Steve Conroy, 30, owner and founder of Lug Away Junk Removal & Demolition joins me from the inside of his truck, decked out in his iconic branded hoodie and hat, deceptively light for the freezing Boston-area temperatures he operates in.
In 2017, Conroy started his fast-flourishing junk removal business with no business management experience. His university training as an audio engineer couldn’t have been farther from his venture into the junk removal industry. (Spoiler: the two worlds did fatefully meet for a surprising outcome. More on that later).
Before he officially took on the title of “business owner,” Conroy, the ultimate go-getter—”If someone gives me a task, I do it and I say what’s next?”—made sure to nurture his experience in the field. During college summers, he worked as a laborer for a disposal business doing junk removal and trash routes, before becoming a foreman. He reached the point where he was essentially “running the company but didn’t own it,” and decided to go solo.
With a gleaming—but entirely unsuitable—Chevy Silverado 1500 pickup truck that he repurposed with 5 ft. high walls and a barn-door swinging gate before he could afford a full-size dump truck, Conroy was on his way.
“Anyone can start that way,” Conroy claims, although he doesn’t recommend using a fancy new pickup truck, given the inherent scratches and scrapes associated with junk removal.
After 2-3 months of successfully meeting his monthly goal of $10,000 profit after all expenses, Conroy sealed the deal and used the funds toward the down payment on a dump truck. Success came pretty fast, but it wasn’t all roses.
“To get to that point, I was working like a madman. I was taking any job I could get,” Conroy recalls. He didn’t have a great price structure at first, he says, and “was learning how to price [and] undervaluing [his] service.” Looking back, Conroy reflects that in his first year, had he known his worth and the value he was providing, he could’ve doubled what he actually made.
Now managing a 4-man rotating team on the road to expansion, Conroy doesn’t seem to have too many regrets (except maybe that fancy truck). “That comes with the territory…you need to get burned on so many jobs so that you understand your value.” Conroy relishes every opportunity to improve. “Learning from experience in this field is the best kind of knowledge you can get…just by doing the work.”
Experience has been a gold mine, but when it comes to hiring, which has consistently been Conroy’s trickiest challenge, trust, and a local-first mindset have guided his way.
“When I started I couldn’t get anyone to work for me!” Conroy laments, recalling begging reluctant but loyal friends to lend a hand on weekday evening jobs.
While he’s come a long way since then, Conroy still hasn’t quite found a counterpart to take control of a second truck, but it’s in the cards. He stresses the benefit of tapping into local networks, referrals, and apps like Nextdoor, to find good employees.
“Good work is hard to find and for anyone who finds a good helper…someone who’s respectable, who can hang around the customer—pay him to hang around,” Conroy advises. “Having a guy that shows up every day is one thing, and then having a guy that shows up every day have a good attitude is another.” Paying a reliable and motivated employee well pays off, reducing turnover and hours spent training constantly rotating employees, says Conroy.
Spreading the (Junk) Love
Although he may have gotten “burned” on his journey, Conroy doesn’t keep his hard-earned wisdom close to the chest. In fact, less than a year ago, the young, easygoing, and talkative entrepreneur who labels himself as “the guy in high school with no Facebook account,” started joining a slew of junk removal groups on the same social network he had shied away from for so many years. These groups were overflowing with information and insights, and Conroy decided to join the conversation.
“That’s the reason I started the Youtube channel,” he says of discovering the online world of junk removal and starting his own journey to document his experiences. “If I knew that all of this information was out there, I would have been so [much] further along in such a shorter amount of time.”
For someone who publicizes much of his activity on the internet, Conroy is the picture of humility.
“I don’t know everything about junk removal, I’m still growing,” Conroy says modestly. “This is my 4th year in business and I’m still learning how to run the business.”
Conroy seems to know more than he gives himself credit for. His engaging and genuine videos run the gamut from how-tos, advertising guidance, pricing tips, tool reviews, Q&As, and day-in-the-life epics. He talks honestly about disappointments (a business owner who refused to allow him to leave his business cards), failures (miscommunications and awkward situations with customers), and mistakes (undercharging for jobs and miscalculating the amount of time a job will take).
Every video opens with a version of “What IS up, guys?!” with Conroy annunciating every part of Lug Away Junk Removal AND Demolition. He has a unique narrative style, making the viewer feel as if he’s right there in the truck with Steve. None of his authenticity is edited out, with little gems like a nonchalant “just missed my turn, nice,” a calm “my wife’s calling, so something’s gotta be up—probably my puppy,” and a PG-rated “holy shirts and pants,” illustrating the real-life hustle—and pure fun—of being a junk removal self-starter.
