We caught up with the brilliant and insightful Steven Lafferty a few weeks ago and have shared our conversation below.
Steven, appreciate you joining us today. We’d love to hear about a time you helped a customer really get an amazing result through their work with you.
Creating customer success isn’t a one-size-fits-all solution; it depends on the specific needs presented by the customer. On a daily basis we meet customers’ needs by responding to requests in a timely fashion, having an easy client process, and exceed their expectations when executing the job. Once a solid reputation develops, customers sometimes make requests outside of our normal service offering. These calls provide us with an opportunity to explore related business services, test our company’s limits, learn rate values, and sometimes help us identify what we shouldn’t offer as a service. One such customer had used us several times in the past to haul off unwanted household items. Then one day they had a problem and placed a call to us. They had purchased property years prior with the intent of building a new home. As things sometimes go, they never got around to developing the property. The property was vacant except for a shed and large commercial greenhouse used by the prior owners. During a storm the greenhouse partially collapsed and became an eyesore, drawing a code violation from the city with a deadline to demolish the structure. They were stressed, carrying a property that has gone unutilized, absorbing its costs for many years, and were now forced to deal with an unwanted expense to remove the greenhouse. So, they placed a call to Rakers, and I met them onsite to assess the job. Upon arrival I saw the huge size of the project and wondered how best to approach a job that would consume much of my time and resources.
Here I was with a desperate customer, a short window, and a doable job. It was a commercial hoop greenhouse with a pipe skeleton and plastic covering. Size was approximately 14 ft width, 48 ft length, and about 12 ft high full of junk. It was set off from the road, with a trench preventing us from moving vehicles and equipment close to the structure. The size was daunting for a small company like Rakers but we like challenges. I wrote up a quote and sent it off to the customer. He responded that he couldn’t afford my quote and asked if I could give him a better number. Now this is a tough call because as any good business we provide very competitive quotes and I’m not comfortable revising it to accommodate a customer when I’m taking on a formidable job. However, I sharpened my pencil and provided him a bottom-line number. He accepted, and the job was scheduled.
It was a hot summer day as we began taking down the structure and moving debris to the onsite equipment. Things were going well but the plastic covering was thicker and difficult to cut than expected, requiring more effort to free it from the frame. We were well hydrated, but the hot sun and many long treks to the bin took a toll. By the third day I brought in some more labor to finish the job and by the end we were all pretty wiped out. As the customer walked the yard, he was quite pleased, and his friend who was accompanying him stated that one day he’ll consider it the best money he ever spent on the property.
We took on a job a bit out of our comfort zone to assist a customer in need and learned that we really should stick to our core services rather than expand to bigger more complicated jobs that tend to tie us down. My original quote was spot on and revising it didn’t hurt us to help a loyal customer. The reward came when the customer walked the property visibly pleased that the structure that had caused so much anxiety in his life was gone.
Awesome – so before we get into the rest of our questions, can you briefly introduce yourself to our readers.
Rakers Junk Removal is a provider of residential and commercial junk removal services. Like most, I took a job, and for me it was as a sales representative years ago in the Waste Industry. I was successful, enjoyed the work, and wanted to immerse myself with all aspects of the trade. When the division I was at had a starting level route manager position available I applied. It was a pay cut for me, the time commitment went way up, and the exposure to the frontlines was awesome. I began by managing one line of business for the division and over the next few years had other lines tucked under me. Then I was promoted to operations manager for the division. I was a solid performer and ambitious to expand in my sphere of preference to earn a better wage. I looked inside and outside for career advancement and eventually took a job on the outside. Once I left my original employer I was exposed to new ideas and ways to approach the business. My peak employment was running a premier division for one of the regional waste companies and it was an amazing experience. As life goes, everything changes overtime with new wants, needs, and opportunities present themselves for change. I ended up in metro Atlanta and, instead of looking to continue a career through employment, I decided I wanted more stability and control in my life going forward. I took a risk and applied what I knew in a way I could afford to start Rakers. I thought: if it works out, then I can live a life more aligned to my desires than the life I had lived up to this point. Fortunately, Rakers Junk Removal provided enough funds for my family to free me from a life of employment that had always lacked passion. Rakers and what it promised motivated me to succeed and provides services that include the removal of unwanted household items, the removal of modest amounts of construction debris, and yard waste from locals. We offer demolition of small structures such as sheds, playsets, decks, fences, and hot tubs. We also do final cleanings of homes and offices in preparation for new listings or tenants.
Customers are relieved of these burdens and like the professionalism we bring to the services. We look to donate, recycle, and repurpose usable household items through a network of collaborators. We are most proud that customers tend to refer us to friends, family and associates based on a superb service experience.
As a small business we pride ourselves on having provided an excellent service. Rakers goes above and beyond to meet the needs of our clients and they find us reliable, inventive, skilled, and valued. We are proud when customers tell us we have great reviews!
Can you share a story from your journey that illustrates your resilience?
The pandemic brought an unforeseen threat to Rakers and when it began the uncertainty brought much anxiety. We are a very small business and have no other source of income. The prior years in business established Rakers an allowed for some savings but what loomed before us seemed impossible to comprehend. How to proceed with our services, how would customer respond, how to network, and what limitations would the government impose? These and others are extremely tenuous questions for us to consider, as we moved forward day by day. I decided I couldn’t live in fear of things I couldn’t control. The business and I didn’t qualify for any of the aid packages the government offered and what we did qualify for didn’t pay the bills or provide financial security for my family. I decided so long as customers called, I would take necessary precautions, and do whatever it took to earn a living. We carried on despite the dread, the limitations, and the risks to us based on the unknown. As the next two years proceeded, we got stronger, broaden our base, and had our best revenue years to date. Customers knew that we would show up in their time of need when other companies wouldn’t even return their call. Rakers was there as customers downsized, moved, and cleared out the clutter.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
During most of my employment I did the nine to five Monday through Friday work schedule. My life revolved around this schedule, and I didn’t even realize the habits and expectations created by living on this pattern. Rakers, especially at the beginning is not a clock in clock out way of life. I learned that, for the most successful enterprises, time is irrelevant. You do the job as the work presents itself and if it is on a Saturday or at odd hours then you do what you must to succeed. This applies to the off time as well. I like grocery shopping on a Wednesday at noon, meeting a friend for a mid-morning breakfast, or heading to a new movie release with the family late in the evening during the week. Fact is you learn to trust the business to provide, that the calls will come, and you don’t have to dust off the resume every time you hit a lull in the call volume. A good business understands how to take advantage of the ebb and flow of the workload to learn, grow and seek out new relationships with customers.
Photos by Diane Alford Photography