Air Tran Magazine Interviews the HUNKS!
Male college students are the secret to a junk hauling company’s success.
Photograph by Vincent Ricardel
During the summer of 2003, Omar Soliman’s mom decided that she didn’t want her 21-year-old son on break from the University of Miami to just sit around and waste his days, so she asked him and his high-school buddy, Nick Friedman, to make a few furniture deliveries for her store in Washington, DC. She never imagined that her ploy to get her son off the couch would end up inspiring his future junk-hauling business, a multimillion-dollar company that stands out among competitors for its innovative approach to branding.
While making deliveries for the store, Soliman and Friedman discovered that people often had old furniture they wanted hauled away—and this trash became their treasure. They brainstormed a company name for their removal business—“College Hunks Hauling Junk” was funny and catchy—designed a logo and printed fliers to get the word out. That first summer, they made $5,000.
“The idea of having clean-cut, friendly, collegiate, hard-working individuals—not your typical junk haulers—providing the service is appealing to people,” Soliman says.
He took his concept back to school—on paper, that is—and won the Rothschild Entrepreneurship Competition for developing a viable business plan. The plan called for franchise-based expansion and guerilla-style marketing, with fliers left on doors and logo-emblazoned trucks parked in visible locations.
At the awards ceremony, Soliman received an oversized check for $10,000. “My friends said I looked like Happy Gilmore,” he says. “There I was in this beat-up car with a giant check in the back!”
Despite the accolades, neither Soliman nor Friedman seriously thought about operating the business full time. “We’d been brought up to study hard and get good grades and a good job, so it didn’t occur to us to start the business after we graduated,” Friedman says.
Soliman took a marketing job with a health care and education consulting firm, and Friedman became a consultant with a risk management and insurance services firm, with a starting salary of $50,000. But the taste of the summer’s freedom lingered. “Three months into cubicle life, I was pretty miserable,” Friedman says. “I emailed Omar, ‘What’s our timeline for starting College Hunks Hauling Junk full time?’ And he emailed me back in all capital letters: ‘MY TIMELINE’S RIGHT NOW!’”
Before officially launching the company, which recycles, donates or disposes of the junk it hauls, the entrepreneurial duo perfected their vision. “The one thing that we didn’t want to do was to just be two local junk slingers on the truck every day,” Friedman says. “We wanted to build a national brand. We had this vision of College Hunks Hauling Junk being in every city across the country.”
Unfortunately, that $10,000 in award money was long gone. “I wish I could say I put the money to good use, but I was a 21-year-old kid in Miami who just got handed $10,000,” the now-27-year-old Soliman says. “I did a lot of partying and traveling.”
The passionate pair didn’t let the lack of capital hold them back. With their parents as cosigners, they received a bank loan for $45,000 and used it to purchase their first orange, green and white dumpster truck, which they planned on parking in strategic, conspicuous locations when they weren’t using it to haul items. “People would go home and talk about seeing our truck,” Soliman says.
Part of CHHJ’s branding strategy focuses on how employees look and act outside of the office. They’re trained to be working “billboards”: They have to wear their shirts tucked in, look the customer in the eye and ask for referrals after every job. CHHJ employees are instructed to tell the customer their college and major, and must shake hands and sweep up when they leave. “We want the clients to understand they are getting a fabulous employee who doesn’t just haul junk,” Soliman says. “Our motto is, ‘Let Tomorrow’s Leaders Haul Your Junk Today.’ The kid who’s hauling your junk could be a future politician or doctor or scientist.”
While employees are all business during pick-ups, it’s a different story in the offices, which are extremely laidback. Remember, these are college students. The DC franchise, for example, is a dorm-like jumble of “finds” from jobs, including a couch, a mannequin, a set of weights and a basketball net for impromptu games. (Employees get to keep whatever they find, from Persian rugs to sports memorabilia.) Students are encouraged to spend time studying or playing video games between hauls.
Although CHHJ doesn’t discuss overall profits, companywide sales were more than $3 million in 2009, and the number of franchises nearly doubled. (There are currently 26.). “We’re still growing, but we’re not where we want to be,” Friedman says. “Our ultimate goal is to do $100 million a year.”
Plans for future growth include adding new commercial accounts, a continued focus on recycling—they’ve already developed partnerships with Goodwill and iReuse—and more franchise expansion. “Our vision is to be the largest employer of college students in the country in five years,” Soliman says. It’s a lofty goal—yet maintaining the brand of the company is the key to its continued success. After all, without college hunks, the company would just be hauling junk.
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