University of Wisconsin–Madison

Junk King

Junk King Madison

Owners see potential in reducing clutter

Big Shirley is here to haul away your junk, and Rio the dog is riding shotgun. Big Shirley is one of two official Junk King Madison trucks, and both she and Rio belong to Eric and Kira Cortese of Madison, who started the Junk King Madison franchise in 2017. Shirley is named for Kira’s grandmother, and Junk King Madison’s second truck, Sweet Connie, is named for Eric’s.

“That’s part of the beauty of owning your own business,” says Eric. “The trucks are decorated with decals, like one for Dane County Big Brothers/Big Sisters, where I volunteer, and that connects us with the Madison community.”

The Corteses felt Junk King had great potential to grow in Madison and dovetailed well with Eric’s 20 years of property management experience.

“Its potential was the biggest factor in our choosing it,” says Eric. “It offers multiple different revenue streams—residential, commercial, institutional, and civic. It’s also philanthropic—people are overwhelmed by their garage, basement, or warehouse at work, and we show up and take their stuff away to be recycled or reused.”

Once the couple decided to move forward with a Junk King franchise, Kira, who earned her BFA in art and graphic design from UW-Madison, heard about the Wisconsin Small Business Development Center at the UW-Madison School of Business and called up to learn more about the SBDC’s offerings. The Corteses were paired with business consultant Anne Inman to work on business planning.

“It was so refreshing to have this free resource,” says Eric, who has a BS in aeronautics. “Anne has an MBA. We’re college educated, but we don’t have those kind of credentials.”

The Corteses spent their first meeting with Inman walking through their business planning and looking over the franchise documents for Junk King.

“Anne is an impartial, objective, well qualified resource and sounding board,” says Eric. “She gave us solid advice about what to look for, questions to ask, potential problems, potential areas of success, our business plan, and financing options. I can’t think of anything that she didn’t help us with during our startup and franchise phase.”

Inman wasn’t afraid to give a thumbs down to certain ideas. For example, the Corteses were initially considering another franchise, and when Inman reviewed the financials, she pointed out a lot of things that would be hard to prove.

“Anne helped steer us away from a few things we were considering that weren’t great options,” says Eric. “Once we decided on Junk King as our best option, she zoned in on revenue projection and overhead and the pro forma from the franchising corporation for what we could expect from their franchise.”

Inman was able to help the Corteses peel back the layers and remind them about costs like insurance, credit card fees, and worker’s compensation, then help them adjust their projected numbers to reflect reality.

“She was Chicken Little to our enthusiasm, which was super helpful and gave us peace of mind,” says Eric. “She helped us in two very beneficial ways: She helped us write our business plan and drill down on the financials.”

Inman helped the Corteses put together a robust business plan, full of examples that a bank would want to see if they chose to explore financing, as well as what other investors would want to see.

“The business plan work was crucial to opening our eyes,” says Eric. “I’m not sure we’d have gotten that clarity without help from Anne and the SBDC.”

Inman and the Corteses looked closely at the financials—the cost of the franchise and their options for financing the whole thing, part of it, or none of it.

“Anne double-checked our numbers and made sure we accounted for everything before we pulled the trigger and wrote a check for our first truck, franchise fee, and warehouse,” says Eric. “It’s been a year and a half now, and we’ve run into many of the things she prepared us for, so nothing has been a surprise. We wouldn’t have been as prepared or as immediately successful without her.”

After a thriving first year and a half, averaging 116% year over year revenue growth, Junk King Madison is in a growth period. They added their second truck in early March and had a busy summer season. Thanks to Inman’s advice about managing cash flow and being aware of the funds that are coming in and going out at all times, they’ve avoided the cash flow problems other franchisers sometimes face.

Now, Eric says he’s hoping to work with Inman to refine his business flow and employee training process. He’s putting together an operations and training playbook and needs a sharp business mind to review them.

“I’m so excited to have Anne as a resource during this growth period—someone objective to check our math,” he says. “It really helps to have someone like Anne to whom you’re accountable. You want to work for yourself, but there are a lot of minutiae you have to address, like writing up a bonus policy and a paid time off plan. Someone has to hold your feet to the fire.”

The Corteses get half to one third of their business from Google searches, and another substantial portion comes from referrals, repeat business, and networking. They have a Facebook page, and the Junk King corporation provides them with a website template and hosting, as well as search engine optimization resources. Kira oversees marketing & creative for the franchise.

“We use a three-touch marketing mentality,” explains Eric. “People find us in a Google search, see our truck, and hear about us from friends and colleagues. We’re also thinking about experimenting with radio ads.”

The Corteses’ near-term goals are to continue to strengthen their business and their revenue before their two-year anniversary.

“We’ll see higher growth in year three than year two, but I’d like to think we’ll blueprint from last year and get a third truck in early March, so it’s ready when our busy season starts,” says Eric. “We’ll work with Anne on that and talk about whether this franchise is a long-term fit.”

Eric says he ultimately hopes to reach $1 million in revenue in five years, running three trucks, but he’s also waiting to see what the franchise corporation’s goals are. After all, there are still two more grandmothers’ names to go on trucks.

“This is hard work, but it’s rewarding, and the flexibility is beneficial beyond measure,” Eric says