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Is junk sexy? Even if you don’t like getting your hands dirty, you have to respect the incredible growth and smarts of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and in this episode I sit down with Brian Scudamore to discuss his rise to the top, tips on generating buzz for your business and advice for entrepreneurs like you and me.
Here is a bit about Brian: Brian Scudamore started 1-800-GOT-JUNK? with one truck at the age of 18. Today, after years of hyper-growth, the company has over 250 locations in Canada, the United States and Australia. Its success is well documented: it’s been profiled in over 5,000 articles including The New York Times, Fortune Magazine, Business Week and The Wall Street Journal; it’s become an MBA case study at Harvard; and Brian himself has appeared on Oprah). Brian was named Entrepreneur of the Year by the International Franchise Association, as well as to the Globe and Mail’s Top 40 Under 40; 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, meanwhile, was named the country’s second best workplace by Canadian Business magazine.
What stuck out to me (and probably you too) is the 5,000 articles and media appearances. What made a company based on hauling junk so interesting to the media? Also, if he could do it, couldn’t all of us?
Enjoy the interview!
Tickets for St. Louis RISE Lunch on May 5th are now officially on sale (and well sell out in a hurry). You can nab yours here.
This episode of RISE is ever-so-proudly sponsored by:
Johnny Londoff Chevrolet: Johnny is our local presenting sponsor for a reason. He wants to connect with forward-thinkers like you for a deal (and who doesn’t like a deal?). Just by mentioning “The Rise To The Top” you will get no-haggling supplier pricing and Johnny Londoff Chevrolet. A few words to save thousands. Sweet. Plus, Johnny is one of the smartest business folks I’ve met (I mean he is sponsoring this so why wouldn’t he be? Just kidding). He has some of the most loyal customers in the business. People that have been with them for decades. Why is this? Johnny and I kicked off the customer service conversation in an interview and soon there will be more tips from Johnny here on RISE.
Paule, Camazine & BlumenthalP.C.: At some point, you are going to need some legal help. From contracts to IP to who-knows-what, I use Jeff Michelman from PCB and have for years. Why? Because he is the best. Period. His reputation proceeds him and he genuinely cares (as opposed to just caring about the billing like some lawyers). If you have a burning legal issue or have any that might rear in the future, you can reach out to Jeff at Jmichelman AT pcblawfirm.com. Plus you can pick up some legal tips for free on Jeff’s legal video channel here on RISE.
YP.COM: Short, simple and sweet: YP.COM offers more ways for consumers to discover and connect with local businesses (and they have a new slick looking site that is really easy to navigate which is a HUGE plus).
Hey there, freedom fighters. My name is Andrew Warner. I am the founder of Mixergy.com, home of the ambitious upstart, the place where over 1,000 entrepreneurs have come to talk about how they built the . . . I used to watch these 1-800-GOT-JUNK trucks all over the place, and I’d say, “Somebody’s got a successful business picking up junk?”
I mean, my heroes are all people who create new software, new hardware. That seems like a tough innovation, and this guy or some guy out there created a successful business doing something that’s been going on for years. How did he do it? Well, now that I’m running Mixergy I get to find out how he did it.
Joining me today is Brian Scudamore. He is the founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT- JUNK which is the world’s largest junk removal service. I invited him here to talk about how he built his business and this is sponsored by Lead Pages which took my most successful page, the page that I use to collect email addresses which magically converts strangers into leads for me and turned it into a product that you can use.
So if you want to use the page that I use to collect email addresses, check out AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. It will work on your site no matter what your site is built on, WordPress, HTML, nothing, even if you have no site. You can use this URL to collect email addresses for your business. It’s AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. I’ll tell you guys more about it.
But first I’ve got to jump in and talk to Brian. Brian, welcome.
Brian: Thanks for having me, Andrew.
Andrew: So how big a business can you build collecting junk? What size revenues did you guys do last year?
Brian: So we’ll finish this year about $151, 152 million which we’re really excited about. How did we do last year? Some $37, so there’s some great growth n there. The economy is on fire anyways, and we’re still fine every single day. It’s been 25 years since we’ve been building 1-800-GOT-JUNK, and we’re on to a couple of other new brands which I’m going to drew at some point during this discussion.
Andrew: Yeah, absolutely, and I can’t believe that there could be such a big business picking up junk. We’re talking about junk. I looked at the Yelp reviews. We’re talking about things that people can’t stuff in their garbage can that need out of their garage, right?
Brian: Absolutely, someone’s junk; furniture, appliances, debris. They’ve cleaned up their home on the inside, the outside. They’ve renovated. People get junk, and they don’t know what to do with it. They don’t have a pickup truck and ways to take it to the dump so they call us and we recycle about 61% of what we haul away so people feel good about where their junk’s going. And the sense of relief that their junk is gone is what gets people calling us years and years on end.
Andrew: The idea came to you when you were 18-years-old, and you were at a McDonald’s drive-thru. What did you see at McDonald’s that helped you discover this business?
Brian: I was contemplating my future. I hadn’t finished high school. I was one course short of graduation. I was at this McDonald’s drive-thru at a time when the summer labor market was tight. Finding a summer job was going to be difficult, and I thought, you know, what if I just got out and created my own job. And there in front of me was this beat up, old pickup truck. It said Marx Hauling on the side of the truck, and I looked at this thine and went, “There’s my ticket.”
