When junk removal company CleanStart started up almost five years ago in Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside, it was founded by one dedicated entrepreneur cleaning up hoarding in homes and garbage from alleyways.
But it wasn’t long before founder Dylan Goggs was offered far more work than he could take on alone. He needed to hire employees and was determined to stay true to a vision of building a social enterprise, providing training and employment to workers with barriers such as poverty, recovery or disability.
Scaling the business was fraught with challenges, however, not the least of which was co-ordinating employees’ work schedules around appointments and wages around social assistance benefits. As a one-man-operation, he felt he didn’t have the managerial capacity to make the leap. He needed a plan and some guidance.
Mr. Goggs has been a social entrepreneur since arriving in Vancouver from the United Kingdom in 2004. Before the beginnings of CleanStart, he spent a few nights a week in a Downtown Eastside rooming house as a way to get in touch with the community and determine what kind of social enterprise would be beneficial to the area.
It was clear the building’s garbage bins were overflowing into the alleyway, attracting rodents and causing noxious odours. So Mr. Goggs launched his business, obtaining a contract to clean up the mess.
“It just grew from there, but originally it was just Dylan and his truck,” says Laura Barreca, operations manager at CleanStart who joined the team six months ago after completing her MBA at the Sauder School of Business’ Robert H. Lee Graduate School.
In 2013, CleanStart became one of several social ventures to receive business mentorship and support from the Sauder School of Business’ ISIS Research Centre, which focuses on advancing social innovation and sustainability in business. The startup was accepted into ISIS’ Coast Capital Savings Innovation Hub – a dynamic initiative that aims to accelerate social venture growth by bringing together university resources, peer learning, and business networks.
It was through this program that Ms. Barreca was introduced to Mr. Goggs and was hired to help push his company into the next phase of expansion. She helped CleanStart create a flexible work schedule to accommodate new employees with barriers to employment. She also helped implement a comprehensive training program involving hazardous waste removal and use of biodegradable cleaning materials.
With these fundamentals taken care of, CleanStart was well positioned to expand.
Ms. Barreca then worked to create a strong web presence through the CleanStart website, blog and social media outreach. Using these platforms she promoted the company through positive client testimonials and news.
“Just because we are a social enterprise doesn’t mean that we don’t aim for the highest standards of professionalism,” says Ms. Barreca. “There are tonnes of junk removal places in Vancouver, but clients call us because we do a good job.”
CleanStart went from struggling to satisfy demand as sole-operator, to having a workforce of 10 in the field at any given time. “Our team has bonded extremely well together and are incredibly loyal because of the bonds they share around personal or professional difficulties they’ve had to overcome,” explains Ms. Barreca.
Hiring people with barriers makes our team strong and we have high levels of retention,” says Ms. Barreca. “When we give people a chance they value having a job and they want to work, they’re dedicated and do an amazing job.”
The company’s reputation has made it possible for CleanStart to begin bidding on larger contracts, which will in turn continue to build its brand. Since its inception in 2010, CleanStart’s revenues have increased five-fold, already up 30 per cent from last year.
Having more workers has also made scheduling a lot easier and has allowed CleanStart to take on more contracts as they become available. Current clients include Raincity Housing, BC Housing, Atira, Allaire Construction, Vancouver Coastal Health, District of North Vancouver and District of Port Coquitlam.
Jeff Kroeker is a lecturer in the accounting division at the Sauder School of Business at the University of British Columbia.
This is the latest in a regular series of case studies by a rotating group of business professors from across the country. They appear every Friday on the Report on Small Business website.