I had the pleasure of interviewing Nick Friedman, Co-Founder and President of College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving.
Nick Friedman is President and Co-Founder of College H.U.N.K.S. Hauling Junk & Moving, the largest and fastest growing junk removal and local moving franchise opportunity in North America. Nick started the business in college with his childhood best friend in a beat up cargo van, and has grown to over 100 franchises and $150 Million annual sales. He was named among the Top 30 Entrepreneurs in America Under 30 by INC Magazine and was on the same list as Mark Zuckerberg, Bill Gates, and Michael Dell in a Newsweek article entitled “College Kid to Millionaire”. Nick is a three-time Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year Award Finalist, and he won the prestigious award in 2018. He has been featured in numerous business books and textbooks, as well as Forbes, Fortune and many other notable publications. Nick’s company has appeared every year on the INC 5000 list of Fastest Growing Companies and has appeared twice on the Oprah Winfrey Show. Nick is also a TV personality, having appeared as a guest on shows, including the first episode of ABC’s Shark Tank, Bravo’s Millionaire Matchmaker, and CNBC’s BlueCollar Millionaires. He is also a Board Member of the Young Presidents Organization (YPO). As an author, Nick co-wrote a bestselling book entitled Effortless Entrepreneur: Work Smart, Play Hard, Make Millions.
Thank you so much for your time! I know that you are a very busy person. Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got started?
College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving® was originally founded by my best-friend from high school and me while we were in college. Omar and I were looking for a way to make money during college and were unfulfilled with our traditional job experiences. I was working as an unpaid summer intern in Washington D.C., and Omar approached me with a beat-up cargo van from his Mom’s furniture store. It sounded like a fun way to make some money while helping people with a service they needed. When we started, Omar and I only had ourselves and the cargo van, and now we have over 100 franchises providing full-service tech-enabled residential and commercial moving, junk removal, donation pickups, and labor services in the United States as well as Canada. Growing up, both Omar and I were taught to follow the traditional career path of earning a degree, getting a job, and climbing the corporate ladder. We knew after that first summer with the cargo van that we weren’t fit for a life of working for someone else. We learned about an entrepreneurial business plan competition during our senior year of college, so we entered it for fun. Well, we won. We beat out 150 other participants and received the Rothschild Entrepreneurship Competition. This ultimately gave us more confidence in the idea to launch College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving full time after college.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
When we first started the company, we were doing all the work ourselves! Many small business owners out there can probably relate and will remember what it was like to be both the employee and the boss at the same time. We answered the phones, set the appointments, drove the trucks, hauled the junk, and did the bookkeeping. We made our fair share of mistakes in that first year, but here’s a funny one! The 1–800 number on the back of our trucks was re-routed to our cell phones, so every time someone called to complain about a College HUNK driving erratically… we were usually answering that phone call while in the driver’s seat! We would have to switch into manager mode and let the caller know that we do not condone this type of driving at our company, and that the employee in question would be formally reprimanded. I may have wanted to fire myself three or four times that first summer.
We learned two important lessons from this:
- We were probably driving erratically because we were doing too much at once. We’d be rushing to the next job, talking on our cell with customers, and checking in with each other. Being Jacks of all trades wasn’t doing us any favors and we knew we couldn’t continue to do it all ourselves. We needed to work ON the business, not IN it if we wanted it to grow. If we wanted to add another truck, let alone another location, we’d need to enlist in the help of additional staff and empower them to take ownership of the work we’d been juggling that was ultimately holding us back. Creating systems and training programs that enabled us to duplicate the business model in other markets was what made it possible to scale the business.
- We also learned to be more aware of how we conducted ourselves and represented the brand while seemingly “off the clock.” We had been focused on saying and doing the right thing whether it be via advertising, while on the phone with customers, or on site during moving and junk hauling jobs. What we failed to realize was that by driving the branded truck in between jobs, or to pick up groceries on the weekend, and even wearing a branded t-shirt while out to dinner with our friends… we were just as visible to customers as ever! We took a step back and considered all the ways public perception of the brand could potentially be affected. Driving erratically while in a College HUNKS van surely made us look irresponsible, at best. This lesson helped us develop a holistic training program for future employees, and also helped us identify one of our Core Values of “Always Branding,” with the mindset that we are “on stage” at all times.
Is there a particular book that you read, or podcast you listened to, that really helped you in your career? Can you explain?