I went out and bought within a week a truck of my own, called myself the Rubbish Boy, had a vision of building something out that would pay for college. It did that and then some. It inspired me to drop out with actually one year left in my degree, and I had to sit down with my father who is a liver transplant surgeon and have that difficult conversation. I said, “Guess what, dad? I’m leaving college to become a full-time junk man” and there was no looking back.
Andrew: You were an entrepreneur growing up. I think I even have a photo of yourself way before you were 18 picking up junk. Why did you see a business back then even in garbage collection?
Brian: Well, I was four and a half years old and did that self-portrait, if you will. It was just a kid like many boys who liked machines and trucks. So I just drew myself a garbage truck. I don’t know if I ever anticipated I would be in that space cleaning up junk. Maybe it was destiny. Some kids dream of being Superman. I don’t know if I dreamed of being a junk man, but here I am today. Again, I love what I do. Being an entrepreneur is the world’s best profession, in my mind.
Andrew: Did you think that it was going to be a business when you originally came up with it, or were you just thinking, “If I get a truck, I can pick up some garbage, pick up a little bit of cash, pay for school. Then I’ll get a real business, a real job, a real life.
Brian: I knew it would be something that would pay for school for me. It would be a part-time job. I didn’t anticipate at that time when I started the Rubbish Boy that it would become what it is today, 150 plus million in revenue, Canada, the United States, Australia, with plans to venture into the UK at some time in the near future.
I didn’t realize that we would employ 3,000 people across those three countries. So our early stage development, it was just to pay for college. And it did that. But then it led me to be bold enough to drop out of school. Where I wasn’t learning as much entrepreneurship in school, I was learning much more running a business, on the street, so to speak. Learning the hardships, all the different challenges that come with being an entrepreneur, going through that start-up phase on my own taught me so much more than college did.
Andrew: You got your first clients by going door to door. Was it just cold knocking on doors and saying, hey, got any garbage, got any junk?
Brian: Absolutely. I’d introduce myself and say, “I’m Brian from the Rubbish Boys. I see you’ve got a pile of junk next to your garage. Can we haul it away for you for a fee?” Gave us a chance to knock on doors, introduce ourselves, and it was a basic business model that didn’t require any advertising in the beginning.
And then started things started to grow, word of mouth. We started to really use our trucks as mobile billboards. So when someone sees 1-800-GOT- JUNK emblazoned on the side of the truck, they know who to call. And the name, the phone number, the website, it all beckons that question of, got junk. Absolutely. Then give us a call.
Andrew: That name is so memorable. But Brian, I remember when I was school, a friend of mine worked at McDonald’s. And I happened to be at McDonald’s with some friends. And he walked over and said, “Hey, I’m working here. Can I get you guys fries?” And we said, “Yeah, great.” And when he walked away, some of my other friends said, “Can you believe he’s so proud that he’s working at McDonald’s?”
They were looking down on him working at McDonald’s. Now here you were a guy, I saw you look good. You still look good. So you must have been popular, I imagine. And suddenly, what if your friends saw you picking up junk and called you a garbage man? Did any of this get in your head and make you say, “This is just not right? I’ve got too much pride.”
Brian: It didn’t. I think I had so much pride like your friend at McDonald’s. It was contagious. I told people I started my own business. I think they loved that idea. It didn’t matter if it was in the junk removal business. Let’s face it. It’s not the sexiest industry in the world.
But people liked the fact that I went and took a risk and did this on my own. And many of my friends came to work with me over the years. Being an entrepreneur, you’re your own boss, you’re in charge, you’ve got the creativity, you get to lead people. It’s an amazing experience.
Andrew: So you’re going door to door. You’re getting people to pay you to take away their junk. You’re starting to make some money. What’s the next step? How do you build beyond that?
Brian: I think he’s famous for one of his quotes of saying these overnight success stories sure take a long time.
Andrew: Sorry. It turns out we lost the connection for a moment.
Brian: Sorry. Steve Jobs said, . . .
Andrew: Steve Jobs. Yup.
Brian: . . . “These overnight success stories sure take a long time.” And when I look at the business that I’ve created over 25 years, a lot of people just think, wow, this business came out of nowhere. No, it didn’t. It’s been 25 years.
So when you say, next steps, part of it was dropping out of school and committing full-time to this endeavor. Part of it was starting to take the money I was making in profits and invest it in more trucks, in more professional trucks, if you will.
Andrew: How long did it take you to buy another truck? To go from that one truck that you paid $700 for to the second truck?
Brian: Took me two years. So ’89 I had the one truck, ’91 I had two trucks, ’93 I had three trucks. And it really started to grow and build momentum from there.
Andrew: And for the first two years, was it you knocking on doors still and still picking up, or was it starting to grow beyond you?
Brian: It was essentially me knocking doors and recruiting friends to have as my Rubbish Boys employees, if you will. But 1991, I learned the art of free press. I called up Vancouver Province, a local newspaper. We ended up, surprisingly, the next day on the front cover.
They came over and Prov did a great story of creating a business because there weren’t many summer jobs, took it into my own hands, and there I was, [??] junk on the front page of the newspaper on the side of the truck. And I got phone calls like you wouldn’t believe and I started to realize there was opportunity here to grow. That if I really focused and set my mind to it and had a clear vision of how to build this, that anything was possible.
Andrew: How did you know what to say to them to get featured? So many other entrepreneurs try it and don’t get any coverage at all. How did you know what to say?
Brian: I kept it simple. A girlfriend at the time said, “Why don’t you call up the paper and tell them about your great story?” I said, “Well, what’s the great story?” And she said, “That you’ve created your own job. It’s awesome.”
