When Brian Scudamore was a kid, he didn’t have bookshelves piled high with stuff or toys scattered around his room—and his 4-year-old daughter sure won’t either. “In our house, we don’t have anything in our home that we don’t either use or love,” Scudamore says. “I don’t like junk.”
But when Scudamore is at work, junk is his buzzword. His multimillion-dollar business, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, collects and hauls unwanted goods to recycling facilities, resale shops like The Salvation Army and to the landfill. Got junk? Scudamore wants it.
The North American franchise has expanded from its Vancouver headquarters—affectionately called the “Junktion”—to some 325 locations. What started as a $700 investment in an old truck in 1989 has become one of the fastest-growing franchises, with a fleet of 1,000 trucks and revenue more than $107 million. Trash is Scudamore’s treasure.
Who would’ve imagined such success? Actually, Scudamore did. Looking back over the last 20 years, he says, “Have a clear vision of what you want to do—of what you want to be—and know what your values are. That’s what worked for me.”
Scudamore says he was born to be an entrepreneur. He recalls being a competitive kid. When the neighbor boy across the street set up a $2 car wash, Scudamore was right behind him, charging $1.50. When he attended an all-boys boarding school, he started his own school store, selling candy bars and other small items from his dorm room—until the school store shut him down. “I was putting them out of business,” he says.
His entrepreneurial hunger grew even as he struggled to finish high school. Scudamore remembers one tricky algebra class he “just couldn’t fi nish,” so he dropped out without a diploma. But yearning for more business knowledge, he applied for admission to the Concordia University in Montreal. Scudamore gave a persuasive pitch, somehow succeeding in explaining that algebra wouldn’t come in handy in real life. Concordia took him in.
Not long after, while sitting at a McDonald’s, he watched a dump truck full of unwanted, secondhand stuff pass the drive-through window. “I thought, ‘There’s my ticket,’ ” he says. “Go buy a junk truck and offer to haul junk away for a fee.”
Simple as that, Scudamore followed his ambition. He started with one pickup truck, bought for $700. Soon, the business took off. As his work started taking up more of his time, he dropped out of college. By then, he had three trucks.
He realized he needed to develop a vision for the company. He remembers the day in 1998 when he perched on the dock at his parents’ summer cottage in Bowen Island, British Columbia, scribbled two pages of his “painted picture” of the company’s future and set a lofty goal: In five years, he wanted the junk-hauling company to be in the 30 U.S. and Canadian cities larger than Vancouver. “I imagined pure potential, no limits and no obstacles,” he says. “And we hit our goal 16 days early.”
“I’m proud to take an industry that was very beat-up and transform it.”
Scudamore also got serious about his marketing scheme. The original name of the company, The Rubbish Boys, played off of the common British term for waste, but Scudamore wanted the company to be a household name in the United States, too. And, employees now include women.
When a co-worker came up with “Got Junk?” playing off the famous “Got Milk?” campaign, Scudamore saw his future come to life. “It’s about vision,” he says. “I locked into a vision, and I knew our name had to be 1-800-GOT-JUNK? We needed that number.” So he picked up the phone and called it, which rang an air traffic control office in Idaho. He kept calling—nearly 60 times, he says—asking if he could please have their phone number. Meanwhile, he created a new logo and painted some of his trucks with the new name. Scudamore knew 1-800-GOT-JUNK? was the perfect marketing scheme, and he believed he would get the number. Once again, he used his power of persuasion, and the Idaho Department of Transportation gave him the number for free.
Armed with a name, a message and a host of key players at the corporate office, Scudamore has found the junk business to be lucrative and enjoyable. There’s no shame in hauling away people’s garbage, he says. “I’m proud to take an industry that was very beat-up—very mom-and-pop— and transform it,” he says.
The company has since opened a franchise and a call center in Sydney, Australia. Scudamore thought the concept would catch on well in Australia, since Canadian and Australian cultures are quite similar, he says. He hired employees via Skype video interviews and let the franchise get on its feet—without ever leaving home.
He’s also garnered national media attention for 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, with appearances on The Oprah Winfrey Show and Dr. Phil, among others. For the Oprah show, he had a crew clear out an extremely cluttered home and, amid heaps of unwanted junk, found a Tiffany & Co. box containing a pair of 1-carat diamond earrings. “That was clearly something someone wouldn’t want to throw out,” Scudamore says. “You’d be surprised what we find.”
On another occasion, at a Vancouver restaurant, Scudamore’s crews spent five days clearing out trash and furniture that sat unused for more than a decade. “Hidden among the retro furniture and 1950s-era electronics, the piles of mildewed clothes, rat droppings and a mountain of rusted tuna and salmon cans, was a treasure no one could have anticipated: $400,000 in Canadian bank notes circa 1930,” reads a July 2008 article in The Vancouver Sun. “In current dollars, that was something like $5 million!” Scudamore says. “And no, our drivers were not allowed to keep that money.” He recounts story after story of “great finds” from homes and public places around North America.
With a clear vision and a little fun, Scudamore says there’s much more to come for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? His next “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is to climb to $1 billion in total revenue and expand to two more countries. Scudamore has no doubt that day will come.
“With this company, I made the future happen in my mind. Once I became very centered in that picture, it was clear we would get there,” he says. “We believe 100 percent that we will get to a billion [in total sales]. Any entrepreneur, or any leader, for that matter—in religion, in athletics— needs a clear vision.”