Junk Haulers to the Rescue
Monday, November 7, 2005
Not suddenly, but over time. A few extra cases of Shasta soda stacked in the corner swells into 800 cans. The treadmill becomes a clothesline. A week's worth of newspapers piles into six years' worth, causing a full-scale occupation of a normally sovereign place, the basement.
"This is where we come in," said Mark Rubin, who along with his wife owns the local franchise of 1-800-Got-Junk LLC. It has become the Vancouver, B.C.-based company's most profitable operation in the United States, according to company officials. "Clutter clutters, but when we come around, we make people feel lighter," Rubin said.
Money, it seems, begets junk, and the Washington area has a lot of both. Average personal income in the area is about $73,000, which is $23,000 more than the national average, according to government statistics. Growing wealth means increased spending -- on clothes, furniture and the latest fitness equipment. Along with the money to redecorate, there's money to pay people like the Rubins to haul the old stuff away.
The Rubins, who live in Gaithersburg, are refugees from the dot-com collapse. They lost their jobs in what was supposed to be the industry of tomorrow. Now they own a junk franchise raking in $192,000 a month, a truckload at a time. Sixteen percent of their earnings are sent to the corporate headquarters in Vancouver, a place franchise owners call the Junktion.
While there are numerous competitors starting to get into the local junk business these days, the Rubins' operation is among the most visible and established. The franchise will collect 3,500 tons of junk this year. The second most profitable 1-800-Got-Junk franchise -- in San Francisco -- will collect 2,000 tons.
It's a small portion of the hundreds of thousands of tons of trash, waste and household rubbish generated by Montgomery County residents each year. But by trekking into homes and doing the hauling, the Rubins find there's enough to keep their business growing. People with junk simply dial the name of the company. They schedule a pickup time. And then two skinny college guys like Frank O'Brien and Jonathan Charlton, blasting tunes through their iPods, come by in a mini-dump truck, usually the next day.
As O'Brien and Charlton pulled up to a home in Rockville one recent afternoon, a woman came to the door. She looked frazzled.
"Are you the junk guys?" she said.
"Yes, we're the junk guys," O'Brien said.
"Oh, thank God," the woman said. "I have a big job for you."
O'Brien's and Charlton's faces lit up. Like the Rubins, they love junk. They walked in the house and discovered an old living-room chair that was missing some stuffing. "Looks like the cat got to it," O'Brien said, picking it up. It is not the first time he has seen a chair apparently eaten by a cat.