And so I thought, okay, I’ll pick up the phone and say, “I’ve got a great story idea for you.” And they said, “Shoot. What is it?” And I guess my passion rubbed off on them, and they loved the idea and came by, and here we are today. We wouldn’t have been where we are today without all that free press. Anything from even getting on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, Wall Street Journal. Free press is free and it’s been massive exposure for us.
Andrew: At what point did you hire someone to help you get more of that free press and go beyond yourself?
Brian: Probably 1997. So about eight years into the business we hit a million dollars in revenue. This was a brand that really had legs. It could build out in Vancouver and other markets. I needed help because I couldn’t do all the things in the business, and I recruited someone to come in and help did PR. And so eight to ten years later I think we started building PR momentum, and that’s when we started to franchise the business. Ten years in and we weren’t just a Vancouver brand. We were now in Seattle. We were in Calgary. We were in a whole bunch of different markets, Toronto. We wanted to build the brand nationally.
Press was our avenue of getting out there and spreading the word. We used them to tell our story, and our team today we have a team of six people full-time pitching the rest.
Andrew: Do I have this right? I’m on FranchiseDirect.com looking at what it takes to start a franchise, a 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchise. Initial fee $30,000, initial marketing fee $12,500. The fees go up until additional funds for first six months of $56,000. And all in it’s about $110,000 to start a franchise.
Brian: So $100,000, give or take, to start a franchise. We are, for all intents and purposes, sold out with the 1-800-GOT-JUNK. We started new brands, WowOneDayPainting trying to revolutionize the painting world which is also very fragmented, and a company called YouMoveMe where we’re revolutionizing the customer experience in the moving, the local moving industry. Both those brands are also same model. About $100,000 in setup, and we take someone who’s got an entrepreneurial spirit, someone who wants to be an entrepreneur within an entrepreneurial company and help build a great brand.
I’ve always believe that we’re building something much bigger together than any one of us would have ever chosen to build alone.
Andrew: This franchise direction is what allowed you to grow without putting up a lot of money. Where did you come up with that idea? How did you decide this is the way forward for us?
Brian: Back to McDonald’s again. I’ve always been a big fan of McDonald’s, not necessarily the food, but more the business model and what Ray Kroc did. He’s the grandfather, if you will, of the business format franchise, taking that model of using other people’s money and building something much bigger together versus going it alone. I love doing things with people. That’s what charging me up. We don’t have any private offices here at 1-800- GOT-JUNK. We have a big open floor. It’s almost like a Wall Street trading floor with tons of energy. I get my energy from others, from people.
I wanted to build something with people, and I saw that franchise model and came back to it and said, “If Ray Kroc can do it with hamburgers, I wonder if it could be done with customer experience in painting, moving, and, of course, junk removal. And it’s been very successful and profitable for us as well as our franchise partners which really make up the core of who we are.
Andrew: One of the reasons why so many entrepreneurs open up franchises under you at 1-800-GOT-JUNK and your other brands and early friends joined you is because you know how to paint a picture, how to put the vision of the future in their minds and get them to care passionately about it the way you do. What do you do for it? You seem to have a process for doing it. What is that?
Brian: The process came September 17th, 1998. You know, I remember looking back at daytimers and came up with that date. I was at my parents’ summer cottage. They had a little cabin along the water about an hour from Vancouver where I’m based, and I was in a bit of what I call a “do loop”. Am I the guy to build this business, assist the business I want to build any further. I only got to a million dollars in revenue. Is there really a future in junk?
And rather question the fact that I didn’t have the money, I didn’t have the college education, I never completed high school, I started thinking about what could the cure possibly look like if only I could imagine. And I imagined this picture of being in the top 30 metros in North America. Why 30? Because there’s 30 cities bigger than where we started in Vancouver, 30 cities in North America bigger than the one we started in Vancouver.
And I thought, “Okay, if it would work here, why wouldn’t it work in every market bigger? So I took a sheet of paper, one page double-sided, and started to write out almost like a Jerry McGuire moment and what the future would feel and act like five years down the road being December 31st, 2002. And that became my process. I didn’t plan on setting up that painted picture process, I call it, but what that painted picture did was a way for me to share with employees, franchise partners, potential franchise partners. Here’s where we’re going. Are you on board? Do you want to partner with us?
Brian: What was in there? It wasn’t just number of franchises and number of cities. What else? What are some of the details that you remember from the dock?
Andrew: It was seeing the future as we knew it would be at some point in time, so even though we weren’t there yet, it was still, “We will be in 30 metros. We will have clean, shiny trucks; friendly, uniformed drivers”– things we didn’t necessarily have at the time. We still had some older, beat-up trucks, but we knew that we wanted to build what I called the “FedEx [inaudible]: clean, shiny trucks; friendly, uniformed drivers; up- front rates.
We talked about having a call center that would be the booking and dispatch for all our franchise partners, so they could work on the sales side and growing the business. We even talked about getting on the Oprah Winfrey Show– some pretty bold, crazy stuff that actually ended up happening. And how do we do? By December 31st, 2003, we actually did hit the goal. We hit it 16 days early, where we closed our tough 30th metro. It’s been incredibly exciting. The power of the painted picture is something we use across our one-day painting and YouMoveMe alike.
Brian: Was it perfect, where every one of the items on that list ended up happening?
Andrew: About 96% of the items happened.
Brian: What didn’t happen?
