Brian Scudamore's simple idea had its own nobility

As a college dropout with a highly successful father (a transplant surgeon), Brian Scudamore had a mission. He had started 1-800-Got-Junk? as a way to pay for college and now was determined to put his business to the test. But let's not get too far ahead of ourselves.

"I was in a McDonald's drive-through and saw this beat-up old pickup truck that said 'Mark's Hauling,'" Scudamore says. "I needed to pay for college and thought, 'That's for me.' So I took my thousand bucks and got a beat-up old truck. I didn't anticipate I would start this business."

That was in 1989, when Scudamore was 19. A few years later, he was at a crossroads, and made the difficult decision to drop out of school and prove to himself that he was building a real business. "My father thought his son would do something noble,"

Scudamore says, "not go out and be a junk man." But by 1995, Scudamore had five trucks and realized that the junk business in every city was mom-and-pop -- which meant Opportunity. "No one had ever built a brand in this industry," he says. In a few more years, he realized that his branding and systems made the business ideal for franchising.

Today, Scudamore is much more than a junk man. His company has grown to 146 franchisees, most of them multi-unit, in fewer than ten years. "We've now proven to ourselves that this brand can be built across North America and eventually the world," he says.

All this, despite the fact that everyone he consulted told him that franchising the concept couldn't be done, since anyone could buy a beat-up old truck and start hauling; that there wasn't anything he was doing that others could not re-create fairly easily.

"My answer was, 'I'll put a call center and intranet in place,'" says Scudamore. "I had to take the time-consuming things off the franchisees' plates so they could concentrate on sales and marketing. We said we'd do all the booking and dispatch, and talk to the customers. The franchisee has to build the fleet of trucks and a super team and get out there and pound the pavement."

Because the business is mobile, the trucks are the units. 1-800-Got Junk? awards territories of 125,000 population, each of which must have one truck. Some franchisees have territories of 1 million.

"We could have 500-plus throughout North America," says Scudamore. "Our goal right now is $100 million in sales with 250 franchise partners in 2006."

Unconventional wisdom Much of what Scudamore has done flew in the face of conventional wisdom--and still does. "I look at mistakes I've made and I would repeat every one of them, because if I hadn't learned from those we wouldn't be what we are today. I was being told by every mentor that it can't be franchised, and I'd keep asking myself why not, so I knew I had to learn the answers. If I had believed some of what people told me early on we might not have been as successful."

Scudamore thinks successful entrepreneurs challenge the conventional wisdom. Marketing is done in-house and takes some odd turns. Blue wigs, for example: the company hands them out at various functions (including the Stanley Cup playoff game in Vancouver), wears them in road races, and wherever else they can get attention. Company headquarters in Vancouver are known as the Junktion, and the director of greetings (D.O.G.) is Scudamore's Shiba Inu, Grizzly.

"I was going down to Las Vegas with a bunch of company people for a retreat and I said 'We've got to do something to stand out in Vegas,' a town it's difficult to stand out in, so I said 'Let's put on these things and go disco, and draw attention to ourselves.'"

Scudamore has been nominated for the Fortune Small Business Best Bosses Award, and was a 2004 Finalist for Ernst & Young's Entrepreneur of the Year Award. Today, 1-800-Got-Junk?, is also ranked the best company to work for by BCBusiness magazine.

Scudamore is fond of saying "It's all about people"--and even puts it on the company's web site. "Our culture is ambitious, driven," he says. "We don't believe in motivating people, we believe in recruiting motivated people. We inspire, help, lead to make great things happen. One of the great things we've done over the past while is the 'Can you imagine' wall, the first wall you see in our headquarters." The wall has decals with ideas company employees have come up with and signed.

"We think of these lofty goals that we can make happen, and some day they will," says Scudamore. Examples include being covered by Oprah or Dr. Phil--both of which have happened.

"We teach people to dream. We have profit-sharing: 25 percent of our profits go toward the great game of business; we teach people how this game works, and share the profits. You get it in cold hard cash."

His own dream is ambitious too: "I want to build a billion-dollar company, the FedEx of junk removal. My whole vision is to build a legacy so that beyond my lifetime we have a brand that endures."

Published: September 6th, 2005

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