Brian Scudamore launched 1-800-GOT-JUNK 24 years ago as a means to pay for his college education, but as the company grew and one hauling truck in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, became more than 1,000 in the U.S., Canada and Australia, he never looked back. The company is projecting a record year in 2013 with $126 million (or more) in revenue as customers have learned to trust the brand as their go-to junk hauler. “There’s too much stuff getting produced and thrown away,” Scudamore admits. “We’re consumer driven. We have to figure out as human beings how to continue to have things reused, and that is the core of our business.”
John Shegerian: Welcome back to Green is Good, and this is a real exciting segment for me personally. We’ve got my great friend, Brian Scudamore, on. He’s the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and he’s a superstar entrepreneur who’s even doing many other ventures besides that. Welcome back to Green is Good, Brian Scudamore.
Brian Scudamore: Awesome, John. Thanks for having me back on the show. Always a good time.
John: Hey, Brian, for our listeners out there that haven’t heard you personally tell your story, before we get into any of the questions and the fun about your great brand, 1-800-GOT-JUNK, and the other brands you’ve launched recently, can you share a little bit about your journey leading up to it and how you even founded the great brand, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?
Brian: Of course, so it all started one day in a McDonald’s drive-thru in 1989. It was a tight job market for students. I had planned on going to university or college here in Vancouver, and couldn’t fund my own way without getting a great job so I was looking around, thinking of job ideas, and finally I thought you know what, it’s a tough market. My applications weren’t getting looked at, so I was at the McDonald’s drive-thru and there was this beat-up truck in front of me in the lineup and it said “Mark’s Hauling” on the side and the guy’s truck was filled with junk and I thought you know what, maybe I’ll go buy a truck and start hauling junk and create my own job rather than depend on finding one and I got out there, started with one truck, and ironically, funded my way through my entire university education and it inspired me to drop out. I thought here I am three years into a four-year degree. I’m learning more about business actually running a business rather than studying it in school and I thought I’m gonna drop out and pursue this great business full time and 1-800-GOT-JUNK started adding trucks, three trucks that year, four, five, we’re at about a thousand trucks now, Canada, the United States, and Australia, and we’re at record revenues, which is a fantastic place to be right now so a little bit about the journey and every day is a new part of the journey and that’s what makes being an entrepreneur so exciting.
John: And, the recession that came up in 2008, 2009, your brand totally made it through that and no potholes or no scars and it’s flying now?
Brian: I would say we made it through. I would say there’s plenty of scars and wounds and potholes. It was an interesting time. I think it really helped me understand what being an entrepreneur is all about, that you’ve gotta take the good times and the bad times and roll with them both and we dropped from 119 million in revenue down to 85 million during that economic downturn. It was a big downturn for us. However, we survived. We made it through. We learned a lot about leadership and weathered the storm and the exciting part is post recession, we’re actually back to now pre recession levels and beyond. We’ll do 126 million this year, perhaps even more, so that’s an improvement over our record year and every month this year has actually turned out to be a record month in revenue and it feels good to be back on top and winning again.
John: That’s so great, and you know, that’s what makes great entrepreneurs like you, Brian, the fact that you just keep getting back up off the canvas when things get you down again and I know you personally and I just love that about you and love that about your brand, but talk about that. You had record revenues because you have customers coming back and back and back again. Here in New York City where we tape the show and where I live now, your trucks are all over the city. Can you talk a little bit about the customer stickiness to your brand?