Andrew: It was the items that I believed in. That’s a good question about what didn’t happen. I don’t remember. I don’t remember, to be honest. I’d have to look back at the picture and see, but I remember calculating one day and going, “You know what? Almost every single thing happened.” The fact that it was 96% there just blew my mind. It just shows you the power of your faith. If you believe in a future, if you believe in a compelling image that you’ve locked your brain onto, your mind can do powerful things to rally people, share that contagious energy, and bring people on board into building a dream that you’ve created.
Brian: The early structure, once you get a friend on board, it’s helpful. Once you get ten people on board, it’s hard, because you have to organize them. You have to become more of a manager than an entrepreneur, it feels like. What did you do to become a better manager?
Andrew: Today, 25 years later, I think the best thing I’ve done to become a better manager is move out of the way of managing. As an entrepreneur, I’m very ADD. I’m always the guy to go, “There’s a squirrel.” There’s something always changing in the business, and I try really hard to stay focused. If I look at my president and COO, Eric Church, he’s as an ex-military guy and he’s as rigorous as they come. He knows how to lead people and get them focused on the task at hand and how it fits into the big picture. We’ve gone from what we call a two-in-the-box model of leadership. I’m the vision guy, he’s the execution guy, and while there’s some overlap, we really do work very well together. Two heads are bigger and better than one. We work well in a two-in-the-box model.
The best thing I did as an entrepreneur was get out of the way. Of course, in the early days, when we had ten employees, or even had 50, I couldn’t get out of the way. I was that guy. I wore every hat that you can possibly imagine. It was a tough thing to do. I learned lots about leadership and how to evolve, but that’s not my strength. My strength is vision, culture, people, innovation, and new brands. I think entrepreneurs need to understand, “What are they best at?” You’ve got some entrepreneurs that are great at coding and great at coming up with their tech idea, but they don’t know how to lead people. You’ve got to work in the box that you were really born to work in.
Andrew: One of your strengths, you’re saying, is not being a manager. When you were more managerial, what’s a mistake that you made that we can learn from?
Brian: 1994, I had 11 employees. I fired them all because I was doing a bad job managing. It was my fault, not theirs.
Andrew: What did you do? This is something I really want to learn from. What did you do, then?
Brian: I let them all go at once. I said, “Listen to me.” This is a big group firing, where we sat down in the same room and I said, “Guys, I’ve let you down. As your leader, I haven’t done a great job leading you, managing you, spending enough time getting to know you, working with you, supporting you.” I had nine awful employees and the other two I don’t think I can save, because one bad apple spoils the whole bunch. I got rid of them all, and I took the accountability for it. I had to start again, which meant going from — I think we had four trucks at the time — down to one truck. No call center. I had to be the guy answering the phones in the truck, being the truck.
It was an incredibly trying time, but I learned that day and changed a Post- It in our head office, the Junction, right at the front parking center, for everyone to see that it’s all about people. This business is all about people: finding the right people and treating them right. You’ve got to spend time with your people, care about them, understand what motivates them and show them how they fit into the vision. And I didn’t do a good job of that in the beginning because I didn’t know how to do it. And it’s been perpetual learning for me.
Andrew: What do you mean by you just didn’t train them, so that could be overcome by training. You don’t have to let people go. It seems much more dramatic than that. What happened?
Brian: Well, if you’ve got 11 people and they’ve been working for you various degrees, let’s call it anywhere from a couple of months to a couple of years. If you’ve got the wrong people, trying to take those people and then say, hey, let me retrain you, let me spend more time getting to know you, let’s turn this ship around, I think that was something I didn’t have the skill to do. And I had to take the tough, sort of rip the Band-Aid off, if you will, and start from scratch.
Andrew: So were they just loafing around? Were they be being rude with clients? What happened?
Brian: They didn’t have the customer service aptitude. They weren’t people that were super friendly. I’ve always said today that when I look for great people in my organization, I ask myself, is this someone I could see myself hanging out with, having a beer with, chatting at a barbecue. These were people that I didn’t want to do that with.
Andrew: So how did you end up with people like that when you can’t even have a beer with? I could have a beer with almost anyone. How do you end up with that type of people?
Brian: I had people that were your typical, at the time, junk removal guys.
Andrew: Ah, okay.
Brian: They weren’t clean cut. They weren’t professional. They were a little gruff and edgy. And they weren’t my type of people that I wanted to build a business with. And I made that tough decision. But I, again, as a leader, had to take responsibility and say, thank you guys for all you’ve done, but this is coming to an end.
Andrew: It was a refresh.
Brian: Yeah, it was a big refresh. And while it was tough, think three months in, I think then I had turned it around and had great people and said okay, great lesson. I’m never going to make this mistake again. Of course, I brought on the wrong people, but not to that extreme.
Andrew: April, on our team in preparation for this interview, asked you what book would you recommend if you were running a startup book club. And you said E-myth Revisited by Michael Gerber has got to be at the top of the list. You implemented his ideas at 1-800-GOT-JUNK. How did you do it early on?
Brian: The E-myth Revisited is all about a philosophy of people don’t fail, systems do.
Brian: That when something goes wrong in a business, you’re probably missing some system. So like the day when I got rid of 11 people, I didn’t have the right recruiting systems, the selection systems, the training systems, the operating systems. There were a lot of things that were missing.
So what I did is I started to systematize the business. And what that looked like for me then, and still does today, is taking everything we do and distilling it down to a one-page best practice. How do you load the trucks? What are all the things that are important when loading a truck? How do answer the phones in the call center?
