Hello! Who are you and what business did you start?
Hello. My name is Lewis Vandervalk and I am the co-founder of Integrity Junk Removal And Demolition with Ryan Grice, who founded the company. We are a premium, eco-friendly, residential, and commercial junk removal company serving Fredericton, Oromocto, New Maryland, and the surrounding areas that are dedicated to giving back through donating your stuff to local charitable organizations like Habitat For Humanity and community involvement. We do whatever we can to keep your junk out of the landfills through donating and recycling.
We registered the business, bought a truck and trailer, and all the good stuff two months ago. We made nearly $8,500 in July, which was our first full month, and made $15,000 in August and just kept growing.
What's your backstory and how did you come up with the idea?
After I graduated high school, I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do so I got a job in construction. I had a lot of ideas and options but no real direction. I enjoyed hiking and traveling and construction allowed me the freedom to do all of that. Plus, I loved the physical aspect of the work so I did it for four years. After that, I just realized I had a lot more potential and decided to go to the University of New Brunswick and get a degree in mechanical engineering and enjoyed that process. While there, I met a lot of amazing people in the entrepreneurship community and it sparked a fire inside.
I always had an entrepreneurial spirit though. When I was about 15, maybe even younger, I bought RFID covers for visa cards. I bought about 500 of them for 20 cents apiece and sold them to all my friends and family for $3 each. I sent out mass emails to everyone I knew and sold them all. That started a little fire back then. I continued selling things on Kijiji and Facebook Marketplace. I loved the transactional nature of marketing and selling and making money, of course.
Invest in yourself and surround yourself with the right people. People who believe in you, people who influence you to become the person you want to be!
Being involved in the entrepreneurship community while a student at University rekindled that little fire. I met amazing people in the technology management and entrepreneurship community there. Shoutout to Sam Poirier of Potential Motors, and Curt Kennedy of Vertiball, who shaped my perspective tremendously. I met people having great success with dropshipping and others starting their businesses that I stayed connected with after graduation.
So I graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering and started working in mechanical design. I enjoyed what I was doing but I just didn’t love it, you know. I liked the interpersonal aspect of what I did but I didn’t feel like I was steering my ship. And it didn’t fuel me the way marketing and selling did. So two months in, after our son was born, I started looking at what options were available here, in Fredericton, for viable businesses. After doing extensive research, I decided to start a digital marketing agency, Blue Crocus Solutions in 2019. We focus on helping contractors with Digital Marketing.
Fast forward two years, Blue Crocus is successful and growing and I needed help. So I brought in an ambitious partner, Ryan Grice, who I met while attending the University of New Brunswick, and also graduated with a degree in mechanical engineering. Although our work as a digital marketing agency focuses on helping contractors both locally and internationally, we saw a need in our community for reliable, socially conscious, junk removal services. We both have experience in construction so it was not a business that felt too far out in the left field. So we took the leap to start a local service business in junk removal and were up and running in June this year.
Initially, we used Ryan’s flatbed truck, but quickly realized it wasn’t going to meet the needs and demands for junk removal and demolition in our community. So we borrowed some money and bought a more capable truck and a large trailer. We do our own digital and on-the-ground marketing and have a small team at the moment which keeps our expenses low.
As I mentioned earlier, as a result of our marketing and networking efforts, we generated nearly $10,000 in revenue in July and are on track to 1.5X that at least this month. We plan to have local teams in all the major communities in New Brunswick within a year all generating a minimum of $20,000 a month.
Take us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.
As a service, we don’t have products, but we provide junk removal and demolition services to homeowners and businesses in Fredericton, Oromocto, New Maryland, and the surrounding areas. We saw a blue ocean of opportunity in the junk removal niche for a professional junk removal and demolition company. We decided on Integrity Junk Removal and Demolition as our company name. The word integrity encapsulates everything we are about. We are a socially and environmentally conscious, community-first, reuse and recycle-first junk removal service provider dedicated to removing the clutter from people’s lives. Everything we do is done with integrity. So we went to work designing a sleek, professional logo, brand image, and website. From there, we were able to market our services with professionalism that made us stand out and gave us the ability to gain the trust of real estate agencies, contractors, commercial property owners, and the community at large.
An imperfect launch is better than no launch at all!
Our first junk removal job was done with Ryan’s truck. We were still at the branding stage so we didn’t have a logo on the truck or anything to indicate who we were when we came to their door. We then bought a trailer so we could be more efficient and handle multiple jobs in a day. It wasn’t long before we realized that Ryan’s truck wasn’t ideal for hauling and didn’t have sufficient storage space for tools and gear, so we upgraded. The truck and trailer are branded so it’s clear what we do and how you can reach us when we drive by. I am sure you’ll see our Integrity truck in your neighborhood soon if you haven’t already.
Our target customers are anyone who needs junk removal of any kind, demolition, and demolition debris removal services. We do estate cleanouts, construction debris removal (including concrete and asphalt), commercial property cleanouts, office cleanouts, shed demolition and removal, garage demolition and removal, garbage removal, storage unit cleanouts, tenant cleanouts, appliance removal, donation, and recycling, junk car removal, dumpster rentals, and so much more. Wherever there’s junk that needs to be taken care of responsibly, we can help.
