Alex Siegel had both plenty of stuff and plenty of reasons to get rid of it.
"I had a lot of furniture to be thrown away," said the Sandy resident. "I had people living with me over the years, and they left it. You know how you collect stuff."
Ditto for his business, Alex's Auto House, a car repair and service shop.
That's where 1-800-Got-Junk? took over. The local franchise of a Canadian operation came in and took it all away without Siegel lifting a finger, except to dial up the company, of course.
1-800-Got-Junk? and another franchise operation, TurboHaul, are relative newcomers to the Utah market, trying to fill a business niche as quickly as they fill landfills. They can haul away residential or commercial refuse on a spot or ongoing basis, without the need for roll-off containers or confusing contracts, often with same-day service and without forcing the owners to bring the stuff to the curb first.
"We have to break the ice with the local people because it's an up-and-coming trend," said Travis Lyon, general manager of TurboHaul of Salt Lake City, the first TurboHaul franchise west of the Mississippi.
"A lot of people aren't aware there is an option out there. What we're doing is educating people that they have other options for getting rid of their stuff and not have a special truck costing them an arm and leg or having somebody show up drunk, if he shows up at all."
"We're not trying to take the place of city garbage programs, because we realize that's not where our strength is," said Brian Gibson, franchise partner with 1-800-Got-Junk? "We have a service for someone who has junk to get rid of, but doesn't have time to do it or wants it gone right away or doesn't have a truck to do it."
Until the mid-1960s, there was no organized way to dispose of waste from people's homes, according to H. Lanier Hickman Jr., author of "American Alchemy: The History of Solid Waste Management in the United States." Prior to that time, local governments primarily picked up residents' refuse, while thousands of small companies drove to people's homes to collect waste.
Then, in 1965, the federal Solid Waste Disposal Act was established to assist state and local governments develop plans for solid-waste disposal programs. Today, the nation's estimated $39 billion-plus solid waste management industry is highly structured and dominated by a handful of giants that own landfills and remove trash from residential and commercial settings.
Experts within the waste management industry say that services removing the bulky waste from homes are one of the last segments of the industry that remains unstructured and one with the greatest unmet demand.
Jeremy O'Brien, director of applied research at Solid Waste Association of North America, which represents about 7,000 private and public waste management organizations, said not a lot of companies are willing to go inside a house and clean it out.
"There may be a true market niche for emptying out a whole basement," O'Brien said.
Both Gibson and Lyon have small operations now but expect them to grow quickly. Lyon oversees two trucks and two employees but soon will have four workers. TurboHaul now takes away trash in Davis, Salt Lake and Utah counties. Gibson's six employees (three full-time) and two trucks will be augmented by a third truck in a month or so. They work in Salt Lake County and Park City, but Utah County likely will be added in the fall.
Lyon's typical customer is a commercial property owner or contractor. "Usually it's someone who has a piece of furniture or old appliances or construction debris from renovating the house," he said. "We provide the labor. We haul it away."
The company also can do demolition; for example, tearing out some areas in preparation for rebuilding.
"It's a reach niche market," Lyon said. "There is a wide variety of things we can do. That's why the industry even exists. We can do it more efficiently than other alternatives. There's a need out there, and it's not really being filled efficiently."
Sometimes a TurboHaul or 1-800-Got-Junk? simply does the work without the need for roll-off containers, which often are filled quickly by neighbors or are aesthetically unpleasant if left to sit for days on end.
"With us, you only pay for the space the stuff takes up in the truck," Lyon said.
Residential service is $13 per cubic yard, with a dollar less for commercial properties. Folks generating a lot of junk can latch onto a contract for at least once-a-month service for as little as $10 per cubic yard.
TurboHaul does not accept normal raw waste such as food refuse, nor does it accept hazardous materials like wet paint or propane tanks. But dry paint, batteries and tires are accepted and disposed of properly. A typical haul consists of old clothes in beat-up boxes from the basement.
