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In the junk business for the long haul

February 05, 2006|By CANDICE BOSELY

candiceb@herald-mail.com

Charles W. McClister III grew up wanting to work in politics. Instead he's hauling junk.

McClister is happy to discuss how he went from a federal employee to the owner of a business that has its employees crawling on their hands and knees in basements, knocking their heads on attic rafters and, once, leaving an apartment wearing flea-covered socks.

The owner of the Hagerstown franchise of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, a worldwide junk-hauling company, McClister worked for six years in Washington, D.C., with the Department of Labor.

Realizing that more and more federal jobs were being outsourced, McClister decided he wanted to open a business.

"What's not better than being an entrepreneur?" he said.

He read entrepreneur magazines and did months of research into different franchises.

Among others, he looked into opening a sandwich shop, a coffee shop, an ice cream parlor and a men's fitness center.

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"At the last minute I looked into 1-800-GOT-JUNK?" he said.

The company is the 78th fastest-growing franchise in the country and ranked No. 292 on Fortune 500's Franchise 500 rankings for the year 2006, according to Entrepreneur magazine.

McClister, 31, of Frederick, Md., owns the business with his wife Michelle. It opened on May 2, 2005.

His office is at 12803 Oak Hill Ave.

Although he said he does not believe in signs, the first check he received from a customer reassured him that he had made the right decision.

It took two days, but after receiving his first cleanup job McClister was given a check for $334 by a company named Dreams Come True Inc.

The name of the company made him feel good, since McClister's dream was to be in business for himself, he said.

McClister made a copy of the check, framed it and hung it near his office door.

The service is used by homeowners, property managers, real estate agents, contractors and businesses.

"Everyone has junk. Literally everyone has junk," McClister said.

The company will haul away anything that can be picked up by two people and that is not hazardous - such as paint, explosives and firearms. Items commonly picked up include furniture, appliances, construction debris and yard waste.

The items do not have to be gathered or placed at a curb; employees will go into people's homes or businesses to carry out junk.

McClister also cleans up after tenants who have been evicted, which can be a dirty job. Sometimes apartments are ransacked.

His "grossest job" was cleaning out an apartment from which the tenant had been evicted. McClister - who is a working owner, hauling junk alongside of his five part-time employees - and his crew were greeted with trash, rotten food and small biting insects.

"Our white socks, there were just fleas everywhere," he said.

His largest job, finished in one day, was hauling away 28 truckloads of boxes and trash from an Old Navy store in Winchester, Va.

The franchise serves Washington County; Franklin County, Pa.; West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle; Clarke County, W.Va.; Franklin County, Pa.; and a portion of Warren County in Virginia.

McClister said he and his wife invested their savings in the business, including buying three trucks.

Keeping the trucks clean, even if it means washing them more than once a day, is one of the four guiding principles of 1-800-GOT-JUNK?

The other three are providing on-time service within a two-hour window, giving upfront rates, and ensuring employees are uniformed and friendly.

McClister estimated that his franchise has picked up more than 50 tons of "junk" in the last seven months.

Sometimes what one person considers junk might be useful to someone else. Whenever possible, items that are picked up and are usable are taken to local charities. Other materials are recycled and whatever is left is taken to local landfills.

Occasionally something of interest is found.

One employee was excited to find a box of Garbage Pail Kids cards, while another kept a notebook full of baseball-type cards that depicted comic book characters, McClister said.

Cleanup rates, ranging from $149 to $498 for a full truckload, are based on how much of the truck is filled.

McClister said - pun intended - that he's in the business for the long haul, having already established goals for the next three years.

"It's not something people go to school and say, I want to be a junk owner," McClister said, adding later, "To me this was a calling. Being an entrepreneur, being my own boss."

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