"Watch your fingers,” said Mark Rubin. A man and woman carried one of Potomac resident Ronald Rosenberg's overstuffed chairs down the stairs in front of his Avenel house, past the 1-800-GOTJUNK? truck parked in his driveway to a pickup waiting below. The furniture had avoided the junk heap. A plaid ottoman emerging from the house a few minutes later would not be so lucky.
"That looked like a perfectly good ottoman," said Claudine Rubin, owner with her husband Mark of the largest franchise of the Canadian company 1-800-GOTJUNK? in the United States. The pair were named Rookie of the Year for their franchise's revenue during its first year. But 1-800-GOTJUNK? doesn't come to make judgment calls — it comes to pick up junk to recycle or throw away.
"IT'S A HUGE INDUSTRY that's sort of on the fringe," said Mark Rubin. The Rubins were living in California, new parents working in the dot-com industry, when they decided owning their own business would give them the flexible hours they wanted so they could be with their daughter, Lucy, now 27 months old.
Potomac natives, they wanted to move back to the East Coast, near their families to start a new venture, said Claudine Rubin. A tip from a friend who had read about 1-800-GOTJUNK? in Fortune magazine, gave them the answer.
"We consider ourselves the FedEx of junk," said Claudine Rubin. "Where else can you do that? Have a guy in a uniform with insurance come in?" she said. Most of the time, people who pick up junk from homes arrive, and may assess the neighborhood and personal wealth, among other factors, when giving a price for the task at hand, she said.
1-800-GOTJUNK? has a stable and transparent pricing system based on truck loads, Mark Rubin said. Plus the crew members come inside and remove the items from the house.
"For me it was the greatest to have someone come in and take it away," said Maureen Troiano, a customer of the Rubins.
The box trucks, emblazoned with the company's green and purple logo, are each staffed by two crew members who fill the trucks.
The Rubins started out with two trucks. At the end of their first year, they are now up to six trucks, said Claudine Rubin. They are planning to order two more in the near future.
"YOU GET TO KNOW who your friends are when you move," said Ronald Rosenberg. "1-800-GOTJUNK? is my friend."
"Besides Claudine and Mr. Rubin, the workers have been so nice and respectful," he said as crew members Dave Coyne of Rockville and Matthew Fried of Baltimore carried out bags of junk from his house.
"It's a really awesome job," said Fried. "The customers are great. Mark takes real good care of us."
"If people click, that's the key to any business. The people are cool," said Coyne.
"The women say the trucks are cute," said Coyne.
"I haven't met any of these women, but I say the trucks are cute," said Fried.
THE COUPLE STARTED the franchise while living with Mark Rubin's parents, Fern and Norman Rubin in Potomac. Claudine and Mark Rubin slept in Mark's childhood bed, their daughter in another room in the house.
"We couldn't have done it without our parents," said Claudine Rubin. Although they have moved into their own place, they still live less than a 15-minute drive away, giving Lucy easy access to her grandparents.
The record-shattering revenues earned in their first year gives Rubin a basis for planning the franchise's future.
"I hope it'll be repeated," she said. "We just shot right out of the gate."
Mark Rubin will soon visit Toronto, Canada, to see what he can learn from a larger operation to further the development of their Potomac franchise. "That's where we want to be in five years," said Claudine Rubin of the Toronto operation.
"Everyone's stuff turns into junk eventually," she said.