It’s finally time to part with the pink plastic armchair you’ve had since freshman year. Time to say goodbye to your moldy collection of National Geographic magazines. Time to break it off with the set of REO Speedwagon shot glasses your buddy, Mick, gave you in 1984.
Marc Balentine will embrace your burden of junk, and set you free.
He works for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? The company exists for one reason: to haul away all of the clutter, trash and unnecessary nonsense that takes over our homes. In a nutshell, he is an expert in junk removal.
On this day, the tanned, energetic Mr. Balentine, 27, is supervising a team of four young men in cleaning out the garage of a modest house in Rockville. Working feverishly and dressed in blue polo shirts with the company logo, they enter the dark confines of the garage and emerge with bags of old clothes, pieces of broken furniture, boxes of fabric and old, damaged books.
They then effortlessly throw the items into the back of a modified pickup truck designed to hold an entire room’s worth of unwanted goods.
Most of the junk in this particular house was damaged as a result of recent flooding from heavy rain. The wet summer has meant lots of work for Mr. Balentine and his co-workers, Greg Easterbrook, 23, Max Eichbaum, 23 and Aaron Burns, 19.
“We’ve been getting a lot these lately,” he says.
The 1-800-GOT-JUNK? team brought two trucks to this job, but filled just one. The team will take the full truck to one of the local dumps, then move on to a scheduled job in Dupont Circle. It’s one of their easier days. Previous assignments have involved several trucks and a full day’s work. One recent job required a lengthy ordeal involving entering a man’s apartment and freeing him from numerous piles of paper and other debris. It took 21/2 hours to clear the man’s doorway, Mr. Balentine said.
Most assignments aren’t as stressful, though most of the workers will put in as many as 12 hours per day because there is so much demand for their services. The comapany has capitalized on the fact that normal trash service won’t take everything, and that many people have neither the time nor the energy to sell unwanted items, donate them to charity or drive to area dumps.
1-800-GOT-JUNK? is based in Vancouver, British Columbia, but has individually owned and operated franchises in 65 cities in North America. The company opened its District operations about 18 months ago, and has watched it become one of the company’s best-performing franchises, expanding its truck fleet from two to eight.
Mr. Balentine says he usually walks away from a job feeling good, because he has helped relieve someone from a large source of stress.
“We get a profound sense of accomplishment when people say, ‘My gosh, I can see my back yard,’” he says. “I can visibly see weight being lifted off these people.”
And customers are willing to pay a premium for the service. A visit from the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? team will cost at least $100, with a full truck-worth of junk worth $500.
Mr. Balentine, a former philosophy and film student, says he doesn’t plan to work for 1-800-GOT-JUNK? forever, but that the job has given him some business experience.
He says that eventually he would like to own his own business, and may also take a break to teach English to students in Mexico.
“I try to hire guys who aspire to get as much out of this as they can,” said Mark Rubin, owner of the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise, and Mr. Balentine’s boss.
“I really do see him owning his own business and being successful at some point,” Mr. Rubin said.
Mr. Balentine says he is trying to learn the ins and outs of how the company operates, and has a knack for marketing.
He routinely saves items that people are going to throw away, because he may find them useful later as advertsing tools.
“We do a little guerrilla marketing, so we like to find things like headbands and wristbands,” he says.
On many jobs, Mr. Balentine can be seen wearing a blue wig, which he says will draw more attention to the company.
“Fundamentally, he likes people,” Mr. Rubin said. “And that’s a big plus in a service-type business. He tries to make it fun.”
Mr. Balentine says he gets a kick out of the things that people throw away.
He and other workers have found cases of fine wine, paintings, stereo systems, television sets and furniture, some of which is now sits in their apartments.
“This is the best job I’ve ever had,” he says. “It’s so much fun. You get to see a part of people’s lives that most people never see.”