Money story: One man’s trash is another man’s treasure
This guest post from Brian Winch is part of the “money stories” feature at Get Rich Slowly. Some stories contain general advice; others are examples of how a GRS reader achieved financial success — or failure. These stories feature folks from all stages of financial maturity.
Today, Brian shares how he got rich slowly by building a simple, profitable business.
In 1981, I was earning a modest income at a sporting goods store, but I wanted to make more money. I dreamed of being an entrepreneur, but I was hesitant because I only had a high school education and hardly any start-up cash.
Inspiration hit as I recalled that my father used to moonlight cleaning up litter in a local shopping plaza. I had gone along with him a few times as a kid, and I remembered thinking how easy it was. It was a case of us walking around the property cleaning up litter before the stores opened the next day and getting paid for it.
I decided to see if there was much money to be made from this simple service. Turns out, there was. This is where the idea for Cleanlots was born.
The Secret of My Success
When I started Cleanlots, I only had about $200 to invest. Fortunately, the business didn’t require any extraordinary skills or training. All I needed were a few simple tools and a willingness to work.
Today, my operation bills out over $650,000 per year in parking lot litter removal contracts. (Others who have adopted my system report earning $20,000 to $50,000 per year.)
Looking back, I think there are several factors that have contributed to my success:
- I Wasn’t Shy. I contacted property management companies and offered to clean their retail, office, and warehouse properties on a daily basis. I was relentless. I discovered that commercial real-estate management companies were my best source for business. A good one could result in a dozen prospective contracts.
- Hustle. Since cleaning up litter was work I could accomplish before and after my full-time job at the sporting goods store, I was able to grow my business as a side-hustle while still taking home a steady paycheck.
- Repeat Customers. I chose a business model that required year-round service. Most property managers didn’t want to do the “dirty job” themselves. But I did, and they paid me handsomely for it (on average $30-$50 per hour). Month after month. Year after year.
- Expansion. There came a time — I remember it fondly! — when I realized I had a viable business on my hands. I was making more income than my full-time job and it was time to quit that sporting goods store job and focus all of my attention on Cleanlots. But I didn’t slow down. I expanded. As I continued to take on more contracts, I was able to recruit others to help me clean up litter.
- Diversification. A few years into my success, I compiled all of my standard operating procedures into one “clean” document. As that document expanded, I was inspired to take it a step further and publish it as a book. I created a manual to help others do what I've done.
Today, business is better than ever. Do you think people are littering less than they were 35 years ago? Nope! And property managers have a hard time keeping up. That's where I come in. It's a win-win for me and the businesses I work with.
The Millionaire Next Door
The bottom line? I got rich slowly by picking up other people's crap. (Just goes to show that the old saying is true: “One man's trash is another man's treasure.” Haha.)
But I've obtained more than financial wealth. My career has offered me the flexibility to spend quality time with my family, the ability to make a positive environmental impact, and with all that walking I also get some great exercise!
Like many of you, I'm a fan of the best-selling book The Millionaire Next Door by Thomas Stanley and William Danko. The book showed that about two-thirds of America’s millionaires who still work are self-employed. They tend to own simple, blue-collar businesses such as cleaning or other service types. The book's success profiles showed that you don’t need a family pedigree, an advanced education, or a fancy job title to become rich.
These findings match my personal experience.
I've learned what many successful entrepreneurs have found over the years: You should study your community to discover a need that isn’t being met. Then start a business that fills that need. Be creative and open-minded to opportunities.
Often it’s the simplest side hustle ideas that can lead you to success.