How an Army Veteran Turned Trash into Treasure

Andrew Wilson, 1-800-GOT-JUNK

Andrew Wilson knew from the get-go that he wanted something more than a 9-to-5 job sitting behind a desk for the rest of his life.

While playing collegiate football at Pittsburg State University in Kansas, Wilson wanted a career where he was paid to lead people in a highly stressful environment while staying physically active. He loved the physical nature of college football, the camaraderie and excitement.

He realized the next best thing was to join the military. That desire led him to sign up for the ROTC program in which he was selected to be an infantry officer with the Army's 82nd Airborne Division.

Wilson saved money throughout his military service, and he was debating between going back to school to get his master's degree or start a business. This was after the economic downturn in 2001, and jobs were still scarce. While on tour in Afghanistan, he decided that buying a franchise was the best move.

"I was used to leading soldiers in difficult missions in challenging environments. Owning a franchise in the service industry seemed to share the same skill set," Wilson says. "I was already good at motivating my men. I figured I could apply that same skill in my own business."

Wilson knew he was a good leader, and with his military training, he was used to established systems that, if followed, pretty much guaranteed success. Franchising seemed like the perfect choice since it would cater to his strengths, such as building relationships and driving sales.

After researching several opportunities, he purchased the 1-800-GOT-JUNK? franchise in Kansas City, Kansas. He liked the idea of turning a disembodied industry into a household name, but he was one of the earlier franchise owners and was unsure whether the concept would work.

"In Kansas City, people either have a truck or know someone who has a truck," Wilson said. "I wasn't really sure if the concept of having sharp-looking guys with a nice truck hauling away people's junk would really work. But I took the plunge and it paid off."

With 1-800-GOT-JUNK?'s catchy name, slick-looking crew members and uniformed approach, Wilson's franchise started to grow. But it wasn't easy. Wilson compared owning a business to his experience of being deployed to Afghanistan.

"You work seven days a week, 15-hour days," Wilson says. "When I was running my franchise, I was literally running. Quoting someone here, helping my team out there. I never thought it would be so challenging."

He later purchased a moving franchise, You Move Me, which is 1-800-GOT-JUNK's sister company. After the second year, he reached the million-dollar threshold.

"It was a lot easier the second time around, since I had been around the block before," he said.

His advice for veterans looking into purchasing a franchise is to do your research and have a solid financial plan. There are a lot of resources that can help veterans, such as VetFran and the Small Business Administration, and many franchises offer discounts on the initial franchise fee to veterans.

"Just because some [other franchisee] was successful doesn't mean you'll be," Wilson says. "You have to do your research and make sure it's something you'll enjoy doing. I have always done jobs that kept me either in war zones or self-employed. It has to be an ever-changing environment to keep my interest."

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