Thursday, June 25, 2009

Brand in a Brilliant Disguise

Sitting and waiting in a McDonald’s drive-thru, Brian was stuck in more ways than one.

It was 1989 and Brian had dropped out of his Vancouver-area high school.

One course short of graduation.

According to some of his teachers, he was also two bricks shy of a load with more than a few loose screws. Easily bored, Brian couldn't see the point learning about subjects he would never use in real life. He was different than most students. When a neighbourhood kid across the street set up a $2 car wash, Brian responded by copying the idea and charging $1.50.

Waiting in line that day for a cheeseburger and fries, listening to Springsteen, Brian was struck by a vision.

Straight between his disbelieving eyes.

From that moment, Brian was ready to sweat it out in the streets of a runaway Canadian dream.

"I knew I needed to find a way to pay for college. In the drive-thru there was a beat-up pickup in front of me that said Mark’s Hauling. I thought the hauling business was a great idea and with my last $700, I bought a truck and got started. I drove around town and when I saw someone with a pile of junk I knocked on their door and offered to take it away for a fee. That helped fund my college education. I actually dropped out one year before graduation because I was learning more from my business than from school. One year shy of a degree and here I am, a full-time JUNKMAN! My father, a liver transplant surgeon, was not impressed, to say the least."

From the moment his business was born to run, Brian was a risk-taker and a vision-maker. Able to see a brilliant future in a grungy disguise.

And do something about it.

Christening his new company as "The Rubbish Boys", Brian translated his dreams and vision into action. In two short years, the new Boss and his Boys were hauling trash to the tune of about $800,000 in annual revenues, with about a dozen employees serving the Vancouver and Victoria markets.

Then one day, an entrepreneurial friend named Norm, suggested he pick up a business book.

The "E-Myth Revisited".

Brian retreated to Rathtrevor Beach on Vancouver Island and voraciously consumed its contents cover-to-cover.

Then he read it again.

And strapped his dreams across its engines.

Finishing a book is a rare accomplishment for a hyperactive dreamer like Brian, let alone reading one twice. But there was something in Michael Gerber's masterpiece that spoke volumes about his junk business - and where it would end up if he didn't do certain things.

The next day, 26-year old Brian marched into his weekly meeting with seven or eight other young entrepreneurs and dropped his copy of the E-Myth on the boardroom table.

His words exploded like a hand grenade tossed into a flower bed.

"This is, by far and without question, the best business book I've ever read"!


Looking back, Brian says nothing has changed from what he learned on the beach that day and he still refers to E-Myth Revisited as his business "bible".

"I was blown away by the fact that nobody in this group of Young Entrepreneurs I was associated with had read the book or even heard of it. I told them that day it was going to have a great impact on the future of my business and theirs as well. More than anything, the E-Myth taught me to build your business like a franchise - even if you don't want to franchise it. Because franchising is a way to take best practices and recreate them in such a way that they easily become repeatable and scalable. And it applies to all aspects of the business; recruiting, training, marketing, operations, finance, etc.

This is interesting Brian ... tell us more.

"If you want to grow your business beyond being the person who does all of the day-to-day work, the E-Myth is the easiest way. It's about stepping back and taking a look at ways to build repeatable and profitable business systems that everyday people can operate. Thanks to what we learned from the book, we created a no-blame environment at 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, with an entire team fanatically focused on fixing systems. That's because people don't fail - systems do. On a daily basis we huddle at our headquarters, the JUNKTION and identify the systems in our company that need fixing".

Having had his eyes and imagination opened with E-Myth thinking, Brian realized he needed to develop a clear vision. While sitting on the dock at his parents’ summer cottage on Bowen Island, British Columbia, he scribbled his “painted picture”. Two pages outlining the company’s future mansion of glory. He also established a lofty goal: In five years, he wanted the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? brand to be found in all 30 U.S. and Canadian cities larger than Vancouver. As Brian explains,"I wanted to create the 'FedEx' of junk removal".

Franchise Number One was launched in 1999 in Toronto.

The 5-year goal was achieved 16 days ahead of schedule.

Brian Scudamore's recipe for success has been simple.

Take a fragmented, mom-and-pop business model and give it a branding makeover with clean shiny trucks that act as mobile billboards, uniformed drivers, on-time service and up-front rates. Mix in a hip culture of cool that is young, fun and completely focused on healthy, profitable growth. Ensure a foundation for the future by retaining 100% ownership and bootstrapping the business solely out of cash flow.

Although 1-800-GOT-JUNK? is a simple business, it could not have enjoyed rapid growth without technology-driven systems. All calls come into a central 1-800-GOT-JUNK? call centre where they do all the booking and dispatch for their franchise partners. Franchise partners then assess their real-time reports, schedules, customer info, etc., on JUNKNET, their corporate intranet. This allows franchise partners to get into business quickly, and to focus solely on growth — working on the business as opposed to working in the business.

So Brian ... why aren't more entrepreneurs rushing out, grabbing a copy of E-Myth Revisited and applying its principles?

"I think it comes down to the difference between being a doer or a thinker. Especially in the start-up phase, a business owner has to be a hard-core doer - but eventually, you've got to get other people around you to do the doing. Otherwise, you need to question if you are truly serious about building a business. Essentially you need to be able to systematize your business to the point where you can take ten weeks vacation and not have to check in".

1-800-GOT-JUNK? is now established in every major city in North America with a population exceeding one million people. That translates into more than a thousand trucks, serving more than 250 locations, generating more than $100 million in revenue.

Upwards of a thousand people now make a living through Brian's brand, 25 of which have become millionaires.

“With this company, I made the future happen in my mind. Once I became very centred in that picture, it was clear we would get there. We believe 100 percent that we will get to a billion in total sales. Any entrepreneur, or any leader, for that matter—in religion, in athletics— needs a clear vision.”

The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? story has been told on Oprah and Dr. Phil, written about in USA Today, The New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and the Associated Press and has attracted recognition with numerous business and humanitarian awards including, the Fortune Small Business: Best Boss Award, Entrepreneur Magazine's: Franchise 500, and The Best Company To Work for award by BC Business Magazine.

But Brian would be the first to tell you that it was power of another story that allowed 1-800-GOT-JUNK? to break out of a trap that leaves many business highways jammed with broken heroes on a last chance power drive.

A story that will steady the madness in your entrepreneurial soul.

And guide you to that place in the sun where you want your business to go.

"I can honestly say that if I hadn't read the E-Myth, our business wouldn't be half of what it is today."


Anonymous said...

I'm just finishing reading The E-Myth. It's an outstanding book that any business person should read.

When I started my business, I didn't have a clear vision. After reading the book, I've developed one, and now every decision is directed at the vision. It affects all aspects, from the face-to-face interactions with clients to the phone call and email replies.

I'm now in the process of developing an Operations Manuel. Like Brian said, you need to build your business like a franchise, even if you don't plan to franchise it.

This is a great post Gair! Another one that gets my entrepreneurial engines revving!


Shallie Bey said...

This is a wonderful example of how someone took their business dream and weaved it into reality. It is amazing how often that happens for people who read the E-Myth Revisited.

This book has certainly changed the direction of my life. I hope your story will make more people aware of Michael Gerber's great contribution in writing this book. Further, I hope they will be inspired to also take their business dream and weave it into reality.

Shallie Bey
Smarter Small Business Blog

Marty Thomas said...

I'm Interested in your thoughts.. Does 37signals or E-myth have the right philosophy for business start-ups today?