A book called Purple Cow by Seth Godin really resonated with me around the time we launched College HUNKS. The book’s message was centered in the need to be remarkable in order to stand out. It explains that if you’re driving down a country road and pass a herd of brown cows, you may not even notice them because of how ordinary and common they are. If you saw a purple cow among them, you’d not only notice, but you may even pull the car over, take pictures, share it on social media, and tell your friends and family. A purple cow would be so remarkable and unheard of, that it would be nearly impossible to pass over. What stuck with me about this message as we began to build the business, was that both a cow and a moving/junk hauling company are not inherently remarkable or unheard of on their own. Moving and junk hauling businesses had been around for years, so we knew the concept and the service itself wasn’t going to differentiate us from the competition. In order to stand out and be remarkable, we had to humanize the brand. We know there are a lot of options for our customers when it comes to hiring movers, so we aimed to build the brand around the people performing the service, not just the service itself. As two self-proclaimed college hunks, Omar and I saw first-hand how customers were just as interested in knowing WHO was helping them move and haul their junk as they were in the service itself, or how much it cost. It was important to our customers that they felt they knew and trusted us with their family’s things. With that, it was decided that our employees would be the face of the business, and the name College HUNKS Hauling Junk & Moving was born. We also turned HUNKS into an acronym which stands for “Honest, Uniformed, Nice, Knowledgeable, Service,” to broaden the definition and the brand promise our clients should expect. We feel it communicates to both our customers and our employees just how personally we take this otherwise seemingly ordinary service. With the addition of some strategically bold coloring in the logo, we’re confident this was the right move as we launched the brand, and credit Seth Godin’s Purple Cow for the inspiration.
Extensive research suggests that “purpose driven business” are more successful in many areas. When you started your company what was your vision, your purpose?
College HUNKS is a socially conscious, values-based organization with the Purpose Statement: “To Move the World.” What we mean is that we aim to make a positive, emotional impact in the lives of everyone we touch. We knew from the beginning that we wanted to chase the vision, not the money. Our vision was to become an iconic brand recognized for our world-class culture and service. This meant that we would aim to provide an excellent customer experience, but also an excellent business opportunity for entrepreneurs, and an excellent employment opportunity for all associates. We want our customers to like and trust us, our franchisees to find their purpose through business ownership, and our employees to enjoy and take pride in their work. To achieve that, we decided we would showcase WHO we are, not just WHAT we do. Our culture is rooted in giving back to the communities we serve, and the causes that move us. Whether it’s giving back on a national scale, or in our local communities, we’re proud to be an organization of people who care. We partner with organizations such as Goodwill and Habitat for Humanity ReStore to ensure the majority of unwanted items we haul are donated. Also, we have a national partnership with Feeding Children Everywhere, which strives to end childhood hunger. For every service the HUNKS complete, two nutritious meals are donated to a family or child in need, and within 3 years of this partnership, donations have exceeded one-million meals. Currently, with the rise of domestic violence reports since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, many local franchises across the country are partnering with family shelters in their area to assist victims of domestic violence with free moving services.
Do you have a “number one principle” that guides you through the ups and downs of running a business?
The number one principle that guides me through the ups and downs of running a business is that people are our most important asset. Whether it is the team at corporate, or the local franchise owners and their staff, we acknowledge that we wouldn’t be where we are today without the dedication and hard work of each individual at every level. Being among so many people who believe in College HUNKS vision and work to make it succeed is what has guided me through every stage of growing this business.
Thank you for all that. The Covid-19 pandemic has affected nearly every aspect of our lives today. For the benefit of empowering our readers, can you share with our readers a few of the personal and family related challenges you faced during this crisis? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
Like so many families, our family is adjusting to suddenly being home all the time. I am now working from home, and my young kids are going to school from home. They miss their friends and extracurricular activities as well. We also cancelled all of our spring break travel plans which was disappointing for them, so ultimately we’re all suffering a bit from cabin fever. At first, finding a healthy work/life balance felt nearly impossible. Knowing that most small businesses were going to struggle, as the President of the company I felt an immense responsibility to put as many hours in as possible to help our business and our franchise owners endure these challenges. It was very difficult for me to stop working or even take breaks. I knew I was headed towards feeling burnt out, and found it helpful to set a timer that would alert me to transition from work to family time, or to take a break for some exercise and meditation. I think it’s important to take care of my physical and mental health if I’m going to be my best self for my family and the business.
Can you share a few of the biggest work related challenges you are facing during this pandemic? Can you share what you’ve done to address those challenges?
The past two months have been extremely challenging and difficult for the business, and for me as an entrepreneur. I worry about all the health and economic threats we face as a society and feel a deep responsibility for helping the business and franchise owners whose livelihoods are at risk. The unpredictability of how it is continuing to pan out has forced all of us at College HUNKS to think on the go, problem solve, and adapt as a team.
