A 21-Year-Old Built this Junk-Hauling Juggernaut by Treating People Like Gold

A 21-Year-Old Built this Junk-Hauling Juggernaut by Treating People Like Gold

By Ramon Ray, founder of Smart Hustle Magazine
4-minute read

A 21-Year-Old Built this Junk-Hauling Juggernaut, Junkluggers

In short:

  • Junkluggers is a specialty junk-hauling service that built upon existing offerings by adding an eco-friendly twist. 

  • Founder Josh Cohen said that putting people first, both customers and employees, is a major company focus. 

  • Junkluggers also invests heavily in technology, having spent more than $1 million on software improvements for continual enhancements to the customer experience.

Starting a business is challenging, and when it’s a niche business, those dynamics become even more difficult. 

Josh Cohen of The Junkluggers faced this challenge head-on when he took the mainstream offering of hauling junk and made it environmentally sustainable. Fifteen years later, his specialized junk removal service is the fourth-largest in its industry, with franchises all over the U.S.

Junkluggers by the numbers

Most junk removal companies are highly localized--think of the ones listed on Craigslist that comprise two guys and a truck. There are also large companies like 1-800-Got-Junk, but those are few and farther between. 

Cohen started Junkluggers as a Craigslist-style service at 21 years old, advertising via fliers and using his mother’s Dodge Durango to pick up junk locally. 

That first year, his business yielded $80,000 in sales. At the time, his goal was to get 10 calls a week. Now, Junkluggers receives 400 calls a day, has 70 trucks on the road and essentially doubles its business every two to three years, Cohen said. Three years from now, the goal is to generate $50 million in system-wide sales, which would represent growth of about 300-400 percent of the company’s current revenue. 

Junkluggers sorts every item it collects, donating some to charity and upcycling or recycling others. It takes some items to landfills--which doesn’t bode well for the country’s commercial and household waste issue-- but aims to be “landfill-free” by 2025.

Founder Josh Cohen gave his junk removal brand an eco-friendly twist. (credit: Facebook/TheJunkluggers) Founder Josh Cohen of junkluggers

Customers first, junk second

Cohen built a company that is not only eco-friendly but also people-friendly. Junkluggers aims to separate itself from competitors by taking time to get to know its customers, who often need junk hauled due to major life events or transitions. 

Call center employees take their time on the phone, finding out why customers need hauling. Once, a call center employee learned that a customer was having junk hauled on her birthday, so the truck driver and his assistant brought balloons to the pickup site. Another customer had recently experienced a death in the family, so Junkluggers brought flowers along. This rapport-building creates return customers. Plus, it’s just good business.

Making hauls, taking calls

As Junkluggers requires thoughtfulness from its employees, hiring and retaining them involves special care. The hiring system relies heavily on employee referrals for customer-facing jobs in the call center and trucks. Candidates undergo a vetting process of three interviews, then ride along in a Junkluggers truck for a week to interact with customers. 

Compensation is also carefully structured. The Junkluggers recently instituted an incentive-based pay program, with base pays of $15/hour. Top performers earn $30-$40/hour. The company also offers healthcare, and a mental health professional comes in once a week. 

“If people aren't happy, they aren’t going to do a good job for you,” Cohen said.

"If people aren't happy, they aren't going to do a good job for you." -Josh Cohen

The company’s central leadership trains both its local staff in Stamford, CT, as well as franchisees. Junkluggers’ head of training has been with the company for more than seven years and is currently working on expanding its video-based learning management system (LMS).

As part of the company’s growth efforts, Cohen brought in a COO last year to fill gaps in his own experience. Next, he’s looking at bringing on a seasoned head of marketing, and then he’ll continue hiring at the middle management level. 

This middle-management growth allows Cohen to make increasingly strategic decisions versus tactical-level ones. It’s a big change for Junkluggers, whose leadership is finding out what a “grown-up work environment can be like while still having fun,” Cohen said. 

Aside from more franchisees, Junkluggers is adding more mid-level managers to its team. Junkluggers is adding more mid-level managers to its team

Convenience is critical

Customer experience is paramount at Junkluggers. The company has invested over $1 million on improving software since its founding, Cohen said. A third-party app lets customers schedule appointments, then Junkluggers sends automated emails and text notifications. There’s a system by which customers can receive a quote by sending a photo of their junk. 

The corporate team sends surveys to customers after every job and shares that feedback daily with franchisees, as its franchise agreement includes customer performance standards.

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Advice that isn’t junk

Cohen’s confidence undoubtedly played a role in the success of Junkluggers. He believed he could start a company in a crowded industry, and he did. And when it was time to get serious about scaling the business, he believed he could do that too. 

“No one is better than you” at carrying out your big idea, Cohen said when asked to give advice to aspiring entrepreneurs. 

He also stressed the importance of self care. As a founder, it’s critical to take time for exercise, motivational music, family time or other activities that boost your wellbeing.

“Being in business, you can really get beat up,” Cohen said. “Finding an outlet has been life-changing for me.” 

Lastly, Cohen advised new entrepreneurs to “surround yourself with great mentors who bring experience you can’t afford to hire.”

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