"Our truck was designed and then redesigned over the years to make the most efficient use of the space," he said. "The way it's loaded, we can break down the cubic yardage in the truck. You can look and see how much space it's taking up in the truck. That helps the customer feel they are getting their money's worth and not that we're just throwing out some number and charging them what we feel like."
Gibson charges a minimum $41 and then a volume rate kicks in. The truck's capacity is 15 cubic yards, and it costs $318 to fill it. A one-eighth load is $73.
"We haul just about anything two guys can lift," he said, adding that he too has a hazardous-materials ban.
"I would say probably 65 percent of my customers are residential," he said. "We've seen some trends. We've seen a lot of elderly couples use us. Even with city programs, they can't get stuff out to the curb or some Dumpster a couple of blocks away. We've helped property managers, contractors, Realtors, people moving.
"When people have big life-changing events like a move, a divorce, a death in the family that's when it's nice to have stuff moved right away. People can't wait for summer neighborhood cleanups sometimes."
Both companies hail their uniformed employees and clean, shiny trucks. Both get the stuff where it lies. "We've crawled into attics and under porches," Gibson said. Both try to recycle materials and donate usable items to Deseret Industries or the Salvation Army.
For both Gibson and Lyon, the niche-hauling business represented a way to return to Utah. Gibson started his business 11 months ago. After living in several cities, he read about 1-800-Got-Junk? in Fortune magazine, found more information on the Internet, bought the franchise a couple of months later and moved his family from Miami.
Lyon, in business only about three months, had a brother working for the company in franchise development and a brother-in-law working as a driver/laborer. A graduate of Brigham Young University, Lyon was living in the District of Columbia but moved his family back to Utah to start up his company.
Both also are coy about competition. Lyon considers the roll-off-container or waste companies an "apples to oranges" comparison. TurboHaul tries to get in where roll-offs are not efficient or when bulky items won't fit into an on-site Dumpster, or small jobs that don't warrant a large roll-off.
And he considers 1-800-Got-Junk? a competitor with a good system.
"There's room for both, definitely," he said. "There will be some battle for market share, but it's such a new thing in this area, I think both companies will prosper very well."
Gibson believes the industry is fragmented "and each has pros and cons," he said. "The junk removal business has a huge potential for growth."
And both expect more competitors to crop up.
"Salt Lake is pretty self-reliant," Gibson said. "Sometimes people feel a little embarrassed to have someone haul their junk. They feel it's their problem and they need to take care of it."
He tells the tale of getting a home in Illinois and finding that the previous owner left a big axle behind the garage and old wooden fencing piled up in the yard. "We didn't know what to do, so we rented a truck and got rid of it ourselves. It was a huge hassle. I would have been happy to call 1-800-Got-Junk? back then," he said.
Both foresee growth and are hoping to mimic the foundings of the companies they represent. TurboHaul started in Washington, D.C., in 1995 with a 1968 VW bus. 1-800-Got-Junk? was founded in 1989 with $700 in savings and now is a $17.5 million operation with more than 35 North American franchises.
Lyons wants to have three trucks by year-end and add one or two per year thereafter. Gibson expects to expand throughout Davis County and the Ogden/Weber County area during the next two years.
Peter McMullin of McMullin Homes in Midvale used TurboHaul about a month ago. "We build new homes and had, on quick notice, to move a bunch of junk out of a garage construction debris and whatnot," he said. "We called a lot of people, but they (TurboHaul) said they would be there in an hour or two."
McMullin said Dumpster containers quickly are filled by subdivision neighbors, "and that represents a couple of hundred bucks for every house we build."Comment on this story
"Excellent" is how Siegel described 1-800-Got-Junk? "You just walk around with them and they take it. They'll disassemble it, too. You don't have to participate at all if you don't want to. You don't have to stash it in front of your house, and the rate is reasonable.""We want people back after they use us," Gibson said. "We're not the cheapest way to do it. I mean, they can get a pickup truck and take several trips to the landfill and hurt their backs. But we try to make it a nice experience for them and leave everybody happy and everything looking nice. We say we handle the whole headache of having junk."
Contributing: The (Wilmington, Del.) News Journal.