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Brian Scudamore
Brian Scudamore


Brian Scudamore made his fortune in junk Add to ...

Back in 1998, Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, sat on the dock at his parents' cottage and worked out a vision for his then-10-year-old junk removal business: a two-page "painted picture" of what the company would look like five years down the road.

There were a lot of things Mr. Scudamore wanted to achieve with his Vancouver-based franchise company, such as being in the top 30 metropolitan areas by 2003. It also included being on the Oprah Winfrey show. He pitched the idea to the show's producers twice before he got lucky and was invited to do a guest spot clearing out junk from a woman's house in L.A. Despite not having a franchise there at the time, he rallied a team together and pulled it off. The impact on his business was massive.

"The stats when we were covered in 2003 were 35 million viewers around the world," says Mr. Scudamore. "We had 69 people set up on the phones, up from the 11 we had regularly, and a TV on satellite so we could see across the time zones. Every time Oprah would say 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, the phones would just go wild. It has aired three times now through reruns. We still get customers who say, 'We saw you on Oprah.'"

Brian Scudamore
Brian Scudamore How he grew his junk empire

Changing the name in 1999 to 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was another PR coup for the company. When Mr. Scudamore started the business in 1989, originally to raise money for college, he called it the Rubbish Boys Disposal Service. Even then, he pluralized the name to sound bigger than the one pickup truck operation he actually was. As the business grew, Mr. Scudamore dropped out of school with only a year left to go, preferring to learn about business by running one rather than by studying. By the time he had five trucks in 1995, he was beginning to realize that the business could be much bigger than what they were doing in Vancouver.

"In my industry of junk removal, it's always been a mom-and-pop, old-beat-up-truck kind of business," says Mr. Scudamore. "I thought, okay, I can do this differently. Nobody is doing it this way: Imagine if we added clean shiny trucks, uniformed drivers, on-time service and upfront rates. We started to put some things into place that weren't just great for our business, but were giving other industries some ideas and challenging the way things were typically done. To me, I see that as leadership."

Today the company has more than 220 franchise locations in North America and Australia and did about $85.4-million in business in 2009, down from a high of $110.6-million in 2008, a milestone mark. Although Mr. Scudamore has twice been a school dropout (he left high school as well as college before finishing), he continues to embrace learning.

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"I grew up with reading difficulties, but the way I learn is I've created something I call my own MBA," says Mr. Scudamore. "Instead of the traditional MBA, it's a mentor board of advisers. I have 600 to 700 contacts now in my Outlook that I can go through, and I add people who I think could come in handy some day as a mentor for advice. So if I need advice on franchising, who better than one of the largest franchisors in the world, Fred DeLuca from Subway? He's been a mentor to me. Most of the mentors wouldn't be big names but are people who specialize in some area of business."

Another area of learning for Mr. Scudamore has been the Birthing of Giants at MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology), a program he attends every year along with the same group of entrepreneurs.

"It was a three-year program that we graduated from, but our class got together and extended it," says Mr. Scudamore. "We now bring in our own speakers and professors. One of the number one things I learned about at MIT that is still part of my business today is the concept of 'huddle' - a daily stand up meeting. Our huddle is seven minutes of high energy, hands in the middle at the end and ending in a cheer - kind of cheesy.

"It's where we allow the business to pulse faster by sharing missing systems, going over critical numbers, sharing good news, what's working and what's not. It cuts down on e-mails like you wouldn't believe. People get together in person and just talk for seven minutes. The day I put it in place, I said, 'This stuff is magic.' Ever since, it's something we've kept for seven or eight years now."

The list

Brian Scudamore's list of the weirdest junk that 1-800-GOT-JUNK has hauled away:

  • A bomb from WWII that we thought was still live, so we had to call in the bomb squad
  • John Wayne's bible
  • Clark Gable's piano - it was falling apart but it was still Clark Gable's piano
  • 18,000 pounds of expired sardines, still in cans, thank goodness
  • Truckloads of arms and legs - mannequins. Of course, the owner told us that it was going to cost him an arm and a leg, which quickly got tiresome
  • A 1954 Martin parlour guitar valued at more than $8,000
  • 50 garden gnomes
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