With our You Move Me brand, for example, what are all the little details that matter in the welcome call to make sure that a customer has comfort that you’re coming on the day you say you will, that all of the pre-move tasks have been organized and communicated? It’s a big checklist system. So when I read the E-Myth Revisited, it inspired me to set up my entire business in a very process driven manner.
I go back to McDonald’s, which we keep coming back to, but there’s a lot of reasons why. They’ve built an awesome business built on systems. You know that that fry machine has to be in there for 47 seconds, cooking those fries at a temperature where you just press a button. Boom, it rings, and tells you . . .
Andrew: How do you know the numbers? Sounds like you’ve really studied them, more than most of us.
Brian: I made that number up.
Andrew: Okay. Right.
Brian: But I did work a fry machine in Wendy’s when I was 15 years old. So I don’t know whether it’s 47 seconds or whether it’s two minutes, but . . .
Andrew: I thought maybe you were going deep in there.
Andrew: But the bigger point is you systemize your whole business and one of the things that you mentioned that I wrote down is, even at YouMoveMe, every part of the business including the welcome call has a one-pager. Why is there one page? And what goes on that one page?
Brian: Well, because you can’t overcomplicate things. I think systems need to be simple. And while best practices get better and you tweak them and improve them over time, you’ve got one page to update and change. So in our operations manual, we really work hard to keep things down to a page.
We do things with YouMoveMe that are different. They’re little things that are hard to deliver on, but they make a big difference to the customer. So YouMoveMe, for example, we call every customer on route and say, en route, and say, in the move, Mrs. Jones, we’re on our way. As promised, we’ll be there in 45 minutes. We know you’ve packed your coffeemaker because it’s moving day. Of course it’s packed. So what kind of coffee can we bring you?
Andrew: Ah. So I tend to think of systems, or most people of systems, I don’t anymore, as taking the heart away from work. Because now you’ve systematized it to the point of bureaucracy, and you’re pointing out that a system can add heart and caring. You’ve packed your coffeemaker, of course, can we bring new coffee on the way.
Brian: A system to me is a way to reliably deliver that part. So we do follow-up calls after every move. Mrs. Jones, how was the move? Oh, I love that the guys brought me coffee. They even left me a housewarming plant at the end of the job with a signed thank you card from all the team.
Awesome. We want to know that we are inspecting what we expect. That’s one of our systems. Did we deliver the coffee? Did we deliver the plant? And checking in with customers is an important way to inspect what you expect. That is a system of sorts. And it’s no different than other businesses that have done an incredible job of systematizing their business.
You have the processes documented, trained and communicated out with everybody. Then you need even the bigger picture of people, franchise partners in our business, that are bought into the YouMoveMe way, if you will. the WowOneDayPainting way.
How we do things around here, and that is the vision, the big picture. If people don’t buy into what’s unique about us, they won’t ever deliver on these systems. So again, it goes to that philosophy overall of we’re building something much bigger together versus going at it alone.
Andrew: You got on Oprah. What happened on Oprah and afterwards? It seems to have had a dramatic impact.
Brian: Yeah. So what happened was I had, on a big wall in our office, we wanted to get people thinking about vision and how to create vision. We came up with what we call the Can You Imagine wall and it would say, Can You Imagine. And we would put things on that wall, a big vinyl decal, if you will, that was permanently up there with someone’s name below it, whoever came up with the idea.
It was our commitment to make those things happen. Big hairy, audacious goals that impacted the business. So mine, I Ied by example and put the first one up and said, can you imagine being featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show? People wondered why it was up there. They wondered how it was even possible. And 14 months later, from the day it was put up there, we made it happen.
I had a goal of meeting Oprah and giving her a big hug. I thought she was a fantastic, still do, think she’s a fantastic lady, very powerful, very influential. And at the end of the interview, after my four and a half minutes on the Oprah Winfrey Show, in the green room I asked if I could give her a big hug. And I did, and it was awesome.
And the day it aired across the country from time zone to time zone, our call center was just lit up. We had, I think, 68, 69 phone lines at the time and they were all going off the hook. And it was phenomenal because it was one of those tipping points, if you will, that really helped to build huge momentum with the brand that we were building.
Andrew: I just Googled Can You Imagine and Got-Junk and I see the board. It says, Can You Imagine in big letters, and then underneath it people have written out, and it’s not by hand. It’s written, at least in this image, it’s . . .
Brian: Big vinyl decals.
Andrew: Vinyl decals. Thank you. And one of them is, Can You Imagine being featured in a cartoon such as the Simpsons, the Family Guy or a newspaper comic strip and that’s by Brian Becker. And it’s that kind of thing. Can You Imagine seeing the 1-800-GOT-JUNK logo on something? I can’t read it in this image. Can You Imagine being featured on Oprah? That’s yours.
Andrew: And so that’s the wall, that when people come in, it’s just Can You Imagine it. We’re not necessarily going to do everything, but can you at least imagine being able to do it. Is that what it is?
Brian: It is. It’s about dreaming big things. One of them, Andrea Baxter, came up with, Can You Imagine being on Starbucks’ cups worldwide, the 1-800- GOT-JUNK brand. And I remember having trouble seeing what she saw. But she said, Brian, trust me. I can see this.
It was back in the day, they used to have the Starbucks lattes would say, the way I see it. There were these little slogans, quotes from poets, authors, actors and actresses and philanthropists. I thought how am I going to get on there as a junkman. But actually the quote was, you are what you can’t let go of. Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK. I didn’t care that my name was on there, but I sure cared that the 1-800-GOT- JUNK was on there.
Andrew: So once you have this on the wall, do you or does she sit down and say, how do we make this happen? Well, we should call up Starbucks and we should see what they’re doing. Is that how it works?
