One Person's Junk...
Sustainable junk removal is a growing business for The Junkluggers
Josh Cohen was a 21-year-old college student hanging out with a group of friends in 2004 when one of them mentioned how he'd made $100 hauling away a neighbor's refrigerator. It was a lightbulb moment for Cohen who thought, "I can do that!"
Cohen bootstrapped his operation in the early days, handing out flyers and going door-to-door informing his neighbors that he was a "professional, responsible college student" able and willing to donate or recycle their items. He borrowed his mom's SUV, and later added a trailer for bigger jobs. A year later, he purchased his first dump truck. "It wasn't much to look at, but it got the job done," recalls the 36-year-old CEO today.
The company turned to franchising 6 years ago, and today The Junkluggers is a national brand with more than 200 employees and nearly 80 trucks. In the 15 years since he founded The Junkluggers—an eco-friendly junk removal company committed to the environment and the communities it serves—the company has donated more than $1 million worth of "junk" on behalf of customers and prevented more than 50 million pounds of junk finding its way to landfills.
When Covid-19 struck, The Junkluggers was deemed an "essential business." At the corporate level, Cohen approaches his leadership role with an attitude of empowering his team through open and regular communication. "I have a team I trust, and they are great at what they do," he says. "They step in when needed to coach each other, as well as our franchise partners, and I really rely on them to help conquer and divide."
To support the brand's franchisees and keep the health and safety of customers and staff a top priority, Cohen says he has relied on communication and flexibility. "By staying in close touch with our franchise partners and adapting our service options to meet the needs of our customers, we have come together and learned lessons that will help us continue to grow in the future," he says.
"We are about to blow this company up (in a good way) across the country," he says. "We have improved internal processes, added franchisees, and growth in the next year will be significant." A new equity partnership with Connecticut-based Contractor Nation gives The Junkluggers access to expanded sales capabilities, a growing network of contractors, and proprietary training and professional development programs.
With a goal of accelerating the brand's growth, The Junkluggers remains dedicated to its original mission to protect the planet by minimizing what goes into landfills. Even in a pandemic, the state of the "junk" business is strong.
Founder, CEO, The Junkluggers
Units: 38 | Age: 36 | Years in franchising: 6 | Years in current position: 15
What is your role as CEO? As both the CEO and founder of The Junkluggers, it's very important for me to be involved in the day-to-day operations of the company. I'm not only the face of the company, it's my job to make sure everything is running smoothly at both our headquarters and our franchise locations. I have an office at our HQ in Seymour, Connecticut, right down the hall from other members of the executive team. Being present each day in the office makes it easier to manage the overall operations of the business, as well as to work closely with others on my team. Even though my title says CEO, I will always be invested in all facets of the company because, as founder, this is something I've watched grow and evolve over the last 15 years.
How has Covid-19 affected the way you have led your brand? As a leader of a business deemed "essential" during Covid-19, I have focused on supporting our franchisees while keeping the health and safety of our customers and staff our number-one priority. Communication and flexibility have been key. From the start I have kept an open line of communication with all of our franchise partners through individual conversations and frequent town hall meetings. Through my leadership team, we have provided franchisees with the tools and resources needed to navigate through these challenging times. It was important that each partner knew we had their back so they could focus on day-to-day operations and serving their customers with confidence. With an understanding that our customers needed our services, especially as they found themselves working and schooling from home with the entire family, we immediately offered flexible service options including curbside and outside pickup at a special savings. We have also continued to support donation centers and charity partners in our local markets and give to those in need, especially during a time when our communities need support more than ever. By staying in close touch with our franchise partners and adapting our service options to meet the needs of our customers, we have come together and learned lessons that will help us continue to grow in the future.
Describe your leadership style. I like to make time for my team and franchise partners. I look for ways I can help them get over hurdles, solve big issues, and work though new ideas. I'm a leader who shows a lot of compassion, and I try to level with everyone, whether it's someone who works on a truck or in our appointment center or our C-level team. I reserve praise only for when it is deserved, but in cases where recognition is warranted I give it often. I also try to solve issues quickly and be decisive so we can keep the business moving as we expand nationwide.
