As one of the first employees at TRU Colors, Steve Barnett witnessed the success and failure of the Wilmington brewery first-hand.
“The belief was that we was gonna start a business and a bigger brewery was gonna come and buy it out, and then we was gonna exit millionaires, but that ... didn’t happen,” Barnett said this month.
TRU Colors was a mission-driven local brewery established in 2017. Led by CEO George Taylor, the brewery hired active gang members with the goal of curbing gang violence in Wilmington. But the business closed abruptly in 2022 amid financial struggles, leaving its employees to figure out what to do next.
Now, Barnett and his business partner, Anthony Brumm, whom he met through TRU Colors, are building their own project: Manly Moving Company.
The two met about five years ago, right after Brumm got out of prison. Brumm and Barnett, who also spent time in prison, are very open about their past.
“I’m trying to evolve past just being a Blood, but that’s how we ended up meeting,” Barnett said. The two don’t harbor resentment for their time at the brewery, they said.
“I needed to go learn; that was like college for me,” Barnett said.
“It has always been about hustling to get some money for me,” Brumm added. “So, when I got to TRU Colors, George emphasized that entrepreneurial spirit.”
They hope to build on TRU Colors’ mission with Manly Moving, which they established in the past year.
But the idea for a moving business was born before Barnett started at the brewery.
When Barnett got out of prison, he struggled to get back on his feet. He felt he could succeed through a traditional career, but no one would give him the opportunity to do so.
Eventually, he landed a part-time job at a moving company, doing intense labor for a low wage. After seeing the breakdown of a contract and noticing how small a share he was getting for his work, he decided to create his own third-party moving company and take advantage of the contract work that was there for the taking, he said.
He said he started compiling his business plan when he met Taylor. He said he trusted Taylor’s confidence in TRU Colors’ potential payout, though, in hindsight, he wishes he trusted his gut about his moving business, he said.
After the brewery closed, Barnett and Brumm started working in violence interruption and outreach for Port City United, a community intervention initiative that New Hanover County formed in 2022. They said they enjoy continuing to work with their community but also needed additional income. Now, they’re building Manly Moving while continuing their 9-to-5 at PCU.
By supplementing their own incomes and providing livable wages for their eventual hires at Manly Moving, they hope to continue to curb violence in the community.
The goal is to be able to provide jobs for every community member who needs one. Barnett said that not everyone landed on their feet after TRU Colors closed.
“We couldn’t bring nobody with us,” Barnett said. “There’s still guys out there right now that’s hurting.”
“A lot of guys had to go back to that lifestyle that they knew before TRU Colors closed,” Brumm added.
Brumm said that continuing to do work in their own backyards is important to them because many people who build careers don’t stick around. Brumm and Barnett want to create the resources they didn’t have when they got out of prison, helping their friends get well-paying jobs as soon as they get out.
“I want to be able to give them something to come home to,” Brumm said.
The two already have plans to add many more members to their fleet of movers, they said. Barnett’s excited to tell those he plans to bring in on the business that they’re not going to work for him, technically, but they will be able to own their own truck.
As the business stands now, Brumm acts as a dispatch manager and COO, and Barnett does the actual moving and fills the lead role of CEO. They are a team of four, have one truck and are working on getting third-party residential and commercial moving contracts. Barnett said they hope to make enough money in 2024 to add more truck.
“Seeing the upsides in this market that we’re in right now, currently, there’s a whole lot of room for everybody to get paid,” Barnett said.
Both in their 30s, the Manly Moving partners can look back and say, “Everything happened the way it was supposed to,” Brumm said. Both have faced their own personal challenges over the years including financial hardship, growing up in the foster-care system and suffering from PTSD and depression.
But they said they don’t let their past dictate their future, adding that they are ready to move on and build something within their community.
“Honestly, we don’t even see anybody who don’t want us to win,” Brumm said. “We’ve always had barriers and naysayers that don’t want to see us win, so we’re used to that. We block it out and focus on the vision and success.”