Anything dirty or dingy or dusty ...


Mike Schoenbaechler stalks the street corner, his electric-blue wig bobbing up and down as he gestures wildly to passing drivers.

He flashes, flips and spins a three-foot promotional sign at the driver of a slowing car with tags that read "UANOYME." The motorist speeds up and peels through the intersection, and Schoenbaechler, undeterred, focuses on fresh quarry among the dozens of cars still whizzing through the intersection of Warm Springs Road and Eastern Avenue.

He pivots. He marches. He sways. He testifies. He folds all of his 6 feet and 9 inches into a 5-foot squat so he can look into drivers' eyes and flash them a thumbs-up -- all because he's just dying to get his hands on the junk in their attics.

Schoenbaechler is the co-owner of 1-800-GOT-JUNK, one of the Las Vegas Valley's newest franchises. And like any owner of a fledgling business, Schoenbaechler is doing what he can to spread the word about his company's services.

Since Schoenbaechler and his business partner, Tom Delaney, opened 1-800-GOT-JUNK in an office park near McCarran International Airport in January, the two have done more than 300 jobs and removed about 120 tons of trash, including old furniture, appliances, office equipment, yard refuse and construction debris. Nationally, 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchises have hauled off some weird stuff: sex dolls made from chicken wire, expanding foam and mannequin heads; a "research project" that involved 100 cubic feet of diapers; and 6-foot, hot-pink, working Walkie Talkies.

Believe it or not, Schoenbaechler and his employees haven't stumbled across anything so odd in Las Vegas. They've mostly fielded service requests from more conventional customers.

Take Kurt Dabash, for example.

Dabash, a superintendent for reconstruction specialists Har-Bro, couldn't resist the siren song of the blue hairpiece. He pulled into a convenience store parking lot at Warm Springs and Eastern to talk to Schoenbaechler and another 1-800-GOT-JUNK employee about cleaning up flood- and fire-affected homes and offices that Har-Bro restores.

"It's too costly to send our guys out to clean up," Dabash told Schoenbaechler. "They get paid a lot of money to sweep."

Schoenbaechler and Dabash traded business cards and made plans to discuss job details later. That one lead, should it pan out, will have made the 15 minutes Schoenbaechler and his employees spent flagging down potential customers Tuesday morning worth it, he said.

"We call it guerrilla marketing," he said.

Other tactics in the company's battle for new business include direct mail and fliers distributed door to door. The company also leaves its trucks overnight in highly visible parking lots on busy streets -- "parketing," Schoenbaechler calls it -- and the owners have ordered scads of corporate paraphernalia. They hand out mugs, refrigerator magnets, toy trucks and breath mints, all bedecked with the 1-800-GOT-JUNK logo.

At the southeast Las Vegas home of Deborah West's father, 1-800-GOT-JUNK workers carted off more than a dozen large planters, some lawn chairs and a bed. West's father died recently, and West is preparing his Sunrise Manor mobile home for sale. After Schoenbaechler raked the yard and filled several large garbage bags with dead leaves and blooms, he gave West a handful of refrigerator magnets and some fliers, and asked her for referrals.

"Oh, I will recommend you, definitely," West said.

Schoenbaechler didn't disclose the company's marketing expenses, but he said promoting 1-800-GOT-JUNK is consuming roughly half of the partners' and employees' working hours each day. That share of advertising time should drop to around 25 percent once the company is established, within two years.

The promotional blitz seems to be paying off: Five months after it launched, the local franchise of 1-800-GOT-JUNK already has four trucks, a fleet level the international 1-800-GOT-JUNK franchisor doesn't require until an outpost's 27th month of operation. Sales increased 20 percent in April, 20 percent in May and are on track to increase 20 percent in June. The company is close to covering monthly operational costs, but it's not profitable yet.

The global 1-800-GOT-JUNK business is experiencing its own brisk growth. It opened in 1999 with one franchise in Vancouver, British Columbia, and $1 million in revenue. Executives expect to have 419 franchises signed by year's end, with $158 million projected in companywide revenue. Franchises exist in 37 states, as well as Australia and the United Kingdom. Among competitors in junk removal, it stands alone; no other similar business has locations in more than two countries, or in more than 50 cities, so the company bills itself as "the world's largest junk removal service."

Southern Nevada has played an important role in the company's expansion, Chief Executive Officer Brian Scudamore said.

"Our opening in Las Vegas is a major milestone for the business because we are now in every top metro in the country," said Scudamore, who founded the business in 1989 as The Rubbish Boys. "In just six months our customers are already recognizing our trucks, and we anticipate the franchise will exceed revenue targets for the first year."

Schoenbaechler's and Delaney's franchise serves only the lower part of the valley, south of Washington Avenue. A franchise serving the northern side is for sale.

To boost their southerly franchise, Schoenbaechler and Delaney have started making presentations to real estate brokerages, property managers and small contractors to find homeowners and businesses who need junk picked up. Their pitch emphasizes four customer-service points, including on-time guarantees, up-front rates, clean trucks and uniformed, "friendly" drivers, Schoenbaechler said. They're also selling potential customers on their multiple-point drop-off system, which sends discarded items to landfills, recycling yards or charities, depending on the condition of the goods and the preferences of the client.

And the partners remain vigilant for new prospects.

When Charles Anderson's central Las Vegas home made local news and drew the attention of authorities in April for the trash Anderson's son, Roger Anderson, had stowed in the frontyard, Schoenbaechler attempted to arrange a pickup. After a day or two of trying to track down Charles Anderson via phone, Schoenbaechler drove out to the site, only to find a hired crew was already loading up the broken refrigerators, gas grills, bicycles and other items cluttering the yard.

Schoenbaechler also perked up when a visitor to his business recently told him of the ongoing yard-trash tangle between District Court Judge Elizabeth Halverson and Clark County officials.

The county has demanded that Halverson clean up the frontyard of her Oxnard Circle home, which is the subject of a nuisance-abatement case.

"Have her give us a call," Schoenbaechler said.

 

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