What has inspired your leadership style? My leadership style has evolved over the years. I'm inspired by great, well-known leaders like Richard Branson as well as more under-the-radar heroes like my partner Larry Janesky. Both talk a lot about servant leadership, creating caring and fun environments, and being good to your people.
What is your biggest leadership challenge? I'm very much a people person, which is very important to me as a leader. However, I recognize that sometimes I need to be more tough, and hold my team accountable for their actions. If there is a problem I'm noticing within the company, I need to let people know about it and make sure they're aware I know what's going on. I also try to make sure that, when necessary, I can provide firm, but fair feedback.
How do you transmit your culture from your office to front-line employees? I strive to build a happy and fun work environment. I also encourage everyone to communicate with one another openly, honestly, and kindly, even if they don't always agree. In addition to that, everyone should check their power trip at the door. Everyone is equal and deserves an equal amount of respect. In focusing on these things, I work to create an environment people want to be a part of and boast about. I believe that by first focusing internally on the strength and happiness of our team, our franchisees, customers, and vendors will receive incredible treatment and our business will thrive.
Where is the best place to prepare for leadership: an MBA school or OTJ? I'm not a big believer in the necessity of needing a college degree in business. I learned 99.9% of what I use today from OTJ learning. With that said, I have seen more entrepreneurial education programs start up since I left college, so maybe things are changing. But there is nothing like the school of hard knocks to teach me real lessons that I have no choice but to learn from.
Are tough decisions best taken by one person? How do you make tough decisions? I have a great team and value their opinions, so I appreciate their feedback and not having to make all the tough decisions on my own. However, for some decisions where I clearly know the direction we need to take, I make the decision and move on.
Do you want to be liked or respected? Respected. When you lead, you have to steer the ship, make difficult decisions, and bring people along with you. If you earn their respect, they will believe in you, the brand, and the mission.
Advice to CEO wannabes: My biggest piece of advice would be to surround yourself with great mentors who bring experience you cannot afford to hire. It's been 15 years since I launched The Junkluggers and still, to this day, I surround myself with people who I'm constantly learning from and who give great advice, which I not only use to help grow my business, but also to grow myself as a businessman.
Describe your management style. I work hard to empower my team, as well as have open and frequent communication through one-on-one meetings. I've also learned that it's best to let people go about their work freely and hold them accountable.
What do you think makes up a good management team? The best management teams are composed of leaders who take ownership of their roles and motivate their teams to work to the best of their abilities. When it comes to franchising in particular, a good management team will be laser-focused on the success of their franchisees. At The Junkluggers, a good management team will also always be passionate about our mission by sticking to our BHAGs (big hairy audacious goals).
How does your management team help you lead? I have a team I trust, and they are great at what they do. They step in when needed to coach each other, as well as our franchise partners. I also get more e-mails, requests, and issues across my desk than one person can handle, so I really rely on them to help conquer and divide.
Favorite management gurus: Do you read management books?: <Dare to Lead> by Brené Brown and <The Five Dysfunctions of a Team> by Patrick Lencioni are two of my favorites.
What makes you say, "Yes, now that's why I do what I do!"? Since I founded The Junkluggers in 2004, I have had one goal in mind: To make a positive impact on the world. Over the last 15 years, we have saved more than 50 million pounds of junk from landfills across the country. Each time I see this number, I'm reminded that through our work, we are enhancing lives, the communities we serve, and the environment by donating, recycling, upcycling, and supporting local charities.
What time do you like to be at your desk? On Mondays I'm in the office by 6:30 a.m. and usually work a 12- to 14-hour day to get ahead of the week. Tuesday through Friday I get in between 8 and 9 a.m.
Exercise in the morning? Yes, I work out daily. I usually run, lift weights, and stretch. This is a <vital> part of my day to get me centered and in a good place so I can effectively lead the team and be happier!
