Mummified cats and spoiled seafood notwithstanding, Keith Becker and Jon Reisinger say theyre happy to pick up other peoples garbage and junkand theyre proud to say that more than a third of what they pick up has a chance at a second life.
The two own the Spokane franchise of the Canadian-based junk removal chain 1-800-Got-Junk? LLC. Although there are a host of independent junk haulers here, Becker and Reisinger in 2005 became part of the 300-franchise chain, which lends its marketing weight and high-tech dispatch service to the traditionally low-tech industry. Another 1-800-Got-Junk? franchise opened in this area in January and covers Spokane Valley, Liberty Lake, Post Falls, and Coeur dAlene. Its owned by Joe Seaman, of Coeur dAlene.
Reisinger, 27, and Becker, 30, were merely acquaintances before both attended an Oktoberfest fundraiser in 2005. At the event, Reisinger, a Canadian citizen who was living in Spokane and waiting on his permanent residency paperwork to be processed by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, mentioned to Becker that he was researching 1-800-Got-Junk? as a possible business venture.
Becker, a Spokane resident who was vice president of operations for a Spokane specialty-drilling company, replied that he, coincidently, also was interested in the junk-removal franchisor.
Their partnership was born.
Like any good idea, it happens over a beer, Becker says.
Within a few months, they landed their own franchise, with start-up costs, including a truck, of less than $120,000.
It was a welcome career change for Becker, who was weary of the out-of-town travel required in the drilling business.
This keeps me closer to home, and we control our own destiny, says Becker.
Reisinger says his new career is far different, and far more fun and exciting, than the one he imagined when he earned a degree in restaurant marketing from the University of Lethbridge, in Alberta.
You meet so many different and interesting people doing this, and they are all happy and thankful were helping them, he says.
A junk pick-up assignment for Reisinger and Becker might involve something as small as removing a piece of furniture from a home, to as large as taking 10 loads of debris away from a commercial construction site.
The general rule of thumb is we will pick up anything that two people can carry, Reisinger says, although he adds that they occasionally assign four people to big jobs.
The franchise is entering its third spring-cleaning season. It has two trucks, one it bought when it opened and a second it began leasing last year. The franchise here, formally called Summit Management Group LLC, is based out of Beckers home, although he says he and Reisinger plan to move the business to a stand-alone office this summer.
Reisinger says one of the more memorable items hes had to pick up was a mummified cat.
It was under a womans porch, he says. It still had its fur and whiskers intact, but it was completely dried up.
Some of their worst junk-removal jobs have involved broken freezers full of spoiled food, they say.
In one such case, a woman had a chest freezer full of seafood on her porch that failed at the height of a summer heat wave.
They never call us the day the freezer breaks, Becker says. He adds that rotten fish really tests the gag reflex.
In a more pleasantly memorable job, Becker says a pinball machine that the company was called to take away fell apart as they tried to move it, and out dropped a full coin box. The coins, which they returned to the owner, included a buffalo nickel that had a book value of about $100.
Not all of the junk they haul is destined for the incinerator.
Last year, the franchise diverted 180 tons, or roughly 40 percent of its total hauls, to recycling facilities, nonprofits, and other worthwhile destinations, Reisinger says. This year, their goal is to donate or recycle 200 tons of junk.
The franchise donates usable items to nonprofit agencies such as Goodwill Industries of the Inland Northwest and Habitat for Humanity-Spokane.
He says Habitat for Humanity accepts items that can be reused in building projects, such as doors, lighting fixtures, curtain rods, and sinks.
We just donated an antique rocking chair, Reisinger says.
Goodwill accepts clothes in good condition. We once cleared the estate of a man who had 20 clean and pressed suits, he says. I hope somebody can use them.
Vancouver, British Columbia-based 1-800-Got-Junk? urges its franchisees to recycle, but its not a significant revenue stream for them, Reisinger says.
The franchise has to pay to recycle some items, such as wood, dirt, electronics, and some construction materials. Computer monitors for instance, cost $10 each to recycle, Reisinger says, adding, We recently did a job in which we took away 120 computers. The estimated costs of those disposals must be passed on to customers, he says.
