Meet the Team Behind Lansing’s New College Hunks Hauling Junk Moving and Junk Removal Franchise
These entrepreneurs have found an opportunity that lets them put a career’s worth of lessons into practice as they grow a new venture
For many, the word “retirement” means relaxation, travel, and generally taking it easy. For Clark Burkle and Bill Willbrandt, it meant boredom, and so these friends decided to take their managerial skills and set up a moving and junk removal franchise.
What were you doing before College Hunks Hauling Junk?
Clark Burkle: I’ve had two careers. I was a funeral director and have operated and managed a funeral home for many years. I also have worked in automotive IT consulting, helping dealerships with their websites and handling internet leads and online selling.
Bill Willbrandt: I grew up in agriculture and have a degree in horticulture from Michigan State University. I also am a lawyer and have worked as house counsel for an agricultural trade association. There I worked on their scholarships and research foundation, so I have interacted with college students before.
How did you find out about College Hunks Hauling Hunk?
Bill: Clark and I have been friends for a number of years, so when I wasn’t working and had gotten bored, and he had retired and also was bored, we began to look at franchises. Clark didn’t want to go to work for a major corporation or anything, but we both liked the idea of owning our own small business. With my background I liked the idea of trucks and college students, and so this really clicked for us. When we began looking at the numbers, we got pretty excited.
Clark: We looked at several ideas and went to a discovery day for a different concept, but then decided to step back a bit. We talked with an advisor who reviewed our goals, and she did a good job of pointing out some other concepts that might be a better fit for us. That eventually brought us around to College Hunks Hauling Junk, and that idea appealed to us quite a bit.
We really like the College Hunks concept because it’s a business we can build up from the beginning, but then turn over to well-trained managers to operate daily. We don’t want to be absentee owners, but we do want to be able to step away and not be there all the time. We also like that this is something we can go in there and do in terms of loading and unloading. We don’t want to just stand around being the owners and being in the way.
What sets your College Hunks Hauling Junk franchise apart from other independent moving and removal companies?
Clark: We have conversations every day with our friends, and we tell them about this business. Two Men and a Truck started here and is based here, so the concept is not a new one for the area. That said, we are not going to compete with them. There is plenty of room for other haulers and removers here, and we have many, many things that differentiate us.
First of all, there’s the name. When Bill and I say we’re “hunks,” people do giggle. But they like the name, and they want to know more. And as we have brought on staff, we’ve been able to leverage that interest into getting some Type-A, very outgoing guys. We want our staff to look people in the eye and be friendly and approachable. That is how we are setting ourselves apart.
Yes, we have a truck, just like the competition. Yes, we carry junk and eventually we’ll be moving, just like the competition. But they don’t have the young, energetic, friendly staff we have. You want to be noticed in your community, and you want that to be a positive experience. We have a great image, a great truck, and great people. The feeling around College Hunks — thanks to the marketing, the logo, and the overall vibe of the company — is great. That gets us in the door, and then our great service will be another way we prove how different we are.
What do you need to have to be successful in this franchise?
Clark: Confidence. Don’t just show up. And have fun. Moving stuff around all day can be tough, so we want our crews to have fun. That’s why we’re getting people who are young and energetic, and who have physical fitness as a part of their life. You want to be outside and have a good workout? We’ve got the job for you!
Bill: You also have to have an eye for teamwork and building a solid team. Once you’ve got that, focus on the community buy-in and find ways to get your name out there so people learn who you are and want to use your services. We live in a town with a big university, and people really love that school. Once they know that’s where our teams are from, they will want to support those students. And then they’ll get a great job from us, and they’ll tell other people — and we just grow out from there.
Who are going to be your main customers?
Bill: We won’t have our moving license until the fall, as that’s a 90-day process from our opening, and so we’re focusing on hauling right now. Because of the university, we have a lot of students moving in and out, as well as professors and other people affiliated with the school. That means lots of stuff needs to be hauled away, and so we’re targeting those groups. We’ve also got the state government here and two big GM plants, so we’re looking at ways we can tap into those specific business sectors. We believe that we can easily have as many business as residential clients, both for hauling and for moving, during different times of the year.
Clark: We’re also taking the very good advice from College Hunks’ corporate trainers and reaching out to property management companies and Realtors. We don’t want to be waiting around for a family with an overflowing garage to give us a call; we need build a lot of strategic relationships with a lot of different organizations. Every time they need a move or a haul, they call us. That’s how we’re going to grow.
What do you like about the business?
Clark: When we were in Tampa for training, it just reinforced to us what an enthusiastic, supportive management team we have behind us. These people enjoy themselves at work; they’re having fun. Nick and Omar also are really smart guys — they’re not letting any grass grow under their feet.
This is a business where there’s no huge “next big thing,” but there are lots of opportunities for growth. We’ll be able to expand on what we do because we’re working with idea people. The management team knows how to promote what we’re doing and how to keep the brand fresh. We can take that and localize it so that we are very catchy and well known. Then we share those ideas back, and so everyone learns great things from each other.
What does franchise ownership give you in terms of support, compared to just doing it yourself?
Clark: When we were looking at franchises, a lot of our friends just told us to start our own business from scratch. We could certainly have done that, but we wouldn’t have had all the support — everything from finding a physical location to starting a marketing program.
Thanks to the Sales and Loyalty Center, we’ll have clients the very first day. That’s what being a franchise gives us. If we were doing this on our own, there’d be the same million moving parts, but we’d have to manage them all. With College Hunks Hauling Junk, I have a huge knowledge base in the form of other franchise owners that’s a phone call away, as well as a huge operations manual right here that’s full of answers.
Would you recommend this franchise? Why?
Bill: The great support from corporate and other owners alone is enough of a selling point for me.
Clark: We’ve been given all the tools that we need to succeed, and I think we have a great opportunity. The support is there now as we are getting up and running, and it’s going to be there down the road. I don’t see that waning at all, and I don’t think that’s the case with many other franchise companies. College Hunks Hauling Junk starts you off right, but then they stay right in there with you during those first few weeks and months to make sure everything’s going as well as it possibly can.