Brian: Sure, and maybe I’ll even comment for a second. You had mentioned knowing me personally and the never give up. It’s funny that we’re talking right now but in front of me here is a helmet that you gave me from Rudy Ruettiger that’s signed and it’s a big old shiny helmet that’s signed that actually says, “Don’t give up.” We can’t ever give up and I think that one of the things that makes the experience great for our customers is we never give up on them. If we had ever got an experience that goes awry, if something happens and one of our guys makes a mistake, we will do whatever it takes to fix that experience and learn from it and I’ve learned that if you actually upset a customer and do something wrong, if you handle it properly and handle it with an exceptional sort of attitude and experience, you can have that customer be so wowed with you, more so than they were before even having a bad experience so customer loyalty is something important to us and we work really hard. We ask every single customer. At the end of the job, we will call or email them, depending on how they booked their job, and we will ask, ‘On a scale of one to 10, how likely are you to refer us to friends or colleagues?’ and our scores are off the charts because of how careful our care and attention is to the customer experience to make it better and better every step of the way.
John: You know, Brian, you started this journey in approximately 1989, so you’ve seen times have changed so much. What has changed in the junk removal industry since ’89?
Brian: I don’t know if much has changed other than I think what we’ve started to do was professionalize an industry; clean, shiny trucks, professional drivers, on-time service, pricing, and I think the only things that’s changed is people have followed our leadership, which is flattering and there’s lots of competitors out there that certainly try and keep us on our toes but nobody’s really grown to the size we’re at. We’ve got about 1,000 trucks. Our next biggest competitor might have 100, and so we feel that as long as we continue to focus on customer service, we continue to wow every single person we can, which you have to do in these days of social media — bad news spreads real quick — we think we’ll always be on top and that’s an exciting position to be in, but it’s never one we take for granted.
John: Yeah, you know, for our listeners who just tuned in, we’ve got Brian Scudamore on with us. He’s the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and yes, it’s www.1-800-GOT-JUNK.com. To learn more about 1-800-GOT-JUNK, to book one of their great trucks, to understand what they do and their service, that’s the way to go. Either call them or you could do it online and Brian, the show is called Green is Good. We’ve had you on before. You have a tremendous legacy and great environmental footprint because that’s actually the DNA of your company. Can you explain to our listeners why using 1-800-GOT-JUNK is the environmentally friendly thing to do?
Brian: Yeah, well, it’s interesting and you and I have had this conversation several times offline is that we were recycling before people were even talking about recycling. Everything we haul away, which is literally billions of pounds of junk, rubbish, trash, whatever you want to call it, when we’re taking these things off to transfer stations, we’ve always chosen transfer stations who are more environmentally friendly than say their competitors. What they do is they sort through the refrigerators, the TVs, the old furniture, whatever they can do, and 61.3%, that’s our currently nationally audited by an independent third-party number, 61.3% of what we haul away gets recycled, reused, donated and so recycling is something that we really practice and we don’t do it just because we’re trying to greenwash and sound like we’re doing all the right things form an environmentally green perspective. We don’t really talk about it all that much. Why we do it is because it’s the right thing to do and if we can keep as much of the waste out of the waste stream and have things get reused, recycled, donated, that’s where the future’s at. There’s just too much stuff getting produced and thrown away. Look at any one of us. We’re very consumer driven. I’m talking on my iPhone right now. How many iPhones have I had? It’s kind of sad that we consume so we’ve gotta figure out as human beings how to continue to have things reused and recycled and I think our business does that at the core and we did it, again, before people were even talking about recycling so it is really the core of our business.
John: You’ve been doing this and you do it so well and you’re constantly pushing your organization, both the entrepreneurs who become franchisees but then also the core people back at headquarters, you’re constantly working with them to create a better experience and a better brand. Where do you want to take it the next five years?
Brian: So, what we’re doing over the next five years that is really helping us be a better business and be better leaders is we’re also developing other concepts that can help people in their home, so 1-800-GOT-JUNK, which started 24 years ago and my first baby of sorts inspired me to start another business called Wow 1 Day Painting. I know you had the founder of the concept, Jim Biden, on the show, which is great. We go in and we paint homes in a day without any compromise in quality. We have a third concept called You Move Me and You Move Me is a locally run moving company so we don’t do long distance moves. We only specialize in local moves and the five-year vision, the 10-year vision is how can we come in and be the home service professional that you trust for as many different things in your home as possible? We’re known for customer experience and caring about the customer and doing everything it takes to wow so how can we do it with our three brands and beyond?
