Turning junk into jems
Native Rhode Islander Steven Lemieux has found himself a trash heap worth of business. Once a physical education teacher, Lemieux now travels all over Washington and Newport Counties collecting junk in his new blue and white truck labeled, 1-800-GOTJUNK?
Two years ago, Lemieux was chasing elementary school students around a gym. "I had 22 students or more in a class, and they were running everywhere because it was gym class. It was a challenge to keep them organized," he recalled.
Lemieux learned about the junk removal service from a friend of his who worked for one of the franchises of the company. "A real good friend of mine worked with my dad's friend, who owns a franchise," Lemieux said. With encouragement from his friend and his dad, Lemieux opened up his own franchise on Feb. 28, 2005.
Lemieux credited his father, Ron Lemieux, for helping him get started. "I had no business experience in my life," the former educator admitted. His father has his own full-time job, but works with him on the administrative side, teaching him the books, Lemieux noted. "He helps me out a lot," the young entrepreneur said about his dad.
Founded in 1989 by then university student Brian Scudamore, 1-800-GOT-JUNK? has expanded from a single truck in Vancouver, B.C., to over 200 franchises internationally, making it the largest junk removal service in the world. All franchises book their service appointments through a central reception and dispatch office in Vancouver.
The 800 number makes booking appointments easy for Lemieux. "I check my schedule online before work and print it out," he said. Lemieux also handles same-day service with help from the central hot line. "The dispatcher sends me a text message on my cell phone and tells me I've got an add-on," he said.
Lemieux starts his day with a trip to the dump to unload the trucks from the last pickup from the previous day. The first appointment begins at 8 a.m., and the last is at 4 p.m.
The business has been so successful for Lemieux that he has expanded to two trucks, three fulltime employees, and two part-timers.
In comparing the work to his teaching experience, both jobs were interesting and challenging in different ways, Lemieux said. With the junk business, "it's fun meeting different people, seeing different environments, and being with the guys," he said, adding that he doesn't chase kids anymore.
And challenging, it is. "In the summer, sometimes we handled seven trips a day," he said. A pickup could be anything from an office desk to a furnace, he explained.
Sometimes, the challenge is dangerous. "Hot water heaters get tough going up the stairs. There's a lot of heavy lifting," he said.
"We recycle as much as we can," Lemieux continued. His trucks carry paper to recycling centers, furniture to the Salvation Army in Newport, and books to the landfill in South. Kingstown. "They've got a little bookstore at the Rose Hill dump where we donate books," he added.
Lemieux lives nearby, across the bay in Narragansett. "We make quite a few visits to Jamestown," he said, noting the close proximity.