Wine with lunch? No, I usually don't even have time to finish my lunch.
Do you socialize with your team after work/outside the office? Occasionally, but we also do a lot of fun stuff during the work day. Lines use to be much more blurred when it came to socializing with my team after hours, but now if we go out I won't stay past a couple of drinks. Since I spend so much time with my team during the week, I really like to be there for my young kids and wife after hours.
Last two books read: <The Highest Calling> by Larry Janesky and <Extreme Ownership> by Jocko Willink and Leif Babin.
What technology do you take on the road? My Apple AirPods, MacBook Air, and of course my iPhone X (which I have a love/hate relationship with).
How do you relax/balance life and work? I have a really hard time with this. On weekends, it can take me until Sunday to relax and let go of stress from the previous week. I've been trying to put my phone away and exercise to let off some steam. I love being outside, which helps me decompress from work. I have 5-year-old twins who need me, so balance is something I'm really working on improving.
Favorite vacation destinations: I love Australia, Italy, and the beaches of Uruguay. I also backpacked through Europe a while back and ran with the bulls in Spain. I'd love to do that again. Reminiscing reminds me that I really need a vacation!
Favorite occasions to send employees notes: When they deserve recognition, praise, or celebration and aren't expecting it. I've seen this leaves a lasting impact and brings us closer together. I also like to send notes when someone is going through a challenging situation, to let them know I care and that I'm there for them.
How do you measure success? I look at how well the people around me are doing. If my franchisees and team are thriving, we are in moments of success. More specifically, we use lots of scoreboards, reports, and surveys.
What has been your greatest success? Aside from having a great family, my company has been by far my greatest success, even if we still have a long way to go. I live and breathe The Junkluggers. It's my pride and joy.
Any regrets? I do have some "regrets" or things I would have done differently, such as not hiring the right people. The wrong hires though, from my experience, happened in search of the right people. I feel so fortunate to have found many of them at this stage, both through The Junkluggers and through my new partnership with Larry Janesky and Contractor Nation.
How has the economy changed your goals for your company? Even in the face of uncertain financial circumstances, our goal to remain a sustainable business has stayed the same. Sure, it would be cheaper for us to just start dumping everything we pick up into a landfill instead of donating it to the right charity or recyclable home, or refurbishing these items to sell through our Remix Market. But that is not what this business was founded on, and I intend to stick to our mission regardless of any economic difficulties we may face. To me, the purpose of what we are doing is more important than the money. I believe that if we stick to our mission, we will thrive and continue to find strong niches in many verticals.
Are there any industry trends you foresee affecting your brand? There are many trends I see having an impact on the junk removal industry. One of them is that countries that used to accept plastic exports have now limited or even banned them. This makes it difficult for countries that rely on shipping their plastics overseas. Also, I recognize that we don't have enough recycling infrastructure. There's a push for businesses to be greener and more environmentally friendly, but existing infrastructure doesn't always support this. There are few recycling centers and not enough specialty recycling outlets. Regardless of these trends, we will continue on our path of being the leader in sustainable junk removal.
What can we expect from your company in the next 12 to 18 months? We are about to blow this company up (in a good way) across the country. We have improved many internal processes that allow our business to operate like a well-oiled machine. We have found and continue to seek new franchisees to add to The Junkluggers family, so in the next year or so you can expect both our existing franchisees and our franchise network to grow significantly. To help accomplish this growth, we announced earlier this year a new equity partnership with Contractor Nation. Through this partnership, we now have access to expanded sales capabilities, a growing network of contractors, and proprietary training and professional development programs, all of which work to enhance our expansion opportunities.
What are your long-term goals for the company? Since day one, The Junkluggers has had a focus on minimizing what goes into landfills and protecting the planet. My long-term goal for the company would be to keep 100% of the junk we lug out of landfills by 2025. I'm also very motivated by growth and financial success. I love when my franchise partners are kicking butt and taking numbers. To help someone grow their own company with my help is very exciting, and I intend to do that hundreds of times as we expand nationwide.
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