Leadership Lessons from 1-800-GOT-JUNK Founder
"It was 30 years of break it, fix it, break it, fix it, and keep on learning," said Brian Scudamore, founder of junk-hauling franchise 1-800-GOT-JUNK.
Brian Scudamore wrote the book on learning from failures in business—literally, as the founder of 1-800-GOT-JUNK and the author of "WTF! Willing to Fail" explained in a recent interview full of humility. Those lessons are working overtime during the pandemic.
"I wrote a book, 30 years of mistake after mistake after mistake. It was 30 years of break it, fix it, break it, fix it, and keep on learning," he said about his book published in November 2018.
The pandemic has posed new challenges for the junk-removal franchise with about 156 operating units, which costs approximately $100,000 to get started. Wow 1 Day Painting and Shack Shine are the two other brands under the same umbrella.
But he believes there is a gift in every crisis. "This is not happening to us," he said. "It's happening for us. How we react now and on the road to recovery will decide our future."
In March, he trimmed about 120 positions out of 550 from the corporate staff, 86 of those from the sales center. "The good news, we brought all those people back," meaning the sales people. "We feel today that we've made decisions to get to a place where we've got the right team and the right structure to get back to growth."
"While it's early in the month, June 1, the one day we have on the books so far was 5 percent better than last year. April was down 37 percent; May was flat, but things are definitely turning around," he said.
He also went to employees and proposed a salary reduction to everyone across the board. "Of course myself and my president, we decided to take no salary until everybody was back to their regular salary," he said when interviewed June 2. "Everybody took it, and what was great is, we said we'd be back in six months but we got back in six weeks. So as of yesterday we told people, you're back to 100 percent. People appreciated it, that we kept our commitment."
Another learning came from the 2008 financial meltdown. At that time, "a lot of people pulled back on advertising spend and we were one of those. That was the wrong move," he said. When the pandemic hit, he immediately called franchise partners across brands, and said "don't cut. Instead, go to your TV or radio partners and push hard for discounts, push hard for more frequency, and many of our partners were successful."
Perhaps his most painful lesson came in the early years. "I was five years into my business, half a million in revenue, and thought I had the right people but realized I wasn't happy" with them.
"I had nine out of the 11 who were bad apples, and I fired my entire company of 11. I started with two words, that as their leader I had let them down, and I really knew that I didn't have any options other than ot start again and rehire. It taught me the importance of people," he said.
"It was not a fun rebuilding period of six months, but it was absolutely something that had to happen," he said. "What I do differently was hire on attitude, train on skill. I looked for people that I could envision myself being friends it. We called it years later the beer and barbecue test. It became a simple filter for us to screen people, and just say, do you like these people. I had people in the early days who were negative, who were complaining all the time."
"I learned a thing or two, and I will keep on learning. That's the beauty of being an entrepreneur. It's not always fun having the learning, but it keeps it fresh and exciting. I'm never bored," he said.