Small Business: Hunks (of all kinds) hauling junk

Posted: April 16, 2012

One glimpse of Matt McLaughlin’s blue eyes and bulging biceps, and it’s obvious why the 6-foot-2, 225-pound senior tight end at West Chester University considered himself a perfect fit for the job posted by College Hunks Hauling Junk.

Owner Michael Ort thought so, too, making McLaughlin one of his first hires.

But then he also hired Travis Weaver, who at 5-foot-8 and 125 pounds has never been likened to a hunk, the West Chester sophomore with boyish looks bravely admitted last week.

“I’m a little bit tiny for that,” Weaver said.

But he fits Ort’s hiring specifications. Contrary to what the company name unapologetically designed to give the wrong impression suggests, College Hunks Hauling Junk — new to the Philadelphia area — isn’t looking for hot guys. In this case, hunks is an acronym for “honest, uniformed, nice, knowledgeable students,” Ort said.

Therefore, he added coyly, his five employees “are all hunks” — with or without buff physiques.

It is a clever bit of branding by a franchise company in an increasingly crowded junk-removal industry. One-man operations that advertise for customers with signs tied to utility poles are up against titans like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, which has more than 180 franchises in the United States, Canada, and Australia — two of them in Philadelphia — and annual revenue of more than $100 million.

“It hasn’t peaked, by any means,” said Christopher Jackson, 29, director of marketing and branding at the Tampa, Fla., headquarters of College Hunks and its new relocation division, College Hunks Moving.

Or, as Tania Venn, director of public relations at 1-800-GOT JUNK? in Vancouver put it, “There’s so much junk out there.”

Like 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, which was established in 1989, College Hunks was founded by a college student, actually two of them. Omar Soliman, chief executive of College Hunks, and Nick Friedman, president, started an informal venture in summer 2003. After graduating and giving the working world a try, the pair got in touch and decided in 2005 to turn their summer experience into a full-fledged company, Jackson said.

College Hunks started offering franchises in 2007 and now has more than 40 in 25 states. Total revenue last year exceeded $8 million. The company expects to reach $15 million this year.

Ort’s is only the second College Hunks franchise in Pennsylvania, which he opened in January and based in an old warehouse in West Chester to serve Philadelphia and its Pennsylvania suburbs. The other Pennsylvania franchise is in York. New Jersey College Hunks are currently offered only in the central and northern parts of the state.

Ort, 28, graduated in 2006 from Pennsylvania State University with a business degree, and went to work for five years as a marketing manager for Bath Fitter. There, he developed his appreciation for the franchise way of doing business and his “itch to open up a business.”

He considered a variety of opportunities before a colleague at Bath Fitter referred him to a friend who owned the College Hunks franchise in York.

About $35,000 in franchise fees later, Ort was an owner.

With an average College Hunks job priced at $300, Ort projects annual revenue this year of $150,000.

His attraction to the company was its green focus, including a commitment to recycling and/or donating to charities a majority of its pickups. Ort also liked the focus on youthful hires, generally those between 18 and 22.

“It’s nice to be around young college students,” Ort said. “They bring a lot of energy.”

The idea of relying on students for success might make some business owners nervous. Not Ort, who favors those with experience in customer service, whether waiting tables, washing cars, or running the cash register at a grocery store.

Customer service, he said, is essential to his business’ survival. He asks customers to review his crews, comprising truck captains and “wingmen,” paid $10 and $9 an hour, respectively, plus tips.

Ort also hopes the College Hunks experience encourages his employees to want to go into business for themselves after graduation. McLaughlin and Weaver certainly have the academic background for it. McLaughlin is a business major; Weaver, finance.

At a job last week, they and their hands-on boss were cleaning out the basement of a ranch house in Landenberg, Chester County. That meant not only lugging heavy items of furniture, but also doing so up a flight of stairs. Over and over and over again.

College Hunks might not have to be gorgeous, but they certainly need stamina — and to be able to lift 45 pounds over their heads.

No sweat for McLaughlin, 21, who said he could bench press 365 pounds. Weaver, 20, doesn’t know what he can lift, but he said it was not anywhere near that.

He said his greatest business asset was his affable personality.

“I’m just real good with people. I’m always smiling,” a smiling Weaver said. “People like that.”

Ort’s staff currently doesn’t include women, not that he’s opposed to it.

“I would consider hiring a female hunkette,” he said. “They just have to meet the physical requirement for the position.”

At College Hunks’ most-formidable competitor, 1-800-GOT-JUNK?, Venn said a new rival in the Philadelphia market with such an enticing name was not worrisome.

“There’s no threat there whatsoever,” she said. “We’re a name that is well-known in the industry.”

Besides, she added, what constitutes a hunk is “up to the eye of the person” doing the looking. One of her people met a College Hunks representative at a trade show, she said, and reported that “he was not a hunk.”

When told that the hunks in College Hunks refers to more than good looks, Venn was surprised and impressed.

“That’s kind of cool,” she conceded. “That’s kind of a smart idea.”

Contact Diane Mastrull at 215-854-2466, dmastrull@phillynews.com, or follow @mastrud on Twitter.

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