Describe the process of launching the business.
Our launch in terms of our digital presence was executed very well because we are also owners of a digital marketing agency with expertise in that area. Our launch strategy was to build a strong brand presence online, detailing who we are and the services that we could use to market ourselves locally, use our connections in the local construction, business, and real estate industries to generate customers, and raise brand awareness through Facebook, YouTube, Google My Business, and LinkedIn.
Additionally, we launched our Integrity Minute podcasts during which we interview local business owners and have them share their words of wisdom. Our Integrity Minutes have been great for building brand awareness and community outreach. We have generated quite a few customers through that.
We applied our skills and experience helping contractors build their businesses online to our own service business and immediately had customers calling.
In terms of startup costs, they were primarily time investments as we had most of the tools to launch at our fingertips. We did take a family loan to purchase a different truck and a new dump trailer that can handle anything we throw at it and more. Using profits we generated from the first few weeks of junk removal and demolition services, we invested in business cards, a logo for our truck and trailer, and are planning to have branded t-shirts and hats for the Integrity Team to wear on the job. Getting the truck and trailer branded and uniforms printed is a work in progress but it hasn’t slowed our growth down. The startup costs totaled about $25 000 and we are on track to recover those costs within 3 months.
The biggest lesson we learned from our startup was that what we were teaching our clients and doing for our clients in Blue Crocus Solutions does work. To go from zero to generating $8 500 in sales in our first full month (July) is proof of that. The other thing we learned is that an imperfect launch is better than no launch at all and every business is a work in progress. Success comes from being willing to just go out there and do it. Learn as you go along and make the changes needed to meet the demands of your customers.
We had never done junk removal before but researched, asked people in the industry, made the necessary preparations, acquired all licenses and insurance needed, and just went out and did it. We both had experience working with heavy equipment and demolition from our construction days so we were confident we could safely and skillfully handle anything.
Since launch, what has worked to attract and retain customers?
Social Media Marketing
Since its launch, the most effective things we’ve done and continue to do to attract and retain customers have been ongoing SEO including GoogleMyBusiness, social media marketing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, and YouTube. Our biggest push has been on the SEO side of things. While we have used some Facebook and Instagram marketing (regular posts, a few ads run ($500 total), our biggest efforts have been in using the strategies we use for our other contractor clients at Blue Crocus Solutions. This involves getting our Google Business listing set up, optimized (we are ranking in the top 3 for junk removal), getting tons of reviews for the GMB, replying to reviews, etc.
On the website side, we are up to about 75+ pages of content. Content strategy is huge for service businesses. It builds authority, helping your site be the first choice for google when someone is looking for the service you offer. We have pages for EVERY service we offer, and every location we service. We want to be the go-to solution for Google to recommend when someone is searching for junk removal locally, so there is educational material, infographics, we lay out our pricing, and all that sort of thing.
Social media promotion has brought in some jobs, but we have mainly been using it for brand awareness, and it's doing quite well at that. Wrapping the truck has gotten us some jobs as well.
We also send out email blasts to local real estate agents and meet with them to introduce our services and make that ever-important personal connection.
Taking a lot of photos and time-lapse videos has been a great way to engage our audience and show what we do. We promote these junk removal and demolition videos on our YouTube Channel, Facebook, Instagram, and our website.
TIMELAPSE - Deck Demolition in Lincoln, New Brunswick, Integrity Junk Removal & Demolition;
We typically upload these on Facebook and youtube, optimizing the youtube videos to show up in the search results as well, to get us more eyes when people are searching.
Local Buy-And-Sell Groups
Being actively involved in local buy-and-sell groups on Facebook and other platforms has also been a great way to meet people in need of our services.
Our Integrity Minute podcast that showcases local businesses has been awesome for raising brand awareness, connecting with our local business community, and generating customers.
Personal Thank You Cards
In terms of customer retention, we are committed to bringing traditional community values and customer service back by personally thanking customers and community involvement. We write out personal “thank you” cards and give them to every one of our clients with a Referral coupon enclosed.
When a customer refers someone to us for junk removal or demolition services, and business is generated from that referral, they get %15 up to $50 cash rebate.
Our Referral Program has been quite effective for word-of-mouth marketing and will keep our existing customers coming to us when they need any service we provide.
We are only 2 full months in so how successful our customer retention efforts are is pure projection but we are confident that our dedication to the community, professionalism, genuinely caring for our customers, and our personal touches will engender customer loyalty.
How are you doing today and what does the future look like?
Last month we generated $9880 in sales and 60% of it was profit. This month we are on track to make $15,000 and expect to generate $30,000 to $50,000 monthly next year.
If you have a clear vision, purpose, are agile and responsive and have the drive to make it happen, things will fall in place.
Currently, our customer acquisition costs are quite low since we also run a digital marketing agency and have all those tools at our disposal.