A big challenge at the franchise level was figuring out how to keep our customers and employees safe while on site for a move or a junk haul. As customers became a bit hesitant to have service providers in their homes, we pivoted away from full-service to offering a discounted no-contact junk hauling service that allowed customers to put items outside and schedule a time for us to pick it up. We found that with people stuck at home for weeks on end, they were doing a lot of spring cleaning and purging their home of unwanted items more than ever before. We’ve actually read reports that a lot of sanitation departments are urging people to limit the amount of trash they put on the curb because they simply cannot keep up with the volume. We used that information as an opportunity to modify our service and continue to serve customers as best we could while keeping our employees at a safe distance.
At the corporate level, we had projected a 40% year over year growth for the next three years and had staffed up for that. Instead, our business took a sudden dip and like many companies, had to make the difficult and unfortunate decision to eliminate certain roles in our company. It was never a part of the plan, but we took whatever brand preservation steps were necessary to ensure that the brand would be around despite the economic impact. Another challenge at the corporate level was transitioning to working from home. For example, we had to decentralize our 200-person call center to be completely remote, which was difficult. Thankfully we had the technology and leadership in place to make this move, and the teams are performing better remotely than they did in the office. Having the corporate staff work from home wasn’t as simple as it sounded either. The team has had to adjust to conducting video conferences, rather than in-person franchise site visits. We inherently have a lot more on our plates as we help franchisees navigate through each challenge, and work to ensure they have access to every resource that can help get them through. Over 50% of our franchise owners have received PPP funding, and we are actively working with them to ensure they maximize cashflow, optimize their marketing, and minimize overhead as we navigate a difficult and unprecedented time in the business.
Many people have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. The fears related to the coronavirus pandemic have understandably heightened a sense of uncertainty, fear, and loneliness. What are a few ideas that you have used to offer support to your family and loved ones who were feeling anxious? Can you explain?
As with most challenges in life, the silver lining is there if you want to see it. It’s like the old adage, “when life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” I think throughout this crisis, there are so many opportunities for individuals and businesses to adapt, grow and flourish as we emerge from this pandemic. For example, people are inherently resistant or even fearful of change. I try to remind friends and family that good, bad or otherwise, we have to accept that life is ever-changing, and it’s up to us how we respond to it. I like to think that change doesn’t happen to us, but rather through us. We’ve heard the word “disruption” many times as a business buzzword. Industries being “disrupted” by technology (i.e. Uber disrupting Taxis, Netflix disrupting video rental stores, etc.). In my opinion, disruption is a fancy word for evolution, and evolution is a fancy word for change. Change is real. Change is natural. Change is a way of life. Some changes are gradual and over time, so we don’t notice them as much and they don’t feel as “disruptive.” Other changes, such as a pandemic, can throw us for a loop. It’s understandable that many people are panicked, and emotionally and physically drained. That’s okay! But, it’s about coming to grips with the reality of how things have changed, how they affect us, and finding the silver lining while seeking out an opportunity to ride the wave of change and make the best of it. We don’t know right now how the current circumstance will affect us as a society in the long-term, so I encourage my friends and family to take it one day at a time, and strive to find the opportunity among the chaos. We are privileged to have the opportunity to reconsider our way of life at home, in business, and in society. Do we return to the old way of doing things? Or do we adapt and improve? Things beyond our control will always change, but it’s up to us to take control and ensure they change for the better.
Obviously we can’t know for certain what the Post-Covid economy will look like. But we can of course try our best to be prepared. We can reasonably assume that the Post-Covid economy will be a trying time for many people across the globe. Yet at the same time the Post-Covid growth can be a time of opportunity. Can you share a few of the opportunities that you anticipate in the Post-Covid economy?