Other recyclable items, such as most metals, cost more in labor and fuel to take to recycling centers than the franchise receives from the centers in return for the items, Reisinger says.
The fees 1-800-Got-Junk? charges are based on volume. The minimum pickup fee is $98. With some exceptions, such as computer monitors, there are no extra labor or dump fees. The charge to remove a full truckload of material, which is 15 cubic yards, or 3.5 tons, is $578, Reisinger says. That includes the disposal cost of items that end up at the incinerator here, which is up to $350 a truckload.
The customer doesnt have to touch anything, Becker says. We offer a full service. People point out the items they want us to pick up and well go get them.
Their service doesnt include demolition, although theyll rip up carpets.
We carry a sledgehammer and tools in the truck for things that can be broken down, he says.
Its not uncommon to pick up a load of junk at one location and make four stops to empty it, he says.
Picking up junk is the easiest part, Becker says.
He says that the franchises employees are allowed to take home anything that goes into the truck.
Some franchisees have furnished their houses with stuff theyve picked up, Becker says.
Reisinger says hes kept two items he hauled away from job sites. One was a heavy-duty Christmas-tree stand, and the other was an inversion bed, which he uses to straighten his spine.
The business wont pick up hazardous waste, including chemicals and petroleum products.
We dont even take paints, liquids, or car batteries, he says. We advise people that transfer stations take household hazardous waste without charge.
Reisinger and Becker currently have two other employees, and plan to hire another to work from June through September. They sometimes hire additional temporary help for large jobs.
He says the business is still in a growth mode, although he doesnt anticipate needing to acquire a third truck this year.
To order the 1-800-Got-Junk? service, customers can simply dial the companys name (without the question mark) on the phone or log onto its Web site, at www.1800gotjunk.com, and the franchisor schedules an appointment for a franchisee in the customers area. As soon as the job is booked, the text comes to our phone, and we can download the information, Becker says.
That dispatch system enables the franchisee to arrive at a job site within a half-hour of the customers call in some cases.
Our business is picking up junk, but its high-tech, Becker says.
They market their franchise by parking their big blue-and-neon-green truckswith the name and phone number prominently displayed on the sidesin highly visible locations. They wash the truck every day and require employees to wear clean clothes as part of the professional image they try to evoke.
They also door hang promotional materials in the neighborhoods they visit, and depend heavily on word-of-mouth praise from customers to attract new business. The rest of their local marketing consists of attending business networking events. About 30 percent of their jobs are for commercial customers, such as building contractors, says Reisinger.
Its typically labor intensive, but we like working with contractors, he says.
Reisinger is on Spokane Home Builders Associations BuiltGreen Initiative committee, which promotes conservation and use of recycled materials.
The owner of the Spokane Valley-Coeur dAlene 1-800-Got-Junk? franchise, Seaman, 46, of Coeur dAlene, started up at the beginning of the year.
Seamans business background is in demolition and environmental cleanup in Anchorage, Alaska, where he lived for 17 years prior to moving to Coeur dAlene.
Im quite familiar with hauling away a lot of debris, he says.
Business for him started slow due to winter weather, but picked up recently, he says. So far, April began with a bang and is going real well.
Seaman has two full-time employees in addition to himself. His goal is to build the business up to six trucks and about eight employees within two years.
He, too, says customers appreciate the service.
Were typically the solution to a problem theyve either had for a long time or dont know how to deal with, Seaman says. Theyre glad they dont have to dispose of or find places for the items.
While hes taking advantage of avenues available to recycle and donate what items he can, he has one large item in his shop on Government Way, in Dalton Gardens, that hes trying to find a home for.
I took a big organ out of a house, and Im looking for a startup church or retirement community that can use it, he says.
1-800-Got-Junk? was founded as The Rubbish Boys Inc., in 1989 in Vancouver. The company changed its name when it began selling franchises in 1999. Today, the company has franchisees in the U.S., Canada, Australia, and Great Britain.
Contact Mike McLean at (509) 344-1266 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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