Elite Command Junk Hauling
- December 1, 2020
- December 1, 2020
"You really have nothing to lose by working with the Illinois SBDC."
- Sarah Mawhorr, Owner
Elite Command Junk Hauling, Schaumburg, IL
Sarah Mawhorr wanted two things from her career. First, she wanted to be in a profession that fit with her personal life, and second, she wanted to be the one making the rules. Sarah’s solution… start her own business! The catch was that to launch the business, Sarah would need to start from scratch. She needed to figure out what type of business would be right for her, then she needed to put together a business plan, then develop a website, and then hire employees. After getting everything in place, Sarah launched Elite Command Junk Hauling near the end of 2018. So far it’s been quite an experience. But she keeps learning as she goes and she’s even helping the environment along the way.
Why did you choose to start Elite Command Junk Hauling?
After studying journalism and French in school, I began my career as a journalist. I ended up working for a few different newspapers but struggled with the fact that life as a reporter can be pretty hectic. After a while I decided to step away from the profession so I could focus more on raising my daughter. It was during this time that I realized I wanted to start my own business. I wanted to be more in control of my life so I could be there for my family. I spent some time researching several ideas for a business. My favorites were a restoration service for fire, floods, and mold, a restaurant franchise, and a junk hauling service. I learned that opening a franchise wasn’t a great fit for me because the fees were very high and I wasn’t sure I would want to follow all their rules. Restoration meant that I’d probably need to be reliant on insurance companies for customers. Junk hauling, on the other hand, seemed like it would be a great fit. It had a relatively low barrier of entry and could be supported with minimal debt. Plus, it seemed like something that I could do at my own pace and sort of figure it out as I go.
Tell us a little about your business and what makes it unique.
Elite Command Junk Hauling primarily helps homeowners who are looking to clean up their whole house. The majority of what we pick up is furniture or other household goods. We also do some outdoor work like cleaning up yards or debris from construction sites. The challenging thing about the business is that it is an extremely competitive industry. There are both big, national franchises and independent, local companies. And there are always new ones popping up. We differentiate ourselves by promising customers that we will recycle as much as possible. This includes donating to organizations like the Goodwill. Exercise equipment, furniture, and even books are great items for them. Materials such as wood or cloth are recycled. We recycle or donate 90-95% of what we pick up. Very little goes to a landfill.
What was the problem you were facing when you decided to contact the Illinois SBDC?
I had an idea for a business, but I had no idea if it was a good idea. I needed to put together a business plan but didn’t know how to start. I received a lot of coaching from the advisors about how to write up a business plan. They provided examples of formats that I could follow and they helped me think through the content, starting with the basics like which category my business would fall into. They were also very helpful with more complicated things like financials. By working with the advisors, I was able to get a better understanding of the kinds of expenses I would have, the taxes I’d have to pay, and how I should determine my pricing so I could be profitable.
How did the Illinois SBDC help with the problems you were having?
I used the Illinois SBDC constantly to get my business up and running, and I still do. The advisors really helped me put some parameters around my business. The first advisor I met with was Tony Baldassano. He reviewed my business plan and helped me work through my business model. I also met with Cheri Kretsinger to discuss my marketing and how to set my pricing. And Jennie Johns was a big help with my website. I thought that developing a website was going to be the easiest part of starting the business, but it was actually very difficult. Talking with Jennie helped me understand what my desired site would cost and how it should be optimized.
How did working with the Illinois SBDC impact your business?
I probably wouldn’t have gone through with starting my business if it hadn’t been for the Illinois SBDC. I needed direction on what to do from a general business perspective as well as more specific things like pricing and my website. And I wanted to make sure that I was getting advice that was both neutral and reliable. The Illinois SBDC was really a lifeline for me. I couldn’t have done this without them.
Would you recommend small business owners use the services of the Illinois SBDC at Harper College?
Working with the Illinois SBDC is vital. It would be a mistake not to use their services. As an entrepreneur and small business owner, you’re out there on your own. You need people to talk to about your business. You need a place to get information. I’ve participated in their workshops and I read all the information they send to me. You really have nothing to lose by working with the Illinois SBDC.
What does the future look like for Elite Command Junk Hauling?
My primary goal for the business is to be big enough to weather downturns and to be able to offer a future for my employees. I want them to have consistent work and to be able to provide them all the other bells and whistles, like health insurance and a 401K plan. To do this, I’ll need to build the business to the point where we have jobs seven days a week, over multiple shifts. For the near future, I’d like to continue to focus on residential whole house cleanups and storage cleanups. I see opportunities for expansion that include more jobs to clean up outdoor debris, construction sites, and commercial projects. Right now most of those jobs are just too big for us, so expansion will require an investment in more trucks. Possibly even a dump truck. Over time we will continue to refine what we do, particularly around recycling. I’m always learning more about recycling and how to do it more efficiently. It’s an important part of our brand so we should always be looking for ways to do it better. I actually feel that searching for ways to refine your business is part of the fun of owning your own business. I’m looking forward to figuring out what comes next for us.
If you had one piece of advice to give someone just starting out, what would it be?
For business owners who are just starting out, I recommend talking things over with people who have more experience than you do. Bounce your ideas off of several different types of people. You never know where you’ll find resources that can help you out. Be prepared for naysayers, though. Not everyone is going to believe in you. You do have to have a thick skin to accept their critique. But you can’t let that stop you. It really doesn’t matter as long as you believe in yourself.