Today we continue to hone our customer expectations, add services to meet their needs, follow up with our customers and make sure they’re taken care of. We will continue to grow and expand both our services and the areas we serve.
Through starting the business, have you learned anything particularly helpful or advantageous?
Through starting this local service business, we have learned that to be successful you have to get out there, make personal connections, be active in the community, and genuinely care for your customers before, during, and after you have provided them with the services they require. We were so focused in the very beginning on the digital marketing side of building our business. Had we hit on-the-ground local marketing as hard as we did online marketing in the very beginning, we probably would be further ahead today.
Partnering with Ryan Grice and just going for it when we saw a blue ocean of opportunity for success and limitless growth in Fredericton and beyond in junk removal and demolition was the best decision I’ve made since starting Blue Crocus Solutions. He is the most hard-working, driven, and enthusiastic person I know, and being his partner on this journey is an honor and a privilege. We plan to dominate the junk removal industry in New Brunswick and beyond and with him by my side, I know we will do it.
There was a void in the junk removal industry here, so the timing was completely in our favor. It was our drive to take this on when we had no real experience that ensured our success. Our knowledge, skills, and experience with successfully marketing local businesses digitally certainly put us at an advantage. However, it is our entrepreneurial spirit and willingness to take calculated risks that made our launch so successful.
What platform/tools do you use for your business?
Our favorite tools for operating our business are Quickbooks for invoicing and accounting, our website for lead generation, and a custom software and CRM (Customer Relationship Management Software) that we made to serve us and our clients. We can do custom text messages immediately if we miss a call, review requests and followup, and more! For servicing our customers, we love our trucks and trailers.
In terms of digital marketing, we employ YouTube for our Integrity Minutes and to share our services on our Integrity Junk Removal And Demolition channel. We share our Integrity Minute podcasts on Facebook and LinkedIn. For customer reviews and generating traffic to our website and lead generation, we are active on Google My Business, Facebook, Instagram, Yelp, and Twitter.
What have been the most influential books, podcasts, or other resources?
In terms of the most influential books and podcasts from thought-leaders that truly inspired and continue to inspire and motivate our business, there are so many. The ones that come to mind immediately are
- Mike Claudio, Tommy Mello’s The Home Service Expert podcast.
- Smart Business Revolution where John Corcoran interviews local businesses and contractors who share their valuable tips and experiences to help local businesses grow and scale their businesses.
I have read so many influential books and have so many on the go currently that it’s tough to narrow down my top picks. The Home Service Millionaire, is one we both recommend to anyone who is considering or starting a local service business. He shares valuable strategies to grow and scale a home service business without working yourself to the bone.
Advice for other entrepreneurs who want to get started or are just starting out?
If you’re just starting or have a business you want to start, do your due diligence. Take time to do market research and talk to related businesses in your community to make sure there is a demand with growth potential. Look at your competition and learn from them. See what they are doing well, what they could do better, and see where you can get the advantage. Learn as much as you can about the industry and customer needs. Do not underestimate the power of networking and developing personal relationships with related businesses and your community. People are far more likely to hire you if they know you and like you. Start acting as if you are the customer - what do you expect from a home service provider?
One of the biggest mistakes I have seen local service businesses make is not staying in touch with their customers. They do the job, get paid, and move on. Customer retention hinges on building and nurturing relationships with your past and existing customers and goes a long way to generate new ones through referral programs and word-of-mouth.
The other big one that most local home service providers tend to neglect either because they don’t have time, the skills, knowledge, or all of the above, is digital marketing. With more than 85% of people looking to Google and social media for local businesses, having a strong online presence is vital. If you have to invest in outsourcing your digital marketing, do it. The return on your investment is well worth it.
It may not seem obvious and may even sound counterintuitive but if I can impart any entrepreneurial wisdom at all it would be to just start. Plan and do your market research but don’t wait for everything to be planned out perfectly or in place. If you have a clear vision, purpose, are agile and responsive and have the drive to make it happen, things will fall in place. There is no such thing as a perfectly executed launch. So just do it and learn and improve as you go along. Patience and perseverance are imperative as well. It doesn’t happen overnight, it takes time!
Invest in yourself, and surround yourself with the right people. People who believe in you, people who influence you to become the person you want to be, and people that have the mindset you wish to have. You will become what you surround yourself with. Be willing to learn, be willing to get uncomfortable, and push your limits, especially when you feel like quitting.
Are you looking to hire for certain positions right now?
We currently have a casual, part-time crew, and Ryan leads the team.
As we expand, we will be looking to hire team leads and laborers in the areas we serve. But we won’t revisit that until next year.
For anyone interested in learning more and applying to join the Integrity Team, they can message us on Facebook, message us on our website, or email Ryan at [email protected].
Where can we go to learn more?
To learn more about our company and what we do, you can find us:
You can watch Integrity Minutes.
You can reach out to Lewis at [email protected].
If you have any questions or comments, drop a comment below!
Hey! 👋 I'm Pat Walls, the founder of Starter Story.
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