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Cameron Herold is the Mastermind Behind 1-800-GOT-JUNK’s Success. How Did He Do It?

Do you have a big vision for your business but wonder if you have the expertise to personally engineer and manage the type of growth you’ve dreamed up? Do you envy the “overnight success” stories you hear about in Forbes and Entrepreneur Magazine

Meet Cameron Herold, the businessman behind the curtain.  

At age 21, Cameron Herold had 14 employees. By 35, he’d helped build his first two 100 million dollar companies. By the age of 42, Cameron had engineered 1-800-GOT-JUNK?’s spectacular growth from $2 million to $106 million in revenue in just six years. 

Given his reputation as “The Business Growth Guru,” Cameron Herold is now sharing his expertise with today’s most dynamic business leaders. As a top business consultant, best-selling author, and speaker, his top priority is understanding all the “people sides” of the business from recruiting, interviewing, selection, onboarding, training leadership development and offboarding. From years of experience, Cameron finds, “when you build up a company’s culture, you’re able to turn any company into magnets for great talent.”

Franchise Ramp‘s CEO Brian Holmes and Erik Van Horn from sits down with Cameron to discuss how he has successfully grown hundreds of companies’ bottom line, the systems and models he recommends to all his clients, and his top tips for hiring the most successful franchisees. 

Tune Into Their Full Conversation: Franchise Story Podcast Episode #28

Erik Van Horn: In terms of our audience, everybody knows about 1-800-GOT-JUNK.  You grew that from very few to over 3,000 employees when you left. 

Cameron Herold: I came in as the 14th employee at the head office and we had 12 franchisees at the time. It was the very early stages, no franchise manual, no franchise training program, no franchise coaching program. No team. And, no marketing budget. And I built the company as the Chief Operating Officer and when I left 6 1/2 years later, we had 3,100 employees systemwide, we had 300 franchisees operating in 4 countries, 46 states. We had no debt. We owned 13 cooperate locations, very profitable. We ranked as the #2 company in Canada to work for. We deposited 98% franchisee net promoter score, we ranked the year before I left as the #1 franchisor in the world from the International Franchise Association. We did it. But what’s interesting is, actually, my start with College Pro Painters. Most people don’t know College Pro is the largest residential house painting company on the planet. I was a franchisee and then I went on to become the top 30 people globally at the head office. We would go and recruit and train 800 franchisees in 2-3 months. Those 800 franchisees who were all university students would go out and train 8,000 painters in 6 weeks. From May 1 to August 31, we would paint 64 million worth in houses and 8,800 students would quit and go back to school. We would all get rip-roaring drunk and we would wake up in the morning and say, “shit we gotta do this again.” Every year for 4 years, I had to help build up 800 franchise from scratch. In 1993, I hired Kimbal Musk, Elon’s brother, as a franchisee. Also, Peter Rives who built SolarCity as a franchisee. I could toss out dozens of other people who I’ve built who our listeners know the names of who became very successful business owners because of the training they got as College Pro. This business is really where I learned to grow franchises and by 27, I had coached 120 entrepreneurs. So that’s really where I got my start in the coaching business.

Erik Van Horn: Brian and I come from seasonal business when we first started, in the tax business. Very similar. There’s a lot of difficult things that come along with that, you’re forced to execute well. 

Cameron Herold: I talked to a lot of entrepreneurs about this. They have a lot of room for waste when you operate for 52 weeks out of the year. When you operate for 17 weeks, talk about a cost crisis. It was insane seasonality. I taught how to budget based for the seasonality curve because we lived by it. We learned to reverse engineer every goal. It wasn’t ok to just have a goal. What’s the plan to hit the goal? One of the core reasons we were so successful at 1-800-GOT-JUNK is we had a plan for every single aspect of our business and we execrated like monomaniacs on that plan. 

Erik Van Horn: When did you realize the service, the widget, didn’t matter and it was more about the business itself? 