Brian: That’s exactly how it works.
Andrew: It is?
Brian: You first come up with the goal. I mean if someone’s goal is to one day play on a World Cup football team, great. How do you get there? You start to work backwards and think through that lifelong plan for something like that. But with the Starbucks cup, it really was a how do we get in touch with someone from Starbucks. Who would we get in touch with? Research on the website, and she made it happen. And, she made it happen because she believed.
Andrew: What’s on your wall right now? Can you imagine being on Mixergy? Can you wipe that off, or…
Brian: Yeah, done.
Brian: We actually have it. It’s funny that you ask. We just went through an office reno, so the wall is blank right now because we had to take down a lot of walls. We made it even more open and transparent in this office.
But, what’s exciting about that is very shortly we are going to go back out to the team, back out to franchise partners, out to employees here, and say okay, what’s next, what can we imagine. We had big things on the old board.
Can you imagine being featured in a Harvard business case study, and we made that happen. There was a case study that I actually got to go. For someone who’s a college dropout, I actually got to go lecture at Harvard for a day and present my case to four different classes.
We had things like can you imagine being in a third country, which ended up being Australia for us.
Now it’s exciting. We’re starting with a clean slate. We’ve got a wall dedicated. In the next month we’ll be able to sit down with people and say okay, what do you imagine? This time not just for 1-800-GOT-JUNK but for WowOneDay and for YouMoveMe. It’s incredibly exciting.
Andrew: And the way the business works is you own the phone number and the brand. But, when I call up 1-800-GOT-JUNK, even though the call comes to you, the actual work gets passed on to the local owner of the franchise here in San Francisco. They will come over, send someone over to pick up whatever it is that I have – a couch, a refrigerator, et cetera, right?
Brian: Yeah. Technology has always been a lever for us. Think Uber. You order a cab wherever you might be, or an Uber car. Boom, it dispatches out. Someone accepts it.
Ours really isn’t that much different. We are with any of our brands doing the booking and dispatch for our franchise partners and providing the back end technology so that they can focus on marketing, getting PR, driving their sales engine forward, hiring employees, holding them accountable to the systems, the training.
And, it’s a team effort where we each bring something to the table as a franchisor and our franchise partners. We’ve partnered together to build something pretty special.
Andrew: What’s this other thing here? There’s a guy named Calvin who I guess you gave a tour to. He’s a blogger. He took a picture of the Can You Imagine wall, and he also took a picture of something called Wall of WOW. But, I can’t read what’s on the Wall of WOW. What is a Wall of WOW?
Brian: A Wall of WOW is a place where we have some customer testimonials. We have literally tens and tens of thousands of customer testimonials.
We follow a methodology called Net Promoter Score where people rate us from zero to ten would they refer our services to colleagues, friends, and family. We have incredibly high scores. We generally are nines and tens across the board, and we learn from any of the mistakes we make, of course, so that we can continue to get nines and tens.
The Wall of WOW are just those extra special stories where someone said you guys went above and beyond. It’s funny, because sometimes it’s the coffee that we bring for You Move Me that meant going above and beyond. Sometimes it’s that the move ended up going four hours longer than promised because of some issues with the elevators, and our guys stayed, smiles on their faces, whatever it might be.
Above and beyond is what we do. We’re taking ordinary businesses, the ordinary business of junk removal, and making it exceptional. It’s what binds all the brands together. Painting is ordinary, yet we’re making it exceptional by painting people’s home in a day. And, same with moving, just the added level of personality we bring to a move is making it unique and exceptional.
Andrew: Brian, you know how to communicate a message. Let me try to communicate my message here with you listening in. Tell me… If you could give me your feedback it’ll help improve.
I have a new sponsor. The company’s called leadpages.net. Let me explain the problem that they solve.
The problem is most of us Internet entrepreneurs have hits on our website. Somebody comes in and hits and leaves, right? They may or may not remember to come back.
What LeadPages does is they create pages that will allow you to capture people’s leads – you know, their name, email address – and allow you to stay connected. They came to me and they said Andrew, do you have a page that works exceptionally well for collecting these email addresses. I said yeah. They said can we copy it. I said no.
They said what if we pay you. I’ll be honest.
Andrew: I said well, if you’re a sponsor I’m willing to experiment. So, I took my best converting page and I gave it to LeadPages, and they turned it into a page that anyone online can use. And, anyone who’s out there listening can go and check it out.
Here, I’ll give you guys the URL. It’s andrewswelcomegate.com, andrewswelcomegate.com. It’s a small experiment, so you have to go and grab it now or else it’ll be gone, unless it works and then it’ll stick around. But, who knows? I mean works meaning for me.
If all these people who are copying my site start to reduce my conversion rates, I’m going to stop it. So, you might as well grab it quickly.
But, andrewswelcomegate.com is where you go to get it. It’ll only cost you a buck. Lead Pages will run it for you for free for a month. Then if you want to continue with them, they have an opportunity for you to do it. If it captures more of your users, and keeps them in the fold and gets them as part of your tribe, keep on going with them.
If it doesn’t, let me know. I want to know how to improve it. But my hope is that you’ll be able to build a tribe the way that I have here at Mixergy. Not just a bunch of hits, but people who give you their email address, give you permission to communicate with them, and join your tribe and your mission.
And that’s the page that I created, and that’s the page that I’d like you to try if you’re out there listening and have any kind of online business. So where do you go to get it? I’ll give you the URL again. Write it down. Don’t complain to me a month later if it’s gone because, frankly, I can’t bring it back. I want to make sure that this works for you and for me, so grab it quickly.
