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College Hunks set up shop in Ybor City

By JOSH POLTILOVE | The Tampa Tribune

YBOR CITY -- Nine years ago, college students Omar Soliman and Nick Friedman thought they could make a few bucks picking up junk in Soliman's mom's beat-up van.

They called their little business "College Hunks Hauling Junk," and during the summer the van carried everything from couches to refrigerators. They made $8,000 — not a bad haul.

Now the business has about 500 employees nationwide, with nearly 50 franchises in 30 states. This year, the operations are on pace to earn $13 million, Soliman said.

Last week, College Hunks Hauling Junk and sister company College Hunks Moving held a dedication ceremony in honor of their new "world headquarters" in Ybor City.

About 100 employees work in the 10,000-square-foot headquarters, which is adjacent to the rear of Centro Ybor at 1513 E. Ninth Ave. As the company grows, the headquarters might add staff and expand, Soliman said.

The desire to move a business like College Hunks to Ybor is an indication of the neighborhood's positive movement upward, Mayor Bob Buckhorn said.

The move is part of Ybor's transition from a pure entertainment district to a more balanced mix of commercial and nightlife, Buckhorn said.

"You need that balance," he said. "You can't be entirely dependent on the clubs to survive."

College Hunks Hauling Junk officially launched in June 2005 as a two-employee business in the Washington, D.C., area.

The company earned $600,000 its first year and grew rapidly.

As College Hunks began franchising, its owners decided they wanted a single contact center for all the franchises. So about 4½ years ago Soliman and Friedman moved the operation to South Tampa.

But it outgrew that space, too, and needed a new home.

"We didn't have enough places for people to sit," said Soliman, 30.

Ybor seemed to be a great fit, Friedman said.

"We are really impressed with the historical significance of Ybor City," said Friedman, 30. "We wanted to be part of the Ybor business rejuvenation that the mayor has been talking about."

The new headquarters has many uses, including a call center and a training center for new franchise owners.

College Hunks is trying to be progressive in what has been an old-school industry by heavily using social media and encouraging its employees to offer ideas, Friedman said.

Staff meetings are held indoors in an area that resembles a football field. There's a goal post, pylons and College Hunks jerseys.

The building itself has plenty of open space, and there even is a "Dream Room" where staffers can nap, relax or meditate.

"It's an area of tranquility," Friedman said.

Nationwide, College Hunks is averaging about one new franchise a month, Soliman said.

Ultimately, Soliman and Friedman have huge plans.

"Out goal is to be at 250 franchises, doing over $100 million in system-wide sales," Soliman said.

That's an impressive figure for two guys who started carting junk themselves in a beat-up van.

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