Trash equals cash for new business

Junk collection franchise opens in Williston

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

It may be junk to some, but Aaron Fastman sees worn couches, old clothing and other unwanted items as a business opportunity.

Fastman recently opened in Williston the first Vermont franchise for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Using shiny blue, green and white trucks, the franchise picks up stuff too large for routine collection by garbage haulers and hauls it away.

A junk-collecting business recalls images of ramshackle trucks rattling down the road with loads of scrap metal. But 1-800-GOT-JUNK? uses custom trucks and a high-tech ordering system, bringing what has historically been a low-tech business into the 21st century.

Customers schedule a pickup by calling the national 800 number or through the company’s Web site. The booking is passed on to the local franchise via cell phone text messages or a computerized ordering system.

The franchise calls to confirm the appointment about 30 minutes ahead of time. Once there, uniformed workers assess the job, quote an exact price and take care of everything else, even sweeping up after they finish.

“We do all the lifting, sorting and transporting,” Fastman said. “The customers just point” to what they want removed.

Prices start at $99. A full truckload – equivalent to what six pickup trucks will hold – is $598. There are 13 other prices for various fractions of a truckload.

Fastman noted those prices include all costs associated with disposal. A $10 discount is given to customers who schedule pickups for the same day they call.

Unusable items are carted to a local transfer station and are eventually deposited in a landfill. But more than half of what is collected gets donated to the Salvation Army, ReCycle North or other places where it may be reused or recycled.

The local franchise, which opened in December, has an office at the corner of U.S. 2 and Industrial Avenue. Thousands of vehicles roll by each day, making it a perfect place to advertise using a parked truck emblazoned with the company’s name, which is the same as its phone number.

So far, Fastman and his employees, Jonathan Diamond and Bryan Yarnell, have completed about 40 jobs.

They have yet to collect anything quite as bizarre as some of the junk picked up by other 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchises. Among the most unusual items have been 19,000 pounds of frozen animal carcasses, a couch filled with bees and a diffused World War II bomb.

But there have been some local oddities. One person got rid of a 1,000-pound safe. Another discarded more than a dozen fine Italian suits. One load included both a chandelier and a toilet seat.

One customer was the AAA travel club office in Williston. The office moved in December from Taft Corners Shopping Center to Maple Tree Place and needed to discard cubicle partitions and a worn-out counter, said Tom Williams, AAA’s northern New England regional manager. He called 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

“It worked well,” Williams said. “I think it’s a great service.”

Tom Moreau, general manager of Chittenden Solid Waste District, said the business is unlikely to have much effect on the big trash haulers that operate in the area. But it could draw business away from the handful of small businesses that collect junk.

“They are going to compete with the small guy who has a stake pickup truck,” Moreau said.

1-800-GOT-JUNK? was founded in 1989 by 18-year-old entrepreneur Brian Scudamore in Vancouver, British Columbia. It has since grown to include more than 270 franchises covering nearly all metropolitan areas in North America and numerous smaller cities.

Fastman, 32, grew up in Woodstock, N.Y. He attended colleges in Colorado and New Mexico, eventually earning a degree in radio broadcasting.

Over the years, he worked at Smugglers’ Notch and as a product tester for Burton Snowboards.

Most recently Fastman was a social worker. But when his wife, Sasha, had a child last year, he decided to find something that offered a better financial future.

“I said ‘I can’t afford to keep doing this,’” he recalled. “Getting paid 11 bucks an hour for doing social work just isn’t going to make it in Vermont.”

Fastman had to provide proof of $100,000 in working capital and complete a training program to qualify for the franchise. His territory covers all of Vermont as well as the Plattsburgh, N.Y., area.

Fastman hopes to steadily grow the business. He wants to eventually have a small fleet of trucks, with multiple vehicles assigned to each part of his territory.

But he plans to maintain a low-profile operation so he can avoid attracting the copycat competitors the fast-growing company has spawned in other parts of the country.

“My goal is to be successful at this, but not really tell people how successful I am,” he said.