Franchisee finds an alternative to the “cubicle life”

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Jon McQuesten, 32-year-old business owner, marketer, and operations chief, says he’s never alone these days– especially at stoplights. Driver of an attractive 15-cubic-yard brightly painted 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck, he is getting used to drivers stopping him en route to appointments – asking what he hauls and the cost per load. “I see people scrambling for a pen and paper to write down the phone number,” he says, amused by the reaction to his new venture.

The former EDS configuration management systems engineer, now-self-employed business owner, had a taste of the corporate good life. He experienced nine years of regular promotions- from his first job in the mail room to eventual certification as a systems engineer in the company’s configuration management department. His wife was also employed, until recently, by the WorldCom vendor, EDS, as a database administrator.

So far the transition to self-employment has been a smooth one. Never crazy about cubicle life, Jon had hoped, upon graduation, to get a job in law enforcement. Job opportunities were slim in 1993 when he arrived in Colorado, so he took what was available. In the back of his mind, however, he hoped one day to find an active career that included working outdoors. With clients lined up from the first day of business and a regular haul of five to ten loads each week to area landfills, McQuesten is getting his wish.

Perhaps it was his independence and love of the outdoors– or a gut feeling that WorldCom might be considering layoffs- that caused him to begin searching for a business of his own on the Internet. In January 2002, McQuesten, intrigued by an article about the company in Fortune Magazine, called 1-800-GOT-JUNK and got a call back. Once interviews were completed in Vancouver, and visits were made to other corporate franchise locations, McQuesten arranged financing through a home equity line of credit, and was on his way to a new career.

Today, as a new franchisee with Vancouver, Canada-based 1-800-GOT-JUNK, he is confident that he can offer the Colorado Springs community a well-organized, much-needed professional service. “I had to win my wife and parents over. It wasn’t easy,” said McQuesten, “to convince my folks, who had paid for a college education in criminal justice at George Mason University, to see the value of the business at first.” Recently, however, they visited Colorado Springs and spent part of their vacation wearing 1-800-GOT-JUNK caps and shirts to area gathering spots to support their son’s new venture. “My mom had several people ask her about the business– and she and my dad handed out business cards to all kinds of people,” he said. “They were really getting into it,” he added.

The Washington, D.C., native likes the fact that his fellow franchisees are all young and energetic. “The company founder is in his mid-thirties– as is most of the management team,” McQuesten said. “That appealed to me.” He is also impressed by the company’s business model which offers complete back shop support to the franchisee. As North America’s largest junk removal service, 1-800-GOT-JUNK utilizes centralized scheduling through a call center and then forwards appointments, via the Internet and e-mail, to local operators. Those callers earn a $10 discount for booking appointments over the phone. “I had an elderly man demand to talk with someone local,” said McQuesten, “so I let the company give out my cell phone number.”

Numerous customers have already found McQuesten, and at the start of his second month in business, the local operation keeps two employees busy full-time. “I spend about 15 percent of my budget on advertising and marketing right now,” he said, “but eventually I’ll drop back closer to eight percent.”

His strategies? In addition to parking his truck at strategic, highly-visible locations such as a Big-O Tire store or in a Wendy’s parking lot near Highway 83 on off-hours, McQuesten will drop 17,000 flyers in the mail to prospects. “I trade out services with other business owners,” he said, admitting that it is sometimes hard to ask for help. “We help each other with referrals. My friends and neighbors have been great.”

So far, zip code area 80918 has been McQuesten’s busiest sector. His biggest jobs to date have been to haul away 15 tons of pine needles and nine tons of concrete. Customers are charged for the space their haul-aways take in the 1-800-GOT-JUNK truck. “Our charge to take a washer and dryer to the landfill, for example, usually runs about $70– and 1/8 of a load runs $88,” he adds, noting that a full load costs $378 to haul– including clean-up at the customer’s site.

“I opened just after the spring clean-up, which is usually the company’s busiest time of year,” he says, explaining that “high season” runs from May to September. His rule of thumb on jobs is “whatever two guys can get into a truck” but excludes hazardous materials such as paint or old battery disposal. In those cases, McQuesten refers homeowners to drop-off locations such as those offered by El Paso County. He also takes regular loads of good useable items such as sofas, beds and household items to the Walking Shield warehouse for delivery to Native American reservations in North and South Dakota. “I really like being able to provide that service,” he says.

1-800-GOT-JUNK’s corporate promise is to provide up-front rates; to pick-up items in a clean, shiny truck; and to be competitively-priced. So far most of McQuesten’s jobs have been for residential clients, but his goal is to introduce the company to property management companies, realtors, retailers and more.

Franchise support includes regular training updates and conference calls that bring together owners from around the country. To date, the international company boasts 34 operations in the U.S. and Canada. Its largest franchise is Toronto, says McQuesten, but seventy percent of the firm’s franchises are located in American cities. “I trained in Philadelphia and Louisville before opening my own business,” he said.

As far as his thoughts on the first two months as a 1-800-GOT-JUNK operator, McQuesten sees nothing but blue sky ahead. Already contacted by former colleagues from WorldCom about hiring, he expects to show a profit in 12 to 18 months. With a territory stretching from Pueblo to Monument, the hard-working entrepreneur- who, in his logo’d cap and shirt, resembles a clean-cut FedEx or UPS driver- hopes within the next two years to move into more of a supervisory role. And, one day, as his fleet of up-to-five trucks role throughout the Pikes Peak region, cubicle life will become but a distant image in Jon McQuesten’s rear view mirror.