Here it is. AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. AndrewsWelcomeGate.com. Fine. What do you think? I think I did a better job here than I did at the top of the interview where I was just kind of throwing out words. I think this was much more structured. But I think I could do even better. As a guy who communicates well, what advice can you give me?
Brian: Well, communication, as we know, isn’t just a one hit sort of wonder. You can’t just throw out the message and believe that it’s been communicated properly. So I just heard it now for the second time, once at the top of the interview and once just now.
I think that helped me. I think you communicate very articulately. You’ve got passion. You believe in what it is that you’re communicating. I thought you did a great job. I mean for me to give you feedback as to what you could do better, I think it’s just finding multiple channels which you’re probably doing in communicating the same message.
So when I talk about paint a picture, when I talk about vision, it’s in front of people at live events. It’s through Twitter. It’s through LinkedIn. It’s through media articles. It’s over and over and over in different ways, but consistently communicating the passion I have for creating a painted picture.
And the stories. People love stories. So I think could you take your landing page, andrew’swelcomegate.com and talk about some story of here’s where you work, here’s where you are now, and if it can have that impact on someone else’s business.
Andrew: Oh, that’s a good one. Where was I before I created this? Where am I now as a result? And if you in the audience want it, you can too. Speaking of live events that you mentioned, your annual conference, one of the moments you’re most proud of, what happens at an annual conference for you?
Brian: It’s a chance for people to come together and communicate, touch base with each other, franchise partners they might never have met, franchise partners they can learn best practices from.
Everybody goes out to each other and just says, so what’s working for you? How’s the economy? Where are you struggling? How hard is it to find truck team members. And this is across any of our brands. So it’s a chance to come together and communicate. It’s a chance to come together and celebrate.
People love getting away. We usually do them in Vancouver. We’ve often done them in other cities, like Vegas, Toronto, and people take it as a bit of a holiday, where it’s a chance to bring some of their key people along with them to the conference, to drink the Kool-Aid, get excited, celebrate at some key events. For 1-800-GOT-JUNK, we do the Oscar gala awards. And we give out these Oscars because of Oscar the Grouch. So, you know, you’ve got the junk business.
Brian: And we give out these great awards. And people wear tuxes and they’re so excited to be franchise partner of the year or have the highest revenue in a region. It’s communication, collaboration, celebration.
Andrew: When you bring it back into the business, how do you add it to your system without overloading your system, where you might start off with, let’s bring coffee to our customer at You Move Me and then you realize, you know what, they also might like a bagel.
And then you realize someone else says, what worked for me is also bring candy during. And then pretty soon you’re coming in with a grocery bag which is too much.
Andrew: How do you know how to improve the system without overloading it?
Brian: We have a culture of ongoing innovations so different people will try different things. And we make sure we collect the feedback. So while we get people to stick to a rigorous process, we also encourage them to try new things and see what works.
Don’t get away from what works, but try new things. And you know what, if customers started giving us 10 out of 10 across the board in all commenting on, not only did they bring us a coffee, but they also brought us a bagel with a bunch of schmeers, great. You know, we’ll learn from that and see if it makes economic sense, customer service sense.
So we try to learn from the different things we do and we made a lot of mistakes. We’ve had a lot of failures. And you just have to learn from them. It’s that real fail faster, keep making mistakes, but learn, learn, learn.
Andrew: Speaking of keep making mistakes, earlier you said that one of your challenges is that you have the, I forgot how you called it, but I think you said something about a squirrel, where an idea can come to you and you have to go and pursue it instead of staying with the management of the business on a day to day basis. What’s one idea, one side business that you launched that made you say, wait, this is just not right? We have to pull it back. It’s out of focus.
Brian: The Rubbish Boys which became 1-800-GOT-JUNK back in the early days, probably eight years into the business when we out about a million in revenue, I said, let’s get into the disposal container business.
I gave myself three years to see whether or not this industry could be something that worked for us. So like us coming by in our trucks and doing the full service, loading and clean-ups, we bop off, we go; the bin business was still hauling away junk, debris but people would load themselves. It turned out it was too much of a commodity business.
It didn’t fit with our fabric of who we were. So really people didn’t care about it. There was no customer service. It was just, yeah, drop me off a bin whenever you can. I don’t need to be on site. Great. We’ll settle up payment later.
Our bins would get spray painted, set on fire, damaged, bent by big excavators. It was an expensive business. It didn’t work for us, but I knew when to give it up. I’m not someone that likes to quit, but I also believe that if you do need to quit, know when to quit and move on to something else.
So what we moved onto was a sense of hyper focus with 1-800-GOT-JUNK and putting all our eggs in that basket versus trying to diversify.
Andrew: And diversification, getting into Wow 1 Day Painting and getting into You Move Me, did that make more sense once you started to saturate the U.S., the markets that you were already in, is that when you know, okay, it’s time to go into new businesses?
Brian: It made sense when we at a level where we had a bunch of franchise partners who were established who wanted something else. We ended up awarding 25 franchises right out of the gates to existing 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchise partners to You Move Me franchise partners.
We were able to launch a national brand almost overnight, or I guess really overnight. We now have 34 franchise partners with You Move me. We will do $17 million in revenue this year and that’s our first full calendar year. We had a partial sort of start-up year last year. But a full year this year we’ll do $17 million out of the gate.
