How Joseph Lambert Built His Million-Dollar Junk Removal Business at Just 20 Years Old

Joseph Lambert, the Owner of Joseph’s Junk Removal, isn’t your typical entrepreneur. In fact, he isn’t even old enough to buy alcohol! Yet, he has taken his small business to new heights over the past few years. As of filming this interview, Joseph’s Junk Removal generates over 1.5 million dollars of annual revenue, owns eight trucks, and employs 30 people in Atlanta. Today on The Atlanta Small Business Show, Lambert shares his entrepreneurial journey and his goals for the future.

Transcription:

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Joseph, thank you so much for joining us on the show.

Joseph Lambert:
Absolutely, thanks for having me. Pleasure to be here.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Your success is just amazing, so as soon as we heard about it, we wanted to have you into the show to talk about it. It’s funny, in the opener we said you can’t buy a can of beer right now, but yet you’re managing a company of 30 people. That’s pretty cool.

Joseph Lambert:
It’s awesome. It’s a joy.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah. Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey, as long as it’s been out there, maybe just a couple of years. But tell us, how did you get started and why in the junk business?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, absolutely. It’s really been a lifelong pursuit. It’s not something that happened really in recent years, so-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
To be an entrepreneur or to be in the junk business?

Joseph Lambert:
To be an entrepreneur, the junk business is fairly recent. The entrepreneurial is not. Started businesses ever since I was a little kid. My parents got divorced when I was 12, so after that ended up really taking it seriously and started mowing lawns and doing other things to try to just help bring in money for the family. That took a lot of different forms, mowing lawns, pressure washing, working in construction. Really anything anybody would pay me to do. That took place over the next couple years.

Joseph Lambert:
When I was 15, I actually was in my business law class and I was sitting next to my buddy, Sam, who was a little bit older than me and we had a project where we had to start a business on paper. Sam and I had both already been running our own small landscaping businesses in our neighborhood and we realized after starting this business, that it would make so much sense just to bring this thing to life. Because Sam was older than me, he could actually drive. I was a little bit younger, I was 15. I couldn’t drive.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I got it.

Joseph Lambert:
But I was great at talking to people. So we partnered up and we started this little landscaping company called Southern Standard Residential, which Sam actually still runs to this day in Marietta.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
No kidding? Wow, cool.

Joseph Lambert:
That was my start getting out of the neighborhood. Then after that did lots of different endeavors throughout high school. Then in high school, my senior year, I actually slipped into the junk business because I had a landscaping client who was clearing out her house and moving up to North Georgia. Ended up doing a job for her that made more money than I really thought was possible. It really caught my attention how simple and scalable the process was for the whole job. That’s what I really didn’t like about the landscaping business and other things. Really started pursuing that hard after that one job.

Joseph Lambert:
In the meantime, senior year of high school and I really put school in the back burner, I would not advise doing this to anybody, but ended up actually failing a class my senior year, that I needed to graduate. Ended up having to stay an extra semester and take that class. But what it meant was while everybody else went off to college I was taking that class and working full time. And that semester-

Jim Fitzpatrick:
In the junk business, that-

Joseph Lambert:
In the junk business, that’s right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
This woman that was a client of yours, literally put you in the business in the sense that you found out wow, there’s a business here.

Joseph Lambert:
Exactly.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Just in junk removal.

Joseph Lambert:
Exactly and business really blew up that semester. Once I got my diploma, I had the option to go to college. I realized this was a much better opportunity. I wasn’t opposed to college, but I really wanted to pursue my best option, which this was. Then we rolled into COVID, was the next semester really and the business absolutely exploded.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Really? What was the correlation between COVID and the business taking off? People just wanted to clear their house out? Or what was the deal?

Joseph Lambert:
Well, I mean, you think about it, everybody went home. So all the stuff that they should have gotten rid of 10 years ago, now they’re having to look at it 24 hours a day. Then on top of that extra money is pouring in from different sources, they’re not having to spend as much so there was more money for just home projects.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Now they want to clean the basement out in order to refinish the basement.

