for my brother.
Q: How many people do you employ at your franchises? What is your biggest franchise?
A: We employ about 140 people. Some locations have a lot of staff, others only have two staff members, we have several offices that only have two staff members. On average, I’d say each location has four staff members. Knoxville has the most staff.
Q: What office sees the highest volume of placement?
A: That would be Morristown.
Q: What are some of the personality traits and work habits that have enabled you to thrive in this business where others fail?
A: I think it just depends on the person’s work ethic and their integrity level. I think it’s a good opportunity, don’t get me wrong, but the fact of the matter is, most people who go into business for themselves fail anyway. That’s just the reality of it. I think a lot of people look at being in business for themselves and think ‘I can do this, it’s going to be great. And there’s really no such thing as a get-rich-quick unless you inherit money. I think it’s a good work ethic, you have to get along well with other people. We’ve found on average, when we open up organic offices from scratch in a particular territory, it takes about three years to get that office to break even. And most people don’t have the resources to do that.
Q: This is an effective way for people to find a job?
A: It is. If I was out looking for a job, back on the market, especially if I was 20-21, I think going to a staffing service is a great way to get a job. You can look at the collection of companies a staffing company services, and you can choose which ones you want work at. And if you do well at those companies – most of those companies, if they see a star come in, they will snag them. Even if you send somebody over for a two-week assignment at a company, and the manager sees the guy and says, this guy’s awesome. Then they call us and say ‘We want to keep this guy on, we’ve got another position for him. It happens all the time. The people who complain, ‘I’ve got to go through a staffing service,’ they’re usually the ones who don’t get hired because they don’t work well.
Q: How do you stay motivated throughout all this hard work?
A: You get up and you do the things you’re supposed to do. Treat people right. For myself, personally, I get up every day and have an hour of devotional time. I think this helps me to keep my focus on the right things and move in the right direction.
For 25 years, AtWork Group has built upon its core foundation of meeting and exceeding the needs and expectations of job seekers and clients seeking a full-service partner to assist with their staffing needs. We’re a leader in administrative staffing, light industrial staffing, nurse staffing, and executive recruitment, nationwide.