Q&A with College Hunks franchise owner Roger Panitch, who opened his business in Atlanta in 2010. It has been growing quickly
Roger likes having the flexibility to spend more time with his family.
Roger Panitch started his College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise in Atlanta at the beginning of 2010, and he has expanded to six trucks and 20 employees in four years. A year after starting his junk removal franchise, he also opened the College Hunks moving franchise concept. He has used the two concepts in tandem to build a thriving business.
We recently asked Roger to explain why he bought a College Hunks franchise and what his experiences have been. This is his story.
What were you doing before College Hunks Hauling Junk?
The extended answer is that in December 2006, I was downsized — along with 10,000 of my closest friends — by Pfizer. I spent a few years as a corporate recruiter, and I did okay, but I hated being chained to a desk. I wanted to do something else, and I clicked on a “have you ever thought about owning your own business” link. After I filled out a form, my phone started ringing from franchise recruiters.
How did you find out about College Hunks Hauling Junk?
I actually have a friend who is a franchise recruiter, and one night after dinner at his house, he showed me some of the franchises he was familiar with — including College Hunks Hauling Junk. I wanted to dig in, and the next day I was on a webinar with College Hunks Hauling Junk. The day after that, I was making calls to franchisees to see what they had to say about the business.
What sets it apart? Why did the company appeal to you?
It was different. It looked fun, and once I started making the phone calls, it was clear that the business was unique in that nobody had a bad thing to say about it. Every owner that I talked to loved what they were doing and was having fun. They were clear that it wouldn’t be easy to build a new business, but I’m not averse to hard work.
What makes a successful College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise owner?
Unlike a Subway or a McDonald’s, you can’t just hang a sign and expect people to become customers. You have to network and educate the market about the value of junk removal and professional moving. There are still a lot of people who are flabbergasted about the idea of paying for junk removal, even though getting rid of junk can have a huge positive impact. A little more than a year after we opened, we started the moving side of the business, which is a whole separate operation. Junk hauling is complementary to moving. When you are moving, you are cleaning out your entire house to move to another location, and you probably have that couch in the basement you never want to see again, and you don’t want it taking up space in your new house. People who are selling their house will also hire us to come empty junk out of their basement so it will look good for sellers, and when we are there to remove the junk, we mention that we also offer moving services. The bridge to talk about the other services is very easy.
What do you like about running the business?
I really enjoy mentoring. Even though the name is College Hunks, it’s not just college kids. My workforce tends to be young men who are a year or two out of school or are saving money to go back to school. I have a chance to teach them things about business and customer service that they are never going to learn in school. That’s true for new team members and for those who are advancing into management roles.
For instance, one of my favorite parts is teaching them how to conduct an interview — how to behave when you’re on the other side of the table, and which questions you cannot ask for legal reasons, like “Do you have kids?” That’s a big no-no, and I can explain why. Also, I know that many of my employees are going to take these skills and use them in whatever career they pursue. If I have a guy who is interviewing for accounting positions, after their interview I might ask them if there were any questions that stumped them so I can help them practice for next time. I had a guy recently who was asked about his biggest weaknesses, and he was stumped about how to answer. I suggested, as an example, “I’m not the greatest at self-evaluation,” and a light bulb went on over his head. Next time, he’ll be ready.
It’s a lot of fun. We’re at six trucks now and still growing. We’re making a name. I have about 20 people working for me now and could probably stand to hire five or six more.
Tell us about your team members.
My three managers are 25, 26 and 26. I have one employee who is older than that, and the rest are in their early 20s. I have also hired a couple of 18- and 19-year-olds during the summers. We’ve had a couple kids who have worked for us consecutive summers when home from school. The timing of our busy season and the summer school break works out great, because it makes it easier to staff up. Summer is moving season. Families all want to be settled in a new home before school starts in the Fall, and even people who don’t have kids take advantage of all the extra housing inventory during the summer. Junk removal is busy during the summer, too, thanks to all the yard sales and yard debris.
College Hunks started as junk removal, and it added moving. Why did you decide to add the second concept?
Some early College Hunks franchisees bought into the system when it was only junk removal. You can make money there, but you can drive your top line revenue number significantly higher with moving. The profit margin in moving is lower, but there is a lot more revenue potential.
What do you do to grow?
I am part of a BNI networking group, which I joined when I first started. I’m also very involved in the Jewish community. I play basketball at the Jewish Community Center, my kids go to day school, and I am involved in my synagogue. I sponsor kids’ sports teams. When I am in the community, I am always branding. I generate a lot of leads just from basketball and from coaching my son’s baseball team. I am always wearing my College Hunks shirt. When the Dunwoody Art Festival started, I became a sponsor. We are the company that blocks off the street with our truck. It’s great exposure. Everybody knows us, and 50,000 to 70,000 people walk past the truck on their way into the festival. We have a booth at the festival, too, and people stop and learn about what we offer. I have my guys out there, and they are all outgoing and personable, and they’re dancing and having fun. We make a display of ourselves.
What kind of person makes a good College Hunks Hauling Junk franchisee?
I think you could have a wide swath of different types of owners, but whether the owners fill this role or a general manager, you have to have somebody running the franchise who is outgoing, who wants to press the flesh and who is energetic.
What does a typical day look like for you?
I have three managers now, so now a lot of my day is managing my managers. I’m teaching and coaching them and strategizing about how to grow and get better. I used to handle a lot of the operational aspects. There are a lot of pieces to keep track of. Do you have a bookkeeper, or are you keeping up with Quickbooks yourself? Are you paying everything, or do you have someone to help with it? Who is following up on missed leads and missed opportunities? Who is putting jobs into the system? A lot of my work now is trying to help my managers grow and learn. Building leaders is one of the four core values of College Hunks Hauling Junk, and it is rewarding to help people gain skills and to develop a team that can help you manage the business.
How large is the opportunity for growth?
Let me put it this way: In Atlanta, there is one company that has been around a long time and has 40 to 60 trucks. The opportunity is huge. You can grow as big as you want. There is a lot of business out there to be had. Our branding and our brand name turns heads and makes people smile, so it helps.
Who are your main customers?
They have to have some discretionary income. A big “aha” moment for my employees is when they realize that they — college-aged folks with limited budgets — are not the customers we are going after. We go after professionals who don’t have time to deal with the hassle of junk removal or moving, and older customers who either no longer want to do it or can’t do it themselves. We do not compete on the basis of price. I think we’re at the upper end of the price range, but we earn it by providing superior service — and I think that comes from the culture I’ve helped create.
What makes your service superior?
First, the communication is very strong. We confirm jobs the day before, and we let people know that we will call them when we are headed their direction. That allows them to do whatever they need to do and not feel chained to their house. Moves can be a nerve-wracking experience for customers, and these kinds of confirmations give them some peace of mind. We don’t give customers that horrible, cable guy “we’ll be there sometime between 9 a.m. and 8 p.m.” treatment. When we call customers to let them know we’re on the way, we’ll also ask them if we can pick them up coffee or a bite to eat — because their stuff is probably all packed up!
What does franchise ownership allow you to do that you couldn’t do before?
Part of the benefit is that I can coach teams and be my own boss. That’s a big value as far as I am concerned. I have three kids — 10, 13 and 14 — and I can be there. It’s very different from working in a corporate job, where I might have gone in at 6:30 a.m. and worked until 6:30 at night — and still been afraid to ask for permission to take a few hours in the middle of a day to go see a school play.
Would you recommend College Hunks Hauling Junk?
Absolutely. As long as you’re willing to work hard, it is a great business. The franchise systems are strong, but but like any franchise you still have to implement the systems and build the business.