Is the juice worth the squeeze? In terms of junk removal, is it easier to do it yourself or pay for the service to be performed on your behalf? A follow up question, if you chose the latter, would be what type of company do you prefer and what are you willing to spend? As the owner of a Junk Removal company, my view is subjective. That said, I do try and understand the exchange of services from both sides and consider alternatives to our service.
The Inspiration for this Topic: A Phone Call
The subject in question was triggered by a recent conversation I overheard between a customer on the phone and my customer service team. The customer was needing help cleaning up the debris on their property. The call was going smoothly and we were gathering more details about the service while providing the customer with more details about what all we do or what all is included in the price. Then came the pivotal question, “how much does it cost?”
At this point we had discovered the debris was spread out all over the backyard on a 2 acre property. This means added time and effort compared to say a job where the debris is all in a garage. Additionally, the distance from the debris and where we would be able to park our truck was considerable. Those factors alone meant that we needed to ensure we blocked off sufficient time to complete the work.
Over the phone, we are unable to see the items needing hauled away. We are going off descriptions provided by the customer. This can be tricky. We would love if the customer would provide pictures every time, but some customers are unwilling to do so because of the inconvenience. We would love to come see the load in person before giving a price, which is why we offer free in person estimates, but many customers won’t grant that permission because in our industry there is another company one phone call away willing to give a price without pictures or an on scene estimate. Sometimes we have to hold the line and insist on an estimate or pictures despite the risk of losing the customer. Other times, we are able to get a “range” based on what we call our pickup truck load analogy.
How do Junk Removal Companies Charge for Services?
Most junk removal companies will charge based on volume, which is how much room the items take up in your truck. They do this because at most landfills, they charge the company coming to the local Landfill to dump their waste based on volume. What I mean is, the landfill operator will literally take a tape measure and get the dimensions of your vehicle, or dump trailer. He will then make an eyeball assessment and determine if he thinks your truck or trailer is ¾ full, ½ full, etc. Some scale operators are more experienced and may skip the tape measure because they have dimensions down solid but this is the basic process although it may vary slightly from city to city.
A secondary means of getting charged for disposal is a transfer station. This is essentially a landfill satellite that may be more conveniently located for companies and citizens. Often times, at transfer stations, they will charge by tonnage rather than volume. It’s not a perfect science but the costs for tonnage end up being similar to if you were being charged volume. However, Junk Removal companies don’t have scales so we can’t price by tonnage. While we could technically charge an hourly labor rate is tonnage, we experienced push back from customers when trying this on jobs past because nobody likes a surprising disposal bill after they’ve already paid for the labor. Imagine paying $1000 for 2 guys on 8 hours of labor only to get a receipt from the landfill a couple days later for the disposal fees of $283.
Landfills and transfer stations would not allow this type of billing, they would expect the junk removal company to pay the disposal and then Bill their customer themselves. Now imagine the customer is refuting the disposal fees and said they had no idea it would cost that much and are not going to pay that much for the labor and disposal. It’s cleaner for everyone to have an agreed upon price up front in total before the work begins and pay upon completion.
What About Items that are Donated and Recycled?
You may be thinking, “How much of that debris can be recycled, reused or donated?” Great question and the answer is about 60%. It varies from job to job, but we always make an effort to recycle, reuse or donate as many items as possible prior to going to the landfill or transfer station. However, that “effort” has to be quantified as well since and included in the price. Reason being is that to recycle, we have to go back to our shop and unload certain items into our recycling container. With donations, we have to make a separate trip to Goodwill where we will try and donate reusable items. If we get a receipt, we send that back to the customer so they can use it on their end of year donations. When you combine that with the trip to the customer’s house, and that whatever is left still has to go to the landfill, that is a combined 4 trips wrapped up into the service. We do that when we have a full truck of items so the cost could be spread across multiple customers’ jobs, but the cost is still realized and must be accounted for.
Back to the Customer on the Phone
Now, let’s circle back to our customer on the phone. We don’t have pictures and they don’t want us out for a free estimate; however, what they would like is a “ballpark” estimate. We think that’s fair so that’s why we try to get the customer to think of their load size in terms of pickup truck loads. A standard pickup truck bed is roughly 2.5-3 cubic yards if you don’t have items overflowing the sides and rear. Our dump trucks hold 15.5 cubic yards which is the equivalent to 5 pickup truck loads. An average load size for us is 1-2 pickup truck loads, which is roughly ¼-⅓ of our dump truck, or $245-305.
Our customer on the phone had described “4-5 pickup truck loads.” However, before giving our “ballpark estimate” we first need to know a little more about the specific items within the load. Why? Good question. Specific items like tractor tires, car tires or appliances with Freon in them (refrigerators) come with an additional disposal fee on top of the volume/tonnage fees. So, for these items, we have to add that pass through surcharge onto the estimate. In this case, there were 8 car tires totaling an additional $80 of disposal.
So, what the customer had described was roughly 4-5 pickup trucks, or a full dump truck load. Over the phone, without being able to confirm that amount, we give a low end and a high end price range based on the description of pickup truck loads provided by the customer. Before the surcharges for the 8 tires, we provided an estimate of $475-545 plus the $80 for tire recycling surcharges.
At this time, the customer scoffed at the quote. The reply was that our cost was “ridiculous.” My office manager again reiterated that since we are unable to see the items, we have to go off the descriptions provided but that if the customer feels we are that far apart that it may be helpful to have our Operations Manager come out for a Free Estimate. The customer was apparently so turned off by the price quote that they were no longer willing to engage and simply ended the phone conversation by saying, “I’ll just get my son and a couple of his friends and go rent a U-Haul” and hung up on our representative. You may wonder if our tone had anything to do with the abrupt end to the call, but if you’ve met our Office Manager, he is very non-confrontational and has been doing this at Fire Dawgs Junk Removal for many years. I was also there and thought he conducted himself professionally.
This customer clearly thought our price was not commensurate with the work needing performed. We get the “college kids and a u-haul” response every now and again. It always makes me laugh because I was a college kid and while I would have definitely helped my mom and dad whenever needed, I don’t know how easy it would have been for me to wrangle up two buddies to help at no cost. Many of us already had jobs that paid pretty well for college kids. While U-Haul’s are indeed reasonable for a 1 day rental, there are other fees that come with the cost of using the truck. Additionally, the trucks aren’t designed for junk removal which means you’ll have to both load and unload the truck. Conversely, our dump trucks are designed specifically for junk removal jobs thereby making us more efficient. We also do this type of work regularly so we can load a truck more quickly than most, especially on a property spread out over 1-2 acres.
So, in order to fairly answer if the juice is worth the squeeze, you need to ask the following questions:
- How long would it take you to do the same amount of work that was described above?
- Would it be an apples to apples comparison? In other words, are you going to make the extra effort to do the recycling and donating before disposing of the items?
- Do you place a value on your free time? If so, compare that value to the amount of time you estimate from question 1.
- What value do you place on peace of mind and good customer service?
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