Joseph Lambert:
Exactly, exactly. So our phone was blowing off the hook from January to July of that year. But July was really pivotal moment in our business because as an 18-year-old, we had scaled from about $15,000 in revenue in January and we were doing $60,000 plus in July. But I realized we were not doing it properly.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I don’t mean to slow you down here because I can see that you got tremendous enthusiasm, but let’s back up a minute. You have to buy more trucks or something in the interim or rent them or how do you do that? How do you grow that quickly to go from $15,000 to 60,000? Like they say, we’re going to need a bigger truck, right?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, phenomenal question. For those six months we were just renting U-Haul box trucks. Big 26 foot moving trucks you see, that’s what we are renting.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Right, because the client doesn’t care what you pull up in. They just want the junk removed, right?

Joseph Lambert:
They do to some extent, but these were definitely not the best. It was what we had at the time. Because the bank doesn’t loan $70,000 truck loans to 18 year olds, so at that point it wasn’t an option. But the big moment in July was I realized this business, the revenue’s here, but we haven’t set it up the right way. Really had to tear down the business and build it up the right way. To your point, one of the things we actually decided was we’re going to model ourselves after the big players in the industry and one of the things we need to do is buy brand new, well branded trucks that do the job the right way. What I had to do to make up for that was I had to go find some guys in my life who had seen what I’d been doing, trusted me, gave them a little sliver of equity in order to cosign on truck loans. That was how I was able to buy my first couple brand new dump trucks.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow, that’s incredible. Now all of a sudden you start to grow the staff because in order to drive the trucks, you need the staff and you need the people to load the trucks and empty the trucks.

Joseph Lambert:
Absolutely.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Now you’re an employer of people. What’s that like?

Joseph Lambert:
It’s a joy and it’s a challenge at the same time. My heart is I love leading people. The dollars I think is just a measurement of how the business is doing. Every person is different, there’s not one way to manage everybody at the same time. I love that challenge, but more than anything, I really love seeing young guys come into our business and really grow as young men as they work throughout our business.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Are you hiring high school students now to help you? Or is it pretty much people that are now off and running and looking for careers?

Joseph Lambert:
It started out as a lot of high school and college guys. At this point it’s mostly just guys in their 20s and 30s, but we really have a mix of both.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Okay. That’s pretty cool. Are you just in Atlanta? How many locations do you have? Who can use your services?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, we’re just in Atlanta right now based out of Smyrna, but we service pretty much the entire North Metro area.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You do, okay. How many trucks do you have today? I think I said it in the opener, you have eight trucks?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, we actually have seven trucks and we have a big skid steer, which is basically a truck. But yeah, that’s what we’re rolling with right now.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Building the business thus far, any situations where you thought to yourself, “Uh-oh, I don’t know if we’re going to be able to make this next hurdle right here,” because opening up a business, as you know, will have some hurdles along the way. Whether they be financial or getting the right people or getting the right trucks, as you just pointed out. Were there any that jump out at you that say that was a pivotal moment, we didn’t know if we were going to be able to continue?

Joseph Lambert:
There were definitely pivotal moments, but I don’t think it was ever a question of if we were going to continue because I had a lot of confidence in the business. Seeing a player like 1-800-GOT-JUNK, who does well north of $500 million a year, gives me confidence that there’s a market. It’s just our job to figure out how to play it in our favor. For that, I never worried about the business. It was just about us doing the hard work to make it run right.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Were there any problems getting business insurance and things like that at such a young age?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, absolutely. We have to pay a lot more in business insurance than your average business does. But I mean, we make it work.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
You overcame that obstacle. What is next for the company? Do you see yourself franchising one day, much the way Got Junk does?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah. I mean, I think we want to grow, we really would love to be a national brand. But at this point, quality is more important than quantity. We’re not going to grow unless we have the right people and the right leaders in place to sustain that growth. But with that being said, I mean, our goal is to be in the 15 biggest cities in the Southeast in the next 10 years. So growth is definitely on our horizon.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, for sure. In the junk business, what do you do with all the junk once you’ve got it on the truck? Is it just straight to the dump with it, or are there opportunities that you say, “Well, wait a minute, this might be their junk, but this is still really good stuff here.”

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, most of it does go to the landfill, unfortunately, because it is just junk. But we are able to recycle a lot of the metal that we get and then we’re also able to donate and repurpose some of the good stuff that we get. It’s been cool, actually. A lot of our guys have taken stuff home and furnished their homes and apartments.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
I bet, yeah.