John: That is so interesting. So, it’s a one-stop shop for the people with their home services?
Brian: Yeah. They’re all different businesses with different challenges and problems. Let’s face it. Painting, moving, they’re not simple businesses, but we’re constantly trying to raise the bar and improve the experience in that industry. If I look at what binds all our companies together, is making the ordinary business of X exceptional so making the ordinary business of junk removal exceptional, painting exception, and moving exceptional. If we can’t take an industry and make it exceptional, we won’t touch it. We’ll leave it to someone else to either try and figure out or mess it up but that’s really what ties everything together.
John: With You Move Me, was that an entrepreneur that came to you or was that something you incubated in house?
Brian: That was something we incubated in house. It came to me in a couple of different ways. Number one is as a consumer, I had moved and my experience was so horrible that I said somebody’s gotta do something about this. Somebody’s gotta change this scary, broken industry and when I say broken, much of our stuff was literally broken, so it was a terrible experience.
John: I’m laughing because I’ve been through that myself, so you thought of that yourself then?
Brian: Thought of it myself and then found out that there was someone in our business in Kansas who was running a moving company, so his name is Tyler and he runs a 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchise and a Wow 1 Day franchise. He had gotten into the moving business on his own and I said, listen, would you like to be our first test franchise partner and join this bigger brand and in return we’ll give you a franchise but you help us build up some of the system and share the learning? And it’s been fantastic. John: No kidding, and Jim came to you. Jim and you met and you had sort of an epiphany together on scaling Wow 1 Day. Is that correct?
Brian: Yeah, so I got my home team because I had three different people quote me on painting my house and they told me seven to 10 days, this is what it’ll cost. Jim came in and said same price, same quality, I’ve done this for 22 years, I hire great people but particularly what got me excited is he said listen, I’ll do it in a day and my immediate reaction was is that even possible? And, I think everybody questions that when they look at our business. However, it’s pretty easy to see that one room can be painted by two people in a day. Why can’t you just take the rooms, multiply by one or two people? I had 16 people in my house and they banged off my job in a day without rushing, without any compromise in quality, and it was fantastic, so when I had my house painted by Jim’s crew, I said, okay, have you looked at franchising this? And, he said I actually tried and failed and I said, okay, well maybe I can help you and we got together for a beer and the rest is history.
John: Taking 24 years of amazing business experience that you had at 1-800-GOT-JUNK and then using that as a platform for Wow 1 Day Painting and You Move Me, how is that going to enable you to scale those brands much faster? Obviously, you had to scale 1-800-GOT-JUNK. You were on a territory and putting footsteps where no one’s ever been before. Now how are you going to use all your great experience as an entrepreneur and a massively successful one at that to help scale these much faster and get these to a critical mass and to the places you want them to go in a truncated way?
Brian: Yeah, two key points on that. Number one is I have to and people in our company have got to make sure that I keep and we keep our egos in check, not to think that just because we built one business successfully or two or three that we can continue to do it. Each business has different set of problems and different set of challenges and we’ve got to still bootstrap these businesses like we did with 1-800-GOT-JUNK . We’ve still got to hire great people. We’ve still gotta focus on the consumer so it’s keeping our ego in check and saying hey, we haven’t quite figure everything out. There’s so much learning each and every day. The second key point is we really have to take our systems and processes that we have in place and leverage those; our call center, how we get PR, how we market online, all the things that we do a good, solid job at, leveraging that and I think proof that we’re leveraging it is if you look at You Move Me, we launched 26 markets almost overnight and we did a million dollars in revenue, actual million dollars in moves in our last two months. We’ll do a million dollars in our third month. It’s growing quickly and it’s only because we’ve had infrastructure in place to really lever things up.
