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Small Business Franchise owner takes junk collecting to new level

Small Business: Company Patterns Service on FedEx

For one local franchiser, describing his business plan as a lot of junk isn’t an insult , it’s a compliment.

Bud Wharton, president of the local franchise of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, opened his business in San Diego in October. The Vancouver, B.C.-based company, with about 30 franchises in Canada and the United States, is looking to change the image of the junk hauling industry.

Wharton knows what he’s up against. He describes the typical image of his chosen field.

“The junk business is relatively easy to get into. As a result, the industry is dominated by shifty, fly-by-night operators. What you would traditionally see would be an old beater truck, loaded to the gills, looking like it’s going to fall off the sides of the truck, not really knowing how secure you feel about them coming into your home and hauling stuff out of the second floor,” Wharton said.

Instead, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? models itself after Federal Express. Its trucks are brightly painted with the company name, and the staff wear uniforms. Everything is standardized , especially the fees, which elsewhere would go up if the junk hauler drove to an upscale ZIP code or saw a fancy car in the driveway, he said.

The junk business is a far cry from Wharton’s previous line of work. He had spent 15 years in the world of real estate and mortgage banking, but after several rounds of mergers and acquisitions, Wharton said he had enough.

He began to look into a franchising opportunity for himself, and heard about 1-800-GOT-JUNK?. Not only did the company look like it was positioned for success, but his experience in real estate helped him see the need for such a service, he said.

Real Estate Background

“Realtors go to list a property, and what do they do with all this junk?” Wharton said. “Or a buyer moves in, and the seller has left behind junk, or they’re going to remodel, and what do they do with it now?”

Wharton had to have some junk hauled once, and the experience left a bad taste in his mouth. But as he researched the franchise, he was impressed that 1-800-GOT-JUNK? took the business to a whole new level, he said.

Wharton and partner Kenny Bartlett invested in the franchise in August and opened in October. A few months later, Wharton launched an aggressive campaign to let the county know he was out there by offering free Christmas tree pick-up immediately after the holiday season.

It worked. In the first few days of the campaign, the company’s customer service center logged about 1,300 phone calls from San Diego. By the end of the campaign, the local franchise recycled about 7.5 tons of Christmas trees, he said.

Other marketing techniques are fairly low-key. Drivers give away “Trash Cash” discount coupons to entice people to try the service, Wharton said.

The trucks are also an effective marketing tool, since the easily remembered name, painted on the side, helps attract new business. More than half the company’s customers first heard about 1-800-GOT-JUNK? when they saw the name on the truck, he said.

High Demand Potential

His next step is to let more people know there’s a service providing junk removal. Consumers looking through the local phone directory will not find such a category, Wharton said.

“At least, not yet. We’re working on that,” he said.

Wharton expects a lot of demand, since his potential customers, both commercial and residential, have plenty of junk. Everything from old office equipment to stuff that’s piled up in the attic , “stuff that people don’t know what to do with” , fits into that category, he said.

Another reason he expects high demand is that commercial clients can look to his service as one-stop shopping. Unlike having a bin on site for dumping, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? does all the loading, hauling, sorting for recycling and dumping for a set price, Wharton said.

Wharton is predicting by the end of 2001, his business will grow to six trucks countywide, with $600,000 in annual revenues. Within five years, he expects to grow to 16 trucks and about 60 employees, he said.

Whether he can do it depends on how much demand there is for junk dealing services, said George Whalin, consultant with San Marcos-based Retail Management Consultants.

Whalin said the corporate parent’s plan is to establish a brand name in the business , which is easier said than done.

Whalin cited Seattle-based Starbucks as a company that succeeded. However, that company did so by creating a concept that hadn’t existed on a large scale before , the coffeehouse as a destination or gathering place, he said.

Now, because of the coffee giant’s success, hair salons, dry cleaners and others are copying the Starbucks business model. But people are already loyal to the hair salon or dry cleaner they already have, Whalin said.

As for a franchised junk removal business, Whalin has his doubts.

“How big can that business be?” he asked. “You have to offer some service or some price to distinguish yourself from everyone else.”


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