In a post-covid economy, I see a huge opportunity for people with the grit to take control of their own destiny as business owners, entrepreneurs, or value-added employees. The number of people who lost their jobs during the pandemic is staggering. I think about the potential implications of what that means for not only the individuals who are out of work, but the companies looking to ramp back up with a smaller staff. I’m curious to see how many people try to get their old jobs back, and how many people pursue something completely different. Most would consider losing their jobs to be one of the worst things that could happen to them, but during my time in franchising, I can’t tell you how many people have said, “losing my job was a blessing in disguise.” Sometimes it’s a blessing to be forced into a difficult position because you’re also forced to change for the better. People with the entrepreneurial itch and desire to be their own boss are sometimes hesitant to start a business for a multitude of reasons. More often than not, it’s because they have a seemingly secure job and steady income. Well, as 30 million people from just about every industry at every level can attest to during this pandemic, no job is entirely secure. I can only imagine how many people are soured on the idea of going back to the corporate grind and working for someone else after all this. So, for anyone who has considered starting a business before, I anticipate they’ll be more interested in buying a franchise vs. starting something on their own. Why? Franchises are considerably less risky and come with a proven system and dedicated support staff who are subject matter experts on all things from marketing, to finance, employee management and more. I think about how far we’ve come at College HUNKS in our 15 years in business. As with any business, mistakes were made in the first few years, but lessons were learned. All of it was documented and improved upon as time went on. Each new College HUNKS franchise will be better and stronger than the last because of this. Also, with a franchise comes a whole corporate support team and group of fellow franchise owners to lean on and learn from. Most people who try to go it alone end up like me in 2005, a struggling Jack of all trades. Having a dedicated support staff to help with every aspect of the business makes franchising inherently easier to excel at than your run of the mill start-up. That is the type of job security I anticipate people will pursue in post-covid world. People will be more likely to bet on themselves, invest in their future and pull up their bootstraps with the help of a franchise system.
I also anticipate that businesses will be looking for their team members to be much more independent. Employees will be working remotely and will not necessarily be working a traditional 9–5 workday. This will force companies to evolve and continue to leverage technology, improve communication, and streamline processes to be more efficient and effective.
How do you think the COVID pandemic might permanently change the way we behave, act or live?
I don’t like using the term “new normal,” but that appears to be what has already occurred. We as a society are faced with the task of re-defining what “normal life” looks like. Whether it’s our home life, work life, or observing the changes in our communities, the pandemic has forced us to do things a lot differently than before — distancing from others, washing our hands more frequently, avoiding large crowds, etc. We’re going to be given the opportunity to evaluate whether or not we actually want to return to doing things the way we were before, or if we’ll pivot towards new ways of doing things. We can redefine what normal daily life looks like, and I think most will embrace the opportunity to do so — some driven by fear and emotion, and others driven by their own risk tolerance. With the disintegration of our normal routine, we’ve likely been spending our time very differently these past few months, which may become new habits of living. We learned new skills, took up new interests, and approached work and relationships differently. Not all of it was ideal, but we’ll likely hang onto the parts we liked. We may see kids being permanently homeschooled, more employers offering the work-from-home option, and a significant change in how we shop for things like groceries. This will create a snowball effect that affirms the proverb, “necessity is the mother of invention” as we pivot towards an increased need for certain items and technologies that support our new way of life, and will see a decrease in the need for others.
As we emerge from this scary time in our history, I anticipate that most people will take different factors into account when making buying decisions. I anticipate that customers of all industries will value trust and quality over price and availability.
Considering the potential challenges and opportunities in the Post-Covid economy, what do you personally plan to do to rebuild and grow your business or organization in the Post-Covid Economy?
I plan to make remote work a standard aspect of our business. This will enable our company to hire the best, most qualified individuals regardless of what city, state or even country they live in. For example, our call center will be able to hire people across the country instead of geographically limited to Tampa, FL. We will reduce our travel and entertainment significantly for budgetary and efficiency purposes. An eye-opening number to see, was that we sold more franchises last month than in any prior month, and that was while meeting with franchise prospects virtually. We will continue to add new services and solutions for our clients such as long-distance moving, storage, and affiliate solutions that help make their lives easier. We will also focus on the importance of relationships with our clients, franchise owners, and team members. One thing that will never change is our company purpose and values, so while our tactics and strategies may evolve, our foundation as a purpose-driven, socially conscious organization will always remain the same. Also, during the coronavirus pandemic, we saw an increased number of domestic violence reports which inspired us to give back on a local level by offering free moving services in partnership with our local family shelters. We fully intend to formalize this as a standard charitable program within our organization indefinitely.
Similarly, what would you encourage others to do?
I encourage others to stay patient and to remain open-minded. Just as I tell my friends and family, opportunities will present themselves, and success is a product of faith x focus x effort. If people remain faithful, focused, and continue working hard, they will be successful and reach new levels of success. Embrace the change. Embrace the chaos. And enjoy each moment as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Can you please give us your favorite ”Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Appreciate the little things, because one day you may look back and realize they were big things.” This quote has been super helpful to me to try and stay in the moment and be mindful and patient and not always looking towards the future. This in particular has been relevant for this current situation as it has reminded me to stay focused and appreciative of the little things, like extra quality time with my daughters.
How can our readers further follow your work?
www.CollegeHunksHaulingJunk.com , @NickFriedman1 on Twitter and Instagram