Junking The Rules

Brian Scudamore aims to overhaul the image of the lowly junkman

Want to get rid of that Welcome Back, Kotter-era plaid couch moldering in the basement? Typically, you'd call a "man with a van"--one of those sometimes unscrupulous, chronically tardy handymen--to schlep it to the dump.

Brian Scudamore is the man with a plan to do it differently. He's the 29-year-old founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a Vancouver (B.C.) company that's professionalizing the low-glam world of one-time junk removal. It's a ripe market, says Scudamore. Large trash haulers, such as Waste Management, won't pick up a stray couch or a small pile of drywall. Instead, the work is usually handled by an odd-job man with a pickup truck, who, as Scudamore says, "doesn't usually have any standards of customer service."

In contrast, Scudamore's operation exudes corporate-style standardization. Its $40,000 Ford trucks are radio-dispatched and work on a schedule. Rates are fixed--expect to pay $50 to ditch that couch at a landfill--and employees dress in snazzy blue polo shirts. Last year, Scudamore's 25-employee outfit billed $1.5 million, hauling away everything from spent refrigerators to 18,000 pounds of canned sardines. Some 200 callers reach GOT JUNK? each week, many of them, no doubt, lured by the catchy 1-800 number--itself inspired by the ubiquitous "Got Milk?" campaign.

"Nobody is creating a brand in this business," explains Scudamore, who left college 10 years ago to start the company. "We want to be one of the next Office Depots of the world." The quest starts this summer when the company opens five new franchises throughout Canada and the U.S. Scudamore hopes to have 100 in North America by 2003, each going for $20,000 and an ongoing 8% royalty. For Scudamore, the company's growth has been sweet vindication. "My Dad used to say, `You're dropping out of school to be a garbage man!"' Seems that trash talk wasn't so dumb after all.

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