Jerry Flanagan: Hauling junk and putting veterans to work

Jerry Flanagan

Jerry Flanagan

By Alyssa Hurst

JDog Junk Removal’s connection with the military is impossible to miss. When you call them up to haul away some of your odds and ends, you’ll be greeted by a camouflage-wrapped truck, the tough face of a bulldog mascot, and a uniform-clad team. But it’s not just strength and commitment that president and CEO Jerry Flanagan hopes to infuse through his company’s military branding. JDog operates under a much larger and more profound mission: to put veterans and their families to work across the country.

How did your transition from military to civilian life influence your decision to found JDog Junk Removal?

Flanagan: My experience trying to find work in the field that I was in in the military turned out to be really difficult, and I actually [ended up doing] something completely different. What I did get from the military was a work ethic that I didn’t have before I went in. I think the discipline and the hard work you have to do helped me grow in the career that I went into. I went into, actually, retail. I started off in warehouse work and then I worked my way up through the channels of management and sales operations, and eventually got out in my own business. When I realized that I had a business I could teach through franchising to other military veterans that were transitioning out [and] were not happy, to me it was important to offer this around the country.

How did your time in the Army shape the way that you lead your company?

Flanagan: What I learned in the military is that you carry three values — respect, integrity and trust — with your fellow soldiers. I think that if you apply that with people every day, it benefits you. The way I lead now with my staff, I’m usually the first one in the office, the last one to leave, [and] I won’t ask any of my people to do something I have not done already or that I would not be willing to do. That’s something you have to do when you’re in the military, because you are asking people to put themselves in harm’s way. Without that leadership, the whole system could fall apart.

What keeps you motivated to keep doing what you’re doing?

Flanagan: I think that what I do every day is not only change military veterans or military family members. We change the way they live their lives by [helping them] open up a small business, where trying to do something on their own is a risk. We’ve already built a concept … with the military message behind it saying, “Not only are you going to feel good about getting that junk removed from your home emotionally, but you’re actually helping a veteran business. … You’re giving our company a chance to compete for work, which allows us to hire more veterans.”

Why did you decide it was important to distinguish your brand as a military brand?

Flanagan: My customers are the ones who told me to advertise the fact that I was a veteran. … I really opened up the business because I wanted to support my family with a business that was recession-proof. … I would talk to my customers about who I am and why they should use me. I’d say, “I’m a military veteran. I work off the three principles of respect, integrity and trust, and I’d like to earn your business that way.” I would show up on time, I would make sure that I was polite and clean cut, and you would identify with me as someone that you know, as opposed to just hiring some big corporation that sticks any hourly employee in your home. So the customers are the ones who said to me, “You should advertise that you’re a military veteran. It makes customers feel better.” Military veterans are background checked. They’ve gone through a lot of tests and, for the most part, they are a trustworthy person.

What or who has been your biggest inspiration either in your personal life or your career?

Flanagan: My biggest inspiration for growing this company has to be [chairman of JDog’s holding company] Chris Debbas. The reason is because he basically put together an investment group for me and raised a lot of money to get behind my mission. I didn’t really know him that well, but he believed in what I was doing. … So if it weren’t for those guys, I’d probably still be a veteran-owned business locally in Philadelphia. I’d still be doing pretty well and I’d still be hiring my local veterans, but if it weren’t for Chris Debbas, I would not be opening up around the country.

Why did you decide to go into junk removal?

Flanagan: After years of retail, I wanted to get into a business where just because the economy or the stock market crashed, I didn’t want to be subject to reselling … any seasonal business item. That was the business I was in. I really wanted a business that was stable and was something I could do without having a massive education. I did not graduate college, and I wanted to open up something that was simple, yet there was a big need for it. There’s a big need for junk removal. It’s a huge business, hauling away items that people don’t want or can’t get rid of. Then I can take those items and either donate them or resell the items, or I can get them to a place where they can be reused. There was something about that that really intrigued me.

What has been the most interesting item you have picked up?

Flanagan: I think the most interesting thing I’ve picked up was a full anchor in somebody’s back yard. It was sunken into the ground, so the customers couldn’t get it out of their yard. It was buried and part of it was sticking out. Apparently it had been there for over a hundred years, because behind this person’s yard it used to be a waterway. So I would say a boat was back there and this giant anchor sunk. It took me a full day. I had to bang it with a sledgehammer and break it up in pieces. I drove that home to show my kids and my wife. “Look! Daddy’s got an anchor in the back of his trailer.” And I was able to recycle it. It was about 800 pounds.

Why did you feel it was so important to make sure that your business was something veterans and their families could get involved with?

Flanagan: There’s a massive need for it. My wife and I were watching television, and you see the scenes of people that are coming home from war and families that have been disrupted. I felt that if I could build an organization that put veterans and their families to work for their sacrifice, we would have an opportunity to grow everywhere. What I’m finding is that there’s an ethos of brotherhood that’s missing in civilian work. You don’t get to see what we get to see here at JDog. We are watching guys who have never met each other, but have served, become great friends and help each other’s businesses and drive to each other’s locations to help haul junk when they are stuck. You just don’t see that in the rest of the country’s job markets. You see a lot of competition, whereas with us, you see a family.

About The Human Element:

The Human Element is a regular, web-exclusive column that aims to get to know the leaders behind great companies. Rather than talking about business models and growth strategies, CEOs open up about what motivates and guides them in their professional and personal lives. To be considered for The Human Element, email ahurst@smartceo.com.