Q&A: Brian Scudamore, founder/CEO, 1-800-Got-Junk

Brian Scudamore turned junk collecting into a $100-million business. Can he do the same with house painting?

Brian Scudamore, founder and CEO, 1-800-Got-Junk (Photo: Pooya Nabei)

For the past decade, Brian Scudamore has been known as the man who made junk look good. His 1-800-GOT-JUNK brought branding, uniformed workers, presentable trucks and call-centre customer service to junk removal, a long-fragmented industry largely made up of small mom-and-pop and dude-with-a-truck operations. The Vancouver-based company has since grown to more than 200 franchises across North America and Australia, and eclipsed $100 million in revenues.

Last year, Scudamore set his sights on the similarly fragmented market of house painting. After hiring entrepreneur Jim Bodden to paint his new home, Scudamore was wowed enough by Bodden’s concept of getting any job done in one day that by last summer the two launched 1-888-WOW1-DAY Painting. The new company leveraged Got Junk’s brand strength, call centre, training and franchising system to launch franchises across North America.

Scudamore expects Got Junk to double its revenues to $200 million by 2016 and sees even more potential in the new painting business. Canadian Business staff writer Jeff Beer spoke to Scudamore about growing a franchise business, maintaining company culture and why people are more important than products.

Canadian Business: People are knee-deep in spring cleaning season right now—it must be a boom time for junk removal and house painting. How is 1-888-WOW-1DAY Painting doing?
Brian Scudamore: We’re at 12 signed franchises and have four more we’re closing deals on right now, bringing us up to 16. Then we’ve got about 40 people in the pipeline since we were featured on Undercover Boss Canada in March. Both brands were on there, and they had me undercover painting, then undercover hauling junk. So we have a ton of potential franchisee leads because it ran here and in the U.S. as Undercover Boss Abroad.

CB: How do you actually know you can paint any house in just a day?
BS: It’s a numbers game. You can paint anything in a day if you have enough people. We walk into a house, there’s eight rooms, we need to put one or two people in each room. In my house, they put 16 guys in there and did the entire three-storey home, including the basement, in a day. It sounds like a lot of people crammed in there, but it’s a co-ordinated effort with just one or two in each room so it doesn’t get hectic.

CB: Beyond the one-day aspect, why should anyone care if the house painter shows up in a clean uniform and branded truck?
BS: At the end of the day, and we went through this with 1-800-GOT-JUNK as well, does anybody really care about that? If you tell customers that the service is going to cost more because of the added professionalism of uniforms, they probably won’t want to pay for it. Yet many make buying decisions based on first impressions. If someone comes in for an estimate and looks like he’s got his act together and has a figure e-mailed to you within minutes, you’re going to be impressed.

When I did Undercover Boss, I went out with a painting crew and talked to the customer, looked at the house, went back to the truck, did up the quote on the tablet, printed it, went back and got it signed by the customer on the spot. The uniform, the technology, the whole professionalism aspect gives people the impression that if we’re that organized in how we carry ourselves and do up the quote, they’ll have more confidence in us to get a good job done.

CB: Given how fast the new company is growing, what are the most critical points when evaluating a potential franchisee?
BS: Beyond the tangible financial side, the proven track record of experience and results, what we look for is culture. Do we like them? Is it someone I’d like to go out for beers with? Is it someone I’d enjoy inviting into my home? You have to like the person and want to work with them because there is a lot of sweat, energy, passion and sacrifices that go into a successful brand. We want people who come in and know that they’re not trying to build just a painting or junk-removal business here, they’re trying to build a customer-service business.

CB: What’s the biggest challenge facing your businesses today?
BS: Keeping the right people, keeping them motivated and great. As clichéd as it sounds, having the right people is all a business really is. At the end of the day, companies like Zappos or Apple know you need the right leadership, which is about people at all levels who see the vision, understand the business and are passionate about it. Too many businesses think it’s all about their product or service, but if there isn’t the alignment with the vision and values, and your people don’t culturally get what your brand is about, it doesn’t matter how good that product or service is.

CB: How difficult is it to maintain brand consistency as a company grows?
BS: It’s been a lot easier on the Wow 1-Day Painting side, in terms of the integrity of how everything looks, feels and acts, because we learned so much from the junk-removal business. We know how important every aspect is—from uniform colours, to the website to flyers—and were able to set clear expectations with every person in the business from Day 1.

When we started Got Junk, we hadn’t yet learned those lessons, so we had guys in Canada who would say “Canada’s Largest Junk Removal” instead of “World’s Largest Junk Removal,” people who would take printed materials to a printer and change the font in the logo and all these other inconsistencies. We lost control of the brand about three years in, and it took us another couple of years to bring it all under control. I’m not naïve enough to think just because we’ve been successful with one brand that automatically the next one will be a success. It’s definitely a crawl before you can run.

CB: What do you value most in an employee?
BS: Someone who can see possibilities and act. People who are able say, “Imagine if we did this . . . ” and then they can figure out a way to make it happen. I’ve always loved asking, What if? What if we got on The Oprah Winfrey Show? What if we got on Undercover Boss? What if we were able to recycle more than 65% of what we haul away?

CB: What’s the most important skill for a leader to have?
BS: Transparency. I think it’s great when a leader can say, “Hey, I’m scared.” But also be open to talk about where the business stands. I believe transparency is key to gaining people’s trust. If you want people to follow your leadership, you need to win their hearts and minds. To do that, be vulnerable and be transparent. No one likes to be told exactly what to do. This isn’t the military. Leadership is about listening, transparency and honesty at every turn.

CB: What businesses do you look at as a model, example or inspiration?
BS: Zappos is one that I love. They want happy employees and want to make a difference in those peoples’ lives. I love Starbucks for the consistent experience. I like Apple for their care of the littlest of details and creating products that are so intuitive. I love Westjet. I love the fact that every time I fly with them they make me feel welcome. We just recruited our call-centre director from Westjet, and it’s a perfect example of what a caring organization it is.

CB: What’s the best piece of business advice you ever got?
BS: One of my mentors was the founder of Shred-It, Greg Brophy. Shred-It’s been built up to a billion-dollar business, and just prior to franchising in junk removal, I called up and asked him about the one thing I needed to know. And he said, “Never, ever, ever compromise on the people you bring into your organization. Every time you do it will come back haunt you.” And that’s absolutely true. We’re really picky in selecting people here.

I interviewed 70 people, travelled across the country to find our new COO, and it was a very long process that lasted about a year. But I found the right person. There were times when I thought I just needed to fill the position because I was already so busy, but it was worth the extra effort.