Kiplinger's spoke with Josh Cohen (pictured above), 34, the founder and CEO of the Stamford, Conn.-based company The Junkluggers, about how he got his junk removal business up and running. Here's an excerpt from our interview:
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What distinguishes The Junkluggers? We haul away a wide range of stuff, and it's often not junk at all. We do our best to keep items out of landfills by donating and recycling them. We establish partnerships with local charities, and we provide our customers with a tax-deductible donation receipt. We charge by volume, with specific surcharges for certain items or situations. Our goal is to keep 100% of the stuff we collect out of landfills by 2020. My brother calls us the "Robin Hood of junk removal."
How did you get started? When I was in college, a friend mentioned that a neighbor paid him $100 to haul away a refrigerator. I thought, I could totally do that, and I couldn't stop thinking about it. I printed up fliers advertising that I would haul away stuff and separate it for donation, recycling and trash. I took the fliers door-to-door, hitting 100 homes a day, and I got a good response. I used my mom's SUV to haul. That was in 2004.
How do you find partners? Through lots of outreach. We work with places such as Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity ReStore. Places like those, which get a lot of stuff, are more selective about what they will accept. But because we're there all the time, they will take more from us. We locate some of the smaller organizations by researching online or reading the newspaper. Because we don't want to overwhelm a charity, we tour its facility to see how big and well set up it is. If it checks out, we add it to our list of drop-off locations.
How did you finance your start-up? I was young, didn't have a lot of expenses and lived in my parents' basement for the first couple of years. I bought a used pickup truck with a custom dump body on the back for $3,000 with savings from hauling junk and some leftover bar mitzvah money. I just kept reinvesting the money I made into the business, and I still do that.
How have you grown? In our first year, we had one part-time employee and me, and we did $80,000 in sales. In 2016, including our franchisees, we did $8.1 million in sales with 140 employees and 48 trucks in nine states. This year, we expect sales of $10 million to $11 million and 20 to 30 more jobs.
You're franchised? Early on, I decided that I wanted to expand the business nationally, and we began franchising in 2013. We grow with people who are entrenched in their communities and have skin in the game. We have 12 franchise partners and hope to add 100 more by 2024. The start-up cost for one location is $90,000 to $150,000. Helping our franchisees get into business for themselves is really rewarding, especially because it's meant so much to me.
Self-employment is a family tradition? Yes. One of my grandfathers owned a restaurant. My other grandfather owned a toy store on the Lower East Side of Manhattan. My dad still owns an accounting firm that he started when he was in his twenties. My brother operates one of our franchises. My brother-in-law quit his job last year to focus on our new furniture-restoration business. His quality of life is so much better here than sitting behind a desk working for a large corporation.
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