DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Sandi McDowell recently traded in her job in corporate America to run the first 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise in Hawaii. The company is a junk hauler that assists businesses, homeowners and contractors by getting rid of junk the environmentally friendly way. Above, Gordon Matsumoto's grandmother's home is being cleaned up of her "junk" by Rich Chang, left, and Joseph Alpuro, who load the items into a truck. CLICK FOR LARGE
Franchisee turns junk-removal business into treasure
Oahu's definitely got junk.
One needs to look no further than the instant success of the first Hawaii-based 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise.
Operated by Sandi McDowell, who left her job as head of a travel agency, Hawaii's first junk-removal franchise has seen business more than double the first year.
The company, which operates more than 400 franchises throughout the United States, Canada, Australia and the United Kingdom, hauls away anything that is not environmentally hazardous.
Some of the items that 1-800--GOT-JUNK? has discovered on its appointed rounds:
» One-month old kitten named Freon rescued from a fridge
» 400 brand new wedding dresses
» Urns with ashes
» A couch full of bees
» 18,000 cans of expired sardines
» A mechanical bull
» A research project amounting to a truckload of used diapers
» A 1954 Martin parlor guitar valued at over $8,000
» A unicorn shaped coffee table
» A truckload of denture molds
» Six-foot tall, hot pink, working Walkie Talkies
» 13 huge porcelain Buddha statues
» A defused World War II Bomb
» A Pearl Harbor circa diary*
* Found in Hawaii
Bulk items, such as old furniture, renovation debris, and backyard messes are typical examples.
Uniformed drivers remove junk from where it's located, break it down to conserve volume, load it in the truck and haul it away.
They also clean up the entire site afterward.
WHEN Gordon Matsumoto's 90-year-old grandmother died in February, the legacy she left him included memories and a house brimming with decades of mementos.
He said that the small Hayden Street home where Toshiko Hiraki lived since she married her sweetheart and moved to Oahu was overflowing with love and with stuff. Lots of it was priceless, some of it was sentimental and most of it was not.
An antique sewing machine and a koa wood couch were items that family members wanted. They still haven't been able to bring themselves to take down the cards and children's crayon drawings that she had posted on the wall. But the canned goods and spices from the 1950s and the hundreds of boxes of Ivory soap -- now those had to go.
"It's just so overwhelming," Matsumoto said surrounded by 90 years worth of someone else's treasures. "I used to be a manager at Marukai, but I had to quit my job to do this."
Matsumoto said he and family members have spent hours, days, weeks and months sorting, distributing and throwing away Hiraki's household items so that they can get the house move-in ready for Matsumoto's mother. Matsumoto finally got so frustrated that he called in the junk removal experts at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a new Oahu business, to assist. It took just a few hours for the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? crew to finish the job that Matsumoto and his family had spent months trying to get done.
DENNIS ODA / DODA@STARBULLETIN.COM
Employees of Hawaii's first 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise have their work cut out for them hauling away junk at Gordon Matsumoto's grandmother's home. Joseph Alpuro, with bicycle, and Marcus Flores load up some of her stuff in their truck. CLICK FOR LARGE
1-800-GOT-JUNK? is a full-service junk removal company that hauls away anything that is not environmentally hazardous. Bulk items, such as old furniture, renovation debris, and backyard messes are typical examples. Uniformed drivers remove junk from where it's located, break it down to conserve volume, load it in the truck and haul it away.
The junk either goes to the dump, is recycled or is given to various charities. The workers also clean up the entire site afterward.
The cost for the volume-priced service starts at $120 and goes up to $598 per truck load. The average job in Hawaii ranges from about $375 to $400.
"It's a miracle," said Matsumoto, whose burdens had clearly been lessened by the exit of a fully-loaded junk truck from his driveway.
"Thank you," Matsumoto said to Sandi McDowell, owner of the Honolulu 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise. "You don't know how good this feels."
That, of course, is not entirely true. 1-800-GOT-JUNK? is a feel-good business as well for McDowell, who left her home in Canada to open up the first Hawaii franchise of the business. Formerly the owner of a travel agency, McDowell gave up her corporate attire to become a junk hauler after 9/11 left the visitor industry shaken.
"I was looking for something more stable," said McDowell, who with her fair hair and winning smile no where near resembles the ready image of Sanford & Son that most Americans equate with junk haulers.
McDowell, who began working at the third-largest 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise in Canada two years ago, said that she leapt at the chance to take over a franchise in Hawaii when the opportunity became available. Founded in 1989, the company has more than 400 locations in North America, Australia and the United Kingdom. In 2007, the company posted systemwide revenue of $160 million.
When McDowell took over the Hawaii franchise last year, she started with two junk trucks. She's since added a third truck and is considering purchasing a fourth vehicle. McDowell has grown her staff to five full- and part-time employees and is looking to expand.
"Business has more than doubled in the last year," McDowell said, adding that she's found quite a need for the business in Hawaii, where many people struggle to live in small spaces or in multifamily situations.
"Most of the jobs we do are for homeowners who need to get rid of their junk and are too busy to deal with it themselves, and commercial businesses, mostly in the building sector, who need reliable junk-removal service," she said.
Customers are charged by the volume their junk takes up in the truck, whether it's a couch or yo-yo strings. McDowell says they've already had a number of commercial jobs of several truck loads.
"Unlike most of our locations on the mainland, we have no competition here, and with so much construction going on, we do about triple the amount of commercial business than locations elsewhere," she said.
About 55 percent of McDowell's business is clearing junk for residential customers, but she also caters to hotels, Realtors, contractors and other commercial enterprises.
"The landfill is bursting to capacity and the challenge of how to deal with junk in the future is very real," McDowell explained. "So we are offering business owners, such as contractors and builders, as well as homeowners, the opportunity to get rid of their junk quickly and efficiently, and recycle as much of it as possible."
McDowell said she also does a lot of work at the storage companies removing surrendered goods.
"People will store their junk for a long time and eventually we'll end up going there, too."
It's rewarding work, McDowell said of the business that has been featured in Forbes and on Dr. Phil.
"I love giving people their space back," she said. "It's hard for people to let go of their stuff, but once they get the ball rolling, they typically will add to their load."
1-800-GOT-JUNK? is also good for the environment and for the community, McDowell said.
"More than 60 percent of all the junk hauled can be recycled or donated to charity," she said.