Cameron Herold: After leaving College Painters, I ended up joining up at a group called Gerber Auto Collision. We built that up to be the #1 collision repair group in the world. It’s now a $9 billion publicly traded, couple hundred locations, company. In doing that, I realized all the issues I had with College Pro Painters with franchisees were the same in the auto body business, they were just older people executing the same way. I thought that was interesting. The next business I built after that was the private currency company and it was an extraordinarily fast group. We created the digital currency that people were using instead of US dollars, similar to bitcoin. We started with hotels, Avis rental car, budget rental car, Hard Rock Cafe, everyone using our currency instead of the U.S. dollar. This was 20 years ago. I started to see that I had the ability to scale a company regardless of the industry. I think the real proving ground was my first week at 1-800-GOT-JUNK, I was supposed to ride in the truck and learn the business. Hall junk around and really experience it. I came in at lunchtime and got out of my junk clothes and into my work clothes and sat down at my laptop… [what I learned was] the product or service almost doesn’t matter. It’s how you scale, how you deliver on your expectations with your customers, how you turn your employees into raving fans so they’ll go through brick walls with your customers. It’s really about that, not about what you do. It’s about how you do it and why. 

Erik Van Horn: Was there resistance from franchisees in terms of engraining them? 

Cameron Herold: There were only 12 franchisees when I joined. But I raised prices by 50 percent across the board…. franchisees thought they were going to go bankrupt. Raise prices, clean up our trucks, clean up your employees, have better marketing, deliver on your promises, and we’ll all have more money. I taught them how to get all the competitors to raise their prices too. If you’re to go out and get a coffee, do you want to be the Starbucks pricing or do you want to be the Walmart pricing or gustation pricing? Or do you want to be the hipster coffee shop pricing? You can go to a hipster coffee shop and pay $6.50 for a latte and think, “this is awesome!” That’s where we wanted to be, at the Starbucks level. We just taught to franchisees that, the mindset of being the FedEx of junk removal. 

Brian Holmes: I really resonate with what you said about getting your employees ready to run through a brick wall to help your customers. What were some of the key things to make that happen at 1-800-GOT-JUNK? Is there a universal rule?

Cameron Herold: Firs off, getting your employees completely aligned with your vivid vision of where you’re growing your organization.

I codified this concept of the vivid vision in my book, Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs

Step 1: Describe the future state of your company 3 years in the future. [Your employees] will start to align with that vision and feel empowered. 

Step 2: Following Jim Collins’ mantra “getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and everyone in the right seat.” Obsessing about hiring 8 players and getting rid of cultural cancers. 

Step 3: Obsess about creating a business that’s a little more of a business, a little bit less than a religion. How do you create that cult? When employees feel a part of this cult, they just care more. If you really obsess about your employee’s happiness, they’ll obsess about your customer’s happiness. I think most companies do it backwards. They’re all about revenue and customer satisfaction. F that. Your employee is number 1. If your employee knows your number one, they’ll take care of your customer. 

Brian Holmes: What are the qualities you look for in your franchisees? 

Cameron Herold: You got entrepreneurial people and intrapreneurial people. Can you distinguish between the both of them and why as entrepreneurs we’d want to hire one versus the other?

Franchisees that are entrepreneurs tend to make terrible franchisees. You want to find franchisees that are intrapreneurial. They have entrepreneurial traits but they are willing to work in the system. So I used to look for traits of what I call interdependence. The five core traits in the best franchisees are:

  1. Leadership – strong leaders. traits can appear when you’re ten years old. You’re a leader in the classroom, you’re the captain of your sports team, you’re in student government. Leaders have always been leaders. 
  2. Attainment – goal-oriented people. People that set up goals, they have the drive. They’ve got goals for their 10k, they’re reading books on self-development. 
  3. Tenacity- dog-like work ethic to get over, under, around any obstacle put in one’s path. They just don’t give up. Running your business is really hard, even with all the systems, there are days and months that suck and you just can’t give up. 
  4. Interdependence- dependent enough on the system that if it exists you will use it. the best franchisees will follow every single system in the manual. if the system did not exist, we were independent enough to make it up on our own. 
  5. Fundamental Ability- the ability to handle short term pain for long term gain. the ability to control your emotions. The franchisees that do best don’t get pissed off when something bad happens, they suck it up. 

Erik Van Horn: What are some books you recommend for business owners looking to grow their mindset? 

Cameron Herold: Here are the 4 core books we used to grow 1-800-GOT-JUNK: 

The E Myth: Why Most Businesses Don’t Work and What to Do About It by Michael Gerber

Mastering the Rockefeller Habits by Verne Harnish

Good to Great by Jim Collins

The Five Dysfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni

Specifically for franchisees and franchisors, I would suggest starting by reading The Miracle Morning for Entrepreneurs, then read chapters 1, 2, 4, 12 of my book Double Double.

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