One nice thing about the junk-hauling business: You don't have to spend much furnishing the office.
Ryan Sentz and Tim Prestianni, partners in a three-year-old company called BumbleJunk, are in for about a half-million dollars, but very little of that investment went into the accoutrements of their chilly headquarters in an industrial park near Dundalk.
They bought two desks, but everything else they picked up on jobs: another desk, portable space heater, black office swivel chairs, shelves, whiteboards and framed pictures, including one of those old "Poverty Sucks" posters featuring disco owner Michael O'Harro in British country gentleman's garb posing with a silver Rolls Royce.
The recycled stuff fits the environmentally friendly theme of the business; the poster suits the aspiration. Sentz, 29, and Prestianni, 33, hope to make it big by franchising the business, and projected that by 2016, the company they started in January 2012 will be up to $1 million in revenue — more than double this year's sales.
BumbleJunk paid $200,000 for the franchise consultant, which also handled Auntie Anne's Pretzels and Massage Envy, to develop a plan.
"It's super-high-risk, but also big-reward," Sentz said. "If we do not succeed at franchising we are going to be in the dust."
They'll be working in the dust in any event, and sometimes muck, mire and detritus that homeowners and businesses leave behind, excluding paint, oil and hazardous materials. They're focusing now on the Baltimore area, north to Harford and Cecil counties and south to Odenton, west to Ellicott City. In the first wave of franchising they plan operations in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Delaware and Washington.
Working with Sentz's father, Rick Sentz, they want to challenge two national companies that operate in this area: 1-800-GOT-JUNK, with about 112 locations in 40 states and the District of Columbia, and College Hunks Hauling Junk, with some 34 locations in 26 states. There's also competition from about five local companies, and, as Prestianni put it, "you've always got the guy on Craigslist who's got a pickup who'll show up with his cousin."
The partners realize the bar for entering the junk-hauling trade is low, so they're stressing many of the same selling points as their national competitors: professional service and environmentally responsible disposal and donation that keeps stuff out of ever-dwindling landfill space.
GOT JUNK, for instance, boasts keeping more than 2 billion pounds of junk out of landfills since it tstarted operating 25 years ago. The on-hold phone message at College Hunks says they "diverted 12,000 tons from landfills last year."
Sentz and Prestianni, his brother-in-law, estimate they've kept almost a million pounds out of Maryland landfills since they went into business, recycling or donating about two-thirds of what they pick up. In October alone, they sold 16,000 pounds of scrap metal — lamps, bed frames, duct material, among other things — for nearly 11 cents a pound to nearby North Point Recycling, where it was shredded for recycling by steel mills.
The electronics go to an outfit in Frederick called e-End, which has a no-landfill disposal policy for all electronic parts. CEO Arleen Chafitz said they take everything apart and "recycle everything down to the screws," working with vetted dealers in plastic, aluminum, wire and hard drives.
In May, BumbleJunk dropped off nearly a ton of TVs, computers, printers, scanners, paying e-End to take some of it and accepting modest payment for stuff in usable condition.
BumbleJunk also donates to an array of organizations, including Goodwill Industries, the Salvation Army and Habitat for Humanity of the Chesapeake. Used books in decent shape sometimes go to schools.
When they picked up two metal caskets at a Baltimore funeral home, it wasn't clear what they were going to do with them. But then their UPS delivery guy mentioned that his friend drives to Ravens games in a hearse and was looking for a casket to turn into a barbecue grill for tailgating. Another went to a fellow for a Halloween haunted house.
It was around Halloween 2012 at a house in Catonsville that had belonged to an elderly woman hoarder where Sentz stumbled on a box full of thousands of dollars in cash. Old bills — 5s, 20s, 50s, 100s.
"It was just a chunk of money," Sentz said, guessing it was $30,000.
The wad went right back to the man who hired them, the elderly woman's nephew. A bundle of cash didn't fit the finders-keepers ethic that usually applies.
Prestianni said he'll hold onto material of historic interest, such as old newspapers reporting on big events. Sentz keeps his favorite find at his desk in separate clear plastic cases: a light-brown beard and matching mustache, both made of real human hair, found at a house in Columbia.
Sentz and Prestianni emphasize that their company is trustworthy and also green — their web site and blue-and-yellow trucks tout the outfit as "100 Percent Eco Friendly" — but as they're not privy to the details of their competitors' operations, they cannot say specifically how they may differ.
They do claim to be a better buy, with a bottom price in this area of $100, and a full-truck rate of $595, with 11 incremental steps between. The two national companies show the same 13-step scale, but for this area their prices vary.
GOT JUNK is higher at $149 to $699, and College Hunks a tad lower at $100 to $581. Sentz is quick to point out that the 12-foot BumbleJunk trucks are larger.
The fleet at the moment consists of two trucks with a third on the way, and by next summer they expect to add two full-time employees for a total of six — including Sentz, the CEO, and Prestianni, the president — plus six part-timers.
Also on the way is a new website due to launch next month with updated information, and updating the image of the trucks from all yellow to blue and yellow. Yellow was their choice to start the business, as it was striking, and orange was already taken by College Hunks. They associated the yellow with bees, and so got the name, BumbleJunk, although neither partner is a particular fan of the insect.