The channel now boasts 2.54K subscribers, with a hallmark day-in-the-life enticing viewers with the potential to “Make $1-$2K+ Everyday,” sporting over 16,000 views. Conroy says that his audience ranges from individuals looking for self-improvement, newbies curious about getting started in junk removal, and part-timers considering transitioning to full-time junk removal work, as well as “the people that seem to just like to watch us pick up trash.”
While not all his viewers may be committed junk removal professionals, Conroy takes his choreography very seriously. “For me, it’s the music that I put behind it—I put a lot of thought into the music.” He stays up late into the night experimenting with soundbites and does all the video and audio editing himself. “That’s the audio-engineer in me,” he glows, referring to his university training in electronic media arts and technology.
Although he doesn’t boast about it, Conroy seems to be a born influencer, cleverly taking advantage of picture-perfect moments to promote his blooming business. Lug Away’s Facebook page features a legendary cover image from Conroy’s wedding day, which he of course started with a quick junk removal job, before jumping into his trailer for a clutch photo op with his bride, whom he calls “his biggest supporter.”
Speaking the Truth, Onscreen and Off
It seems that Conroy’s video work is mostly pro-bono (although his channel has become monetized recently), educational, and amusing, as he doesn’t rely on social media for leads. Conroy swears by Google Ads and local advertising in weekly town newsletters that are blasted out to homeowners, insisting the leads generated are more reliable and also committed to supporting his local business. Referrals also create a promising pipeline, so reputation management is key. Conroy always directs leads to read his company’s stellar Google reviews.
“I’m an open book to everyone,” Conroy asserts, acknowledging that many customers are reluctant “to pay you to take their stuff away but they don’t have the means to do it [themselves],” which is why transparency is so essential in the industry.
Conroy learned this lesson pretty quickly after an early incident caught him in a pickle. After a customer—one of his first 10—called him out for lack of professionalism and inaccurate pricing, he admitted his mistake, refused the customer’s check, and offered him a discount going forward to “make things right,” noting that he was still learning the ropes. That same customer has since referred around $30K worth of business to Lug Away.
“Bad jobs are defined by a big miscommunication because we’re in the business of helping people out,” Conroy says, noting that he loves accepting bigger, challenging jobs, but is adamant about communication, honesty, and maintaining excellent customer service.
Junk Removal: A COVID-Era Cash Cow
In 2020, Conroy not only inaugurated his thriving YouTube channel and tied the knot, but he—along with millions of other small business owners in the US—had to contend with the ongoing global pandemic. Although at first he was unsure if he would be allowed to operate as an essential business, he has luckily been able to ride out the storm, and credits the side effects of the pandemic with a huge hike in business in the junk removal industry.
“COVID has proven to…me, as a business owner in Massachusetts, which is one of the hardest-hit areas, that it’s [not harmful] to the business. If anything, COVID has grown my business exponentially in these “slower” months in the winter,” Conroy says, suggesting that extended periods of time stuck at home have driven more people to renovate and repurpose parts of their homes, projects that stimulate demand for disposal of unused items.
Not only has the pandemic inspired major cleanout projects, but, according to Conroy, it has also removed scheduling barriers that previously complicated his business workflow.
“One of the big things that COVID lifted [was] the whole scheduling thing, and trying to work around people’s schedules. Every time I get a call now, it’s just ‘ we’re home, give me a call when you can come pick it up.’ We’ve been able to do so many more jobs because of that,” Conroy says. Now, his company can book jobs within 1-2 days of a phone call rather than booking two weeks in advance, the pre-pandemic norm.
Dump Truck, DJ, and the Dream Job
Conroy’s glowing reviews and diligent YouTube following are no surprise for a business owner who is such a people-person. He could have gone the 9-5 route, but prefers the adventure of junk removal, an industry in which “everything’s up in the air” and new experiences are in abundance.
“I love my job because not only do we get to talk to different people every day, but every day is a different setting, five times a day,” Conroy beams. “Even if we’re doing one job…you’re always in a different home, you’re in a different neighborhood, you’re talking to people from different walks of life, you’re coming across stuff where you hold it up to the guy who’s working with you and you both have a laugh about it or your find something cool [you’ve] been looking for.”
Trash treasures aside, Conroy and his lighthearted, enlightening commentary and persistent positivity may be just what we’ve been looking for in these challenging times.