Joseph Lambert:
We’ve given stuff away to donation centers. We try to keep things out of the landfill as much as possible.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
My wife and I just moved and we downsized, as so many people my age are doing, where they have got a big, huge house and they want to downsize to a much smaller home. We called one of these companies, not yours, we weren’t familiar with you at the time. But we called one of these junk companies and they came and it was really pretty good stuff. It was furniture and all kinds of things. We just said, “Look, we just want it out of here. We want it out of our house. We want it out of our basement. We’re under a time crunch because we already sold the home.” We really did, we wondered what happened to this stuff. Maybe we should have donated it or tried to sell it or whatever the case might be. Is that a whole nother avenue of your business to say, “Well, we have all this furniture. Maybe we can put it in a warehouse and sell it directly to consumers that want to come in.”

Joseph Lambert:
We haven’t cracked the code on that quite yet. The efficiency to actually get that done, balancing all the other junk jobs is a little bit of a challenge. But definitely something we’ve looked into a lot and would like to see in the future.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Sure, sure. Is it tough getting people right now to go to work for you? I mean, right now there seems to be a war on talent. Is it tough for you to get people to come to work for you?

Joseph Lambert:
It hasn’t been lately. We went through a lot of challenges in the fall, but we’ve built a great culture to the point where our team loves working for us and when we bring guys on, we’re very picky about who we hire. We don’t make desperation hires. In fact, the last stage of our interview process is they have to work on our truck with our guys. Our guys basically have to approve new team members before they get hired by us. Really it’s created a culture where we encourage a lot, we stick up for each other. Then on the practical side, we pay our guys a little bit above market average, so we’ve created a system where we recruit top talent and able to retain them as well.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Wow, that’s great. What do your parents think of all this? I mean, you’re a very young guy to have all of this going on. I mean, they must make for great Sunday dinners.

Joseph Lambert:
It does.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
To talk about your company and how it’s doing.

Joseph Lambert:
It is, but they’ve been there to support me along the way. My mom was the one loading up my lawnmower with me in the back of the van when I was 12 and 13, driving me to different houses and my dad did the same thing. So they’ve been supporting me along the way, very grateful for them.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s great. That’s fantastic. What advice would you have for other young entrepreneurs that are listening to you today saying, “Wow, this guy is very inspirational. He’s built a heck of a company, he’s going for it, wants to be in 15 markets in the Southeast in the next 10 years.” Have no doubt that you’re going to achieve that. What advice do you have for them?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah. There’s a lot of people with great ideas. There’s not a lot of people that turn great ideas into real businesses. Any entrepreneur with an idea, I would challenge him just to go do it and do it before you figure the whole thing out. I can tell you, when I stepped in the junk business, I didn’t have half of it figured out. I just saw an opportunity that I thought had potential and then I believed in myself enough to just go figure it out. That’s what so much of business is. You see a problem, you really don’t know what the solution is and you just go figure it out.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right.

Joseph Lambert:
That’s what this world is short on. It’s not short of ideas, it’s short of people who go get stuff done.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s so true. And a lot of people wait for the right time to make sure they have the right money. They’ve checked out all the markets, they’ve done all of this and they never get started, they never leave their home.

Joseph Lambert:
The right time is now.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, it’s exactly right. In terms of starting a business here, you’ve shown everybody that in the middle of COVID-19, you can have a flourishing business.

Joseph Lambert:
Absolutely. There’s a lot of potential in COVID, believe it or not. I know a lot of businesses suffered, but there’s a way to parlay it to your favor.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
That’s right, that’s right. What’s next for the company? Just to continue growing and getting as much business as you can?

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, absolutely. I mean, we want to grow our people, we want to grow our business and we also just want to grow the number of people who we are able to serve and bless. I think it’s all of that working together.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Where do you find your clients? Obviously, you do some type of marketing. You do online marketing, things like that?

Joseph Lambert:
Absolutely. If you Google us, we pay a lot of money to pop up first most of the time. That’s probably our biggest marketing spend, but we also do things like a lot of yard signs, we do some billboards. You probably see our trucks around town, if you know who we are. It’s really a lot of it working together.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Yeah, that’s fantastic. Joseph Lambert, owner and founder of Joseph’s Junk Removal, I should say. Thank you so much for joining us on the show. This is a very inspiring story. I know that our viewers and subscribers will get a lot out of your visit here today.

Joseph Lambert:
Awesome.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Congratulations on all your success. We would love to have you back to do a follow up to see how things are coming along.

Joseph Lambert:
Yeah, would love to. Thanks for having me.

Jim Fitzpatrick:
Great, thank you.


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