Business

THE TREASURE IN OTHER’S TRASH

A Canadian junk-removal company is cleaning up

JOHN INTINI May 16 2005
Business

THE TREASURE IN OTHER’S TRASH

A Canadian junk-removal company is cleaning up

JOHN INTINI May 16 2005

THE TREASURE IN OTHER’S TRASH

Business

A Canadian junk-removal company is cleaning up

JOHN INTINI

BRIAN SCUDAMORE has made his fortune by getting rid of other people’s junk. But occasionally, buried under piles of worn furniture and broken toys, he finds a treasure. Like the old bowling trophy—a tarnished, silver-plated bowl mounted on a block of wood—that he christened the Poubelle Cup and made into the holy grail for his trash collectors. “We give it to the franchise with the largest single load,” says Scudamore, founder and CEO of1-800-GOT-JUNK. “But in the early days, when someone broke the record for largest load in a day, we made them drink beer from the old rusty trophy.” Competition for this honour is getting stiff. Scudamore’s Vancouver-based empire has grown from a $700 start-up fund 16 years ago into the largest junk-removal service in North America, with 152 franchises. Revenue is expected to top $75 million in 2005, double last year’s total, in part because of limits on the amount of trash municipal services will pick up every week. By next year, fleets of royal-blue trucks embla-

zoned with the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? logo will be in Australia and Britain, and Scudamore plans to have franchises in 10 countries by 2012. “Growth is my sole motivation,” says the 35-year-old. “I went with the franchise model because the company’s overall vision is the only thing I want to control.”

‘WE’VE collected so many great antiques over the years we could have opened one of the world’s largest antique shops’

Scudamore is not your typical CEO. He never finished high school, to the chagrin of his father, a Vancouver surgeon; he’s not the highest paid employee at his own company, preferring to reinvest most of the profits into the business; and he has no interest in a corner office, opting instead for a standard-sized cubicle among the 105 staffers at

Scudamore and his staff have hauled away sardine tins, Gable’s piano and the odd book

the Junktion—his Granville Island headquarters. The open-concept office is a throwback to the Internet boom, complete with scooters for zipping between desks. Adding to the informality is Scudamore’s dog, a Shiba Inu named Grizzly, who accompanies the boss to work every day. The head office doubles as the central call centre, booking and dispatching trucks for all franchise partners. “We’ve collected so many great antiques over the years we could have opened one of the world’s largest antique shops,” says Scudamore, whose favourite find is a 300year-old Scottish pressback rocking chair. “We have a finders-keepers mentality, which is an extra perk for the guys in the trucks.”

Kelly Mack, a driver with the Toronto franchise, smiles when listing the TVs, VCRs, DVD players and computer (“it worked for about five months”) that he’s picked up in his 18 months with the company. “We cleared out a busted grow-op last summer,” says Mack, 31, whose truck has a plastic Darth Vader figurine—another on-the-job souvenir-dangling from the rear-view mirror. Other strange pickups include 18,000 tins of expired sardines, Clark Gable’s piano (“It was so old,” says Scudamore, “it wasn’t worth putting on eBay”) and a load of arms and legs from a bankrupt mannequin company. “The jokes about charging an arm and a leg got old pretty quick,” says Scudamore. The company has collected nearly 250,000 tons of trash since its inception, now charging $400 to $500 to haul away a full truckload (15 cubic yards) of junk. It recycles what it can, and drivers donate as much as possible to charitable organizations such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army.

Business is expected to get even better as more municipalities impose trash limits. “Most cities will only pick up two cans a week,” says Scudamore. “And a couch isn’t going to fit in one of those cans.” That’s why Scudamore finds it strange that, except from local mom-and-pop outfits, his company has little serious competition. “When the home grocery model started, there were a gazillion players fighting for business,” he says. “One of our biggest problems is that the junk business is not well known. I welcome competitors who are willing to spend their money promoting the industry.” Until then, he’s happy being on top of the heap. PI