The timing was right, and while it might sound to some that we diversified, painting, moving, junk removal, they’re related. They’re home services. Whenever someone moves, they need junk removal. They also need to have places painted.
It fits very well together and our focus, our hyper focus, is that we understand the franchise market. We know how to help franchise partners make money, be successful and grow.
Andrew: So there are three different businesses. You could have said, we’re going to create a new umbrella company name that will represent all these services that we give that are really related, moving, picking up junk, painting and maybe other things.
But you intentionally didn’t do it that way. I see your face even as I describe that. Because it goes against, what was the other book that you recommended, The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding. That book explicitly says, do not do it. Why not?
Brian: When you create a new category, so our new category painting, this isn’t just residential painting. This is painting homes in a day. That’s a new category. Think of Coke and Diet Coke. When you’re creating a different category, you want to really focus on having a unique name, something that stands out in the industry and you want to have that first mover advantage with that brand.
So we didn’t want to be 1-800-GOT-JUNK, GOT-PAINT, GOT-MOVE. That would be confusing and it would dilute. We want the power of different brands and whether customers know they’re related or not, doesn’t really matter.
We want to be the dominant brand in every industry we’re in. so in painting, we’re not the dominant player yet, but we will be. Because we believe that we’re following some of the rules of branding and franchising that really work and make sense.
Andrew: When we talked about your revenue at the top of the interview, is that the revenue of all the franchisees combined, or is that your share of their revenue?
Brian: That is the system-wide revenue, so when we day 151, 152 million, that is just 1-800-GOT-JUNK and that’s the top line revenue for everybody.
Andrew: As I understand it, you get royalty, 8% gross revenue and sales center fee, 7% gross revenue and marketing fund, 1% growth revenue. So we’re looking at that’s your share of that overall pot.
Brian: Our share is really the 8% because the 7%, we have a legal agreement with our franchise partners where we manage and run their sales center. So we’re running the call center for them with their money. The 8% is really how we profit, how we grow, how we establish ourselves.
Andrew: All other fees are going directly toward something like running the phone. And I was trying to figure out the ownership structure. I assumed you guys were public for some reason, but you’re not. You own 100% of the business still, don’t you?
Brian: I do. Yeah.
Andrew: You never took funding, why not?
Brian: Well franchising is our model of raising money. That was a great way to grow other people’s money. I had plenty of times in my business growth, in my 25 year history with 1-800-GOT-JUNK where I could have sold that out, I could have moved on. I could have raised some money. I love what I am doing too much to sell out. It’s like a child that you are raising and I don’t want to sell my child.
And then the other thing, I think, is just when I look at the business and what motivates me. I drive the little Fiat. I live in a modest home. I’m not a fancy money driven guy. I’m not looking to take the company public and cash out. I just love delivering amazing customer experience. And I love watching the people here, our franchise partners or employees build something special and take pride in making something ordinary exceptional.
Andrew: You know, I asked you before the interview started, I said Brian, You’ve got your business is successful. You are not necessarily in a tax base where you are looking for a developer to come and work for you at this point thru the [??] interview. Why are you doing this interview. And I’ll ask you now since we have a little bit more time and I know we need to end the interview soon, but what is your mission here? Why do this interview with me and talk to all my entrepreneurs?
Brian: Well you had asked me. What’s a win here for you?
Andrew: Right, I wanted to make sure this is helpful for you too.
Brian: And I said, I’m just happy to do the interview. Because I believe that if you give you never know what you’ll get. I am not out looking for anything. I’m just out looking to know that, if I am telling my story with passion and enthusiasm and sharing some of my difficult lessons learned along the way. If there is a viewer or two that are watching this that could just go “wow, I just learned something there”. That is awesome. As someone who dropped out of high school, dropped out of university, all I had to do was get out there and talk to people, learn, ask questions. And I’ve been a sponge. So if I’ve done this for 25 years and I can share an idea or two that someone picks up on, that’s pretty awesome.
Andrew: For anyone who is listening and watching and wants to follow up on some of the ideas in this interview, we talked a lot about systems. I urge you to go back to [Mixergy] and that search box, just type in systems, or systematize. And what you will find is a collection of entrepreneurs who have talked about it here. Mixergy. Some have even turned on their computer screens and said here, look this is software I use, here is how I systematize, here is what we do, you guys can all copy it. It’s all there for you to learn from and improve. So check it out, it’s on Mixergy .com. Type in that word system and you will come up with several great entrepreneurs who will teach you that. Brian, Thank you so much for doing this interview.
Brian: It was fun, Andrew.
Andrew: I really appreciate you doing it. Congratulations on your success and now every time one of us sees any one of your trucks. Actually do the new businesses have trucks too?
Brian: YouMoveMe has massive trucks. They’re pretty cool vehicles. If someone wants to go to youmoveme.com, you’ll see them right on the web site. They’re eye catchers, for sure. wow, one day. Each, they have [bands], these big [sprinter bands]. Yeah you will see the vehicles around. Hopefully more and more as we build the brand #2 and brand #3 to be household names. So, thank you.
Andrew: I see the truck. Actually it’s a really cool idea for what you put on the side. I won’t reveal it. I’ll let people see it for yourself. And when you see it for yourself, whether it is on-line or more importantly when you see it out in the real world, point to the person next to you and say, point it out to the person next to you and say I know that guy. The founder’s Brian. Let me tell you a story, because now you know how he got here. Brian, thank you so much for doing this. Congratulations on all the success.
Brian: Thank you, sir. Appreciate you having me.
Andrew: You bet. Thank you all for being a part of it. Bye guys.