Getting a Load of a Business Opportunity

Andy Suzuki, left, Russell Fine and Omar Soliman remove junk from the Potomac home of Patrice Maites.
Andy Suzuki, left, Russell Fine and Omar Soliman remove junk from the Potomac home of Patrice Maites. (By James A. Parcell -- The Washington Post)
By Ylan Q. Mui
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, August 5, 2005

The whole thing started as kind of a joke -- just a couple of college guys looking to make some money over the summer.

"My mom's like: 'Get a job. You're not going to be sitting around this summer going to the pool,' " Omar Soliman recalled.

Some of his friends had internships, but Soliman could not stomach the thought of a desk job. He had to come up with something else. His mother owned a beat-up cargo van that she used at the furniture store she operates in Adams Morgan. What if he drove that around, hauling away people's unwanted stuff? He was sure he could enlist his buddies to help.

A lightning bolt hit. College Hunks Hauling Junk was born.

"Everyone just busted out laughing," Soliman said.

But it soon became clear that these hunks were capable of some serious business. Soliman said he made more than $10,000 that summer. Two years later, Soliman, now 23 and a University of Miami graduate, has turned College Hunks Hauling Junk into a corporation. The company debuted in June, complete with a new dump truck -- and, yes, a cache of handsome guys ready to haul away the love seat that the cat mistook for a scratching post.

"Definitely we're not like a regular corporation," Soliman said. "We want it to be kinda like a fraternity, almost."

Almost all the guys in the company are alumni of Sidwell Friends School. One of Soliman's best friends since 10th grade, Nick Friedman, 23, is the company's president. There's a guy headed to an Ivy League university, and a guy in medical school. One plays college basketball and another plays football. A portion of the company's revenue goes toward a local scholarship fund, Soliman said.

The Northwest Washington home of Friedman's parents has become the company's de facto headquarters because that's where they park the truck. Sometimes Friedman's mother will make food for the guys or let them watch TV between jobs.

But there is rarely time to dawdle.

One recent morning, Soliman boarded the truck with Andy Suzuki, 18, of Potomac to head to the day's first job, in Falls Church. University of Arizona student Russell Fine, 20, followed in his mother's SUV.

Soliman drove, glancing occasionally at the GPS navigation system. Suzuki, who will attend Brown University this fall, rode shotgun, flipping through radio stations. The day's first job promised to be easy: a couch and love seat. The guys shudder at the thought of moving a refrigerator or a sleeper sofa. Once, Suzuki had to haul two dozen bags of rocks.

The young men relish the manliness of the work. Last summer, Suzuki worked at a coffee shop in Tokyo. That was fun, he said, but this is better. He likes riding around the city, lifting heavy things. He even has a soft spot for the junkyard.

"You're not a real man until you go to the dump," Suzuki said. "That's my philosophy."

They arrived at a modest, single-story home in Falls Church. Beverly McMillian was waiting outside. She and her daughter, Kelly Jones, were moving to Atlanta and getting rid of some furniture. McMillian said she did not want to leave it on the curb because that would "look trashy." So Jones researched junk movers on the Internet and found the college hunks. She and her mom couldn't resist the name.

Suzuki and Fine got to work, starting with the couch cushions and pillows. Soliman supervised. Fine stopped on the sidewalk, cushions under each arm, and eyed the truck bed several yards away.

"You think I can make it?" he asked Suzuki.

Before he could answer, Fine tossed the cushions into the air. They landed squarely on the bed. Within an hour, their work was done.

The minimum charge for a job is $99, increasing with the amount of junk. Suzuki charged McMillian for one-quarter of a truckload. She added a $10 tip.

The guys boarded the truck, a little sweaty. Suzuki guzzled some water. It was barely 9 a.m., and they had three more stops.

But their toughest assignment was not for two more days. They had been asked to move a hot tub -- the absolute worst because hot tubs have to be taken apart using a sledgehammer, an ax or maybe a chainsaw before they can be hauled away -- a process that can take hours.

But somehow the job seemed more of a challenge than a chore. Especially compared with the thick textbooks that await Suzuki at Brown.

"Clearly, I want to go to school. That's really exciting and stuff, but. . . ," he said, pausing. "I kinda just want to stay and haul some junk. You know what I'm saying?"

Soliman smiled. Yeah, he said, he knows.

© 2005 The Washington Post Company