College Hunks Hauling Junk Franchise Review: Q&A with Nolen Hughes

Freedom to develop removal and moving sides of business simultaneously appeals to self-starter

Nolen Hughes likes getting out and meeting people, and he enjoys sales, so when the entrepreneur started looking for a business to own, he knew he didn’t want to be stuck in a back office or behind a counter. In 2009, he started a College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise in Little Rock, Arkansas. Since then, he’s taken the award-winning concept and grown it in every direction.

This is his story.

What were you doing before College Hunks Hauling Junk, and why did you change direction?
I studied marketing and business development at the University of Central Arkansas. I always knew I would work for myself in some capacity, I just didn’t know what that would look like. I didn’t want to be an hourly or salaried type guy, because I wanted the flexibility of being my own boss and steering my own rudder for success. I knew I’d probably be involved in sales in some way, because the time and flexibility of that appeals to me.

How do junk removal and moving services work together?
You really want to have both, because they complement each other very well. If you cross train your employees for moving as well as removal, you have a franchise that’s very versatile. Moving is very technical, but removal requires caution and skill, as well.

From a moving aspect, you have to have a lot of attention to detail because you are handling things people care about, and you have to have drivers who can manage a 26-foot moving truck. College Hunks provides great training and support. Once you get your people trained, they can do a lot of their own scheduling through automated systems. The web platform College Hunks Hauling Junk uses does a great job of helping clients book jobs, and so does the call center. I like that I don’t have to manage anyone to take calls — if someone calls with an inquiry, it’s going to a professional call center. And if they go online, they can see our scheduled availabilities and book us right there.

What are you looking for in employees?
Youthful energy, and people who are honest representatives for our company. We want honest, knowledgeable people in our uniforms, and we are looking for people who are personable. These guys are in people’s homes for an extended amount of time, so you want employees who will be comfortable in situations where the client might be stressed about their move. We want staff that those clients can relate to. There’s a definite brand and culture fit that we want. We have a fun, enthusiastic team.

How did you find out about College Hunks Hauling Hunk?
I was working for my dad, who owns a janitorial franchise company, while I was in college. I would go around checking on accounts and making sure buildings were being cleaned properly. I was also a floor technician, doing carpet cleaning and stripping wax off tiles. I was talking to my dad about what I should do, and he saw an article about College Hunks Hauling Junk. It was fairly reasonable to get into in terms of the franchise fee, and I thought it was an attractive opportunity.

What sets it apart?
As a franchise opportunity, one thing I liked was that it was not a restaurant. I grew up in a college town and working in the restaurant industry. I knew I didn’t want to do that. I looked into a couple of different cleaning options. I looked into apparel design.

One of the things I realized was that, as far as companies that offered both moving and hauling, there was zero competition. There was nobody doing it on a professional scale. It was also a little bit of a scary thing — why are there no junk removal companies here? The market had never been proven or tested in the Little Rock area. But that also made it exciting. Back in 2009, junk removal was still a fairly new industry — the idea of people paying money to throw stuff away. Our first year there was a lot of excitement, and we got a lot of business by letting people know that they “don’t have to pay $300 to have a dumpster rolled up in the driveway for junk removal anymore — we can take care of it.” And then we added moving in 2011.

Who is your customer?

Our typical customers are homeowners and businesses trying to de-clutter things they no longer need that are taking up valuable space in their home or office. Everything from furniture and appliances to old hot tubs, or junk that has accumulated over the years. For moving, it’s households, offices and apartments where the owners have kids and jobs and don’t have time to handle the move on their own.

Moving is 50% to 70% of our revenue depending on the month, so it’s become a more regular line for us. We typically have at least one move a day, minimum. Junk removal is more variable — some days we’ll do four or five jobs, the next day one or two. We get around that by shifting employees between the two models. In terms of margins, they are about the same.

What kind of person makes a good College Hunks Hauling Junk franchisee?
You look at the College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise as a whole, and it’s amazing how many personalities and skill sets have done well. You definitely want someone who is proactive. That’s the word that keeps coming to me, because there is a lot involved with starting any company and keeping it running. You have to be proactive in hiring, firing and networking.

If you are not committed to sales at some level, you are not going to grow. We are a service, and you have to be selling that service. You have to believe in it. You also have to be able to be direct with customers and employees. If they balk on a price estimate, you have to believe enough in your service to stick to the value you are offering.

What does a typical day look like?
Today I slept until 8 a.m., got some coffee, ran a little bit and then went to a networking event at the university I graduated from.

On an average day I wake up around 6:30 a.m., then I am in the office by 7:30 or 8 a.m. to start talking to employees about the day ahead. I make sure things are ready: gas is in the truck, tools all there, the employees are ready to go. Then I make deposits, go to a networking group, then distribute fliers at retirement communities or storage facilities, for instance. Later in the day, I am back in the office talking to the guys about how their day went and about ways we can improve based on their experiences. If there are any problems, I call customers and resolve those.

I also get a lot of calls from my real estate industry contacts, so I do two or three estimates a day on-site or on the phone. I prefer in-person, because there I have a very high closing rate. That’s where the sales aspect comes in. If you hire estimators, they need to be relationship-oriented people. It’s not like selling a product. You are going into people’s homes. Homeowners want to work with people they like and trust, so you need to be able to earn their trust.

What types of clients do you get through networking?
A lot of lawyers! They are constantly being promoted and moving to different offices. You would be shocked how many lawyers move each day, within the same firm, to get into a nicer office. Another great source has been apartment community managers. They’ll tell residents, “If you need help moving in or out, these are the guys we refer.” Retirement communities are also fans. Older people tend to think of our staff like their grandchildren, and they enjoy having them help.

What do your customers say about you?
You can go online to our College Hunks Little Rock page and see review after review from people raving about our service. That’s another thing that is great: College Hunks has all these systems in place to send automated emails to customers and get online reviews, so I don’t have to deal with soliciting them.

What other support do you get from headquarters?
There are lots of opportunities to get mentored on growth. There are weekly webinars and all kinds of best practices content. We have a great marketing setup. If I need ads or shirts or anything, I can place an order online and it’s just done. I don’t require a lot of coaching anymore, but the systems are there and there are people in place to help franchisees grow their business. We also have a cool internal social network where franchisees can ask questions of other franchisees, and we have more than 50 colleagues responding and coaching each other.

Would you recommend this franchise?
Yes, I would recommend the franchise for sure.