John: That’s great. Let’s go back to 1-800-GOT-JUNK. 1-800-GOT-JUNK landed on a television show. Can you talk about the power of TV and interrelate that to what you’ve done with social media? Because you’re just a master at messaging and branding and can you share with our listeners out there? Because we have so many listeners out there of the generation behind us that are looking to start something new and the aspects that it takes to start something new now aren’t as daunting as they used to be because of the democratization of the Internet and the processes that it allows us. Can you take what you’ve done on TV and interrelate it with online also and talk about how you keep your brands in front of the public at large that way?
Brian: Sure, so we landed one of the biggest media hits I think someone can land, which was The Oprah Winfrey Show years ago, 2003, and that was just unbelievable but we had already had some great big wins, Wall Street Journal, Fortune magazine, all sorts of great press that we aggressively went after and said listen, we have a great story to tell. We’d love to be able to have you hear our story and I would often call up producers and I still do this today. I met with someone at The Wall Street Journal recently, which turned into me doing a webcast later on today with The Wall Street Journal and press is just the perfect way to get the message out. We mentioned social media. That’s one that I don’t know if we’ve really figured out but I’d say no, we haven’t and I think I’m starting to learn that social media really is just the medium. It’s still about the message. Nobody can just put their business on Facebook or LinkedIn and expect that everything goes hog-wild. What makes a business go hog wild and spread virally is having a great story and so what stories can we mine from our business, from our people? It’s the stories that get spread and 1-800-GOT-JUNK, the coolest find I think we ever found was $400,000 in cash under someone’s hardwood floors. There was a little tiny board sticking up and there was a bill and one of our guys pointed it out to the homeowner and he said let’s rip this board up and sure enough, at the end of the day, when this person ripped up their floorboards, there was $400,000 in bills that had been buried apparently in the 1930s so it’s those stories, the cool the things that happen, that really get spread. It’s not the actual medium and I think in today’s storytelling era, we’ve got two many people that are trying to just show up and throw up. This is who I am. This is my business. This is why I’m so great. Now think of how you can tell a story that can help someone. That’s the key is we’re in the storytelling era and I think that that’s the future.
John: For our young listeners out there that want to grow up and become the next Brian Scudamore, my son being one that you inspired when he was only a mere 11 years old and he’s now 20, what advice or resources do you want to share with them? We’ve got a couple minutes left here. Looking backwards, how do you inspire our next generation to be like you? Look at you with three amazing businesses up and running and more to come. You’ve got so much more in front of you, Brian. What can you share backwards for the young listeners who are struggling to find what’s their place on this planet in terms of business and opportunities?
Brian: It’s a great question and I think that the most important thing someone can do is just really tap into their soul and try and figure out what is the reason I am here? What is it that I was intended to do? So, in my situation, my life, is to see possibilities, to imagine big things and I believe when you imagine big things, you never know. They just might happen. I had envisioned — and we put it up on our big can you imagine wall in our office years ago — imagine being on The Oprah Winfrey Show. Imagine being a brand that’s a billion dollars in revenue. What could we imagine starting to ask the questions and having that really spread? So I think future entrepreneurs or future adults, people that are growing up that want to do something great for the world, which hey, that’s why we’re all here, I think it’s checking in with yourself and saying what can I imagine for myself? What can I imagine for the world? I know that your son, Tyler, what I did to inspire him I have no idea. He’s an inspiring kid who’s doing inspiring things and I remember the day he picked me up at the airport in Fresno, California, 11 years old. He’s got a sign out and he’s wearing a 1-800-GOT-JUNK uniform and he holds out the sign, ‘Brian Scudamore.’ I felt like a rock star and it’s pretty special experience so I think inspiring people do inspiring things and it’s just tapping into what’s important in this world and how one individual can make this place better.
John: Well, you’ve inspired me and our listeners again, Brian, and you are an inspiring entrepreneur and sustainability superstar and truly living proof that green is good.