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'HUNKS' Take Summer Gig, Turn It Into Real Business

The Wall Street Journal - September 15th, 2011

By SARAH E. NEEDLEMAN

To earn some cash during the summer of 2003, college students Nick Friedman and Omar Soliman started what they thought would be a temporary business removing old furniture and other items from people's homes.

But after a brief stint in the corporate world following graduation (Mr. Friedman from Pomona College and Mr. Soliman from the University of Miami) they decided that hauling junk was far more to their liking. College Hunks Hauling Junk LLC became a full-fledged operation in 2005 and began franchising two years later.

The Washington, D.C.-based company has 37 locations in 28 states. Mr. Friedman, 29, says the business is on track to post $10 million in annual system-wide sales for 2011—up more than 60% from last year. Edited interview excerpts follow:

WSJ: How did the idea for College Hunks come about?

Mr. Friedman: Omar's mom owned a furniture store that had an old, beat up cargo van for making deliveries. She told us that a lot of times customers would ask the company to haul away their old furniture for them. A light bulb went off in our heads: We could borrow the van and go around town cleaning out basements, garages and attics and also help deliver and move items.

WSJ: How did you get the ball rolling?

Mr. Friedman: We tried to figure out a name to call ourselves and we came up with College Hunks Hauling Junk. It had a fun, catchy ring to it. We starting sticking flyers in people's mailboxes all around the neighborhood and the phone started ringing.

WSJ: What happened when you went back to college?

Mr. Friedman: We had made a decent amount of money but we didn't think anything of it. After we graduated, we both landed entry-level consulting positions. Very quickly I felt unhappy with cubicle life so I emailed Omar and said, 'What's our timeline for doing College Hunks on a full-scale basis?' He must have been feeling the same way because he emailed me back and said, 'My timeline is right now!' We took the business plan off the shelf and started making a checklist of all we had to do.

WSJ: How much did it cost to get started?

Mr. Friedman: We needed a truck, phone number, website and logo. We spent about $20,000—that was a combination of credit cards and personal savings—and we financed the truck. We started operating the business out of my parents' house.

WSJ: How did you promote yourselves?

Mr. Friedman: We did a combination of Internet advertising, direct mail, signage and flyers. We would park our truck in highly trafficked areas so it was like a billboard. We probably started out spending $500 a month on advertising and it would increase each month as sales grew.

WSJ: It's hard not to picture you having a staff full of beefy, young men. Are these your typical recruits?

Mr. Friedman: We define hunks as honest, uniform, nice, knowledgeable scholars. We don't take the name too literally. We have five female franchise owners and we've had dozens of female employees over the years. The majority of our haulers and movers are college students, but our management staff and franchise owners are people of all ages.

WSJ: Did business surge after Hurricane Irene?

Mr. Friedman: Yes, we actually work with a lot of disaster-restoration companies and we've seen a considerable spike in volume from them, as well as homeowners and businesses cleaning out debris and water-damaged belongings.

WSJ: Of all the items you've removed from people's homes over the years, what's been the most interesting?

Mr. Friedman: We hauled away some speakers that toppled over inside the truck and saw that weapons had been stashed inside. We called the police and it turned out the weapons had been used in an armed bank robbery and [the find] led to the arrest of the perpetrators. College Hunks saved the day.

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As Seen On ABC's Shark Tank, HGTV House Hounters, TLC's Hoarding: Buried Alive, The Oprah Winfrey Show, Bravo's The Millionaire Matchmaker, and AMC's The Pitch