Justin Decker was just 13 years old when he started working for a landscaper to help support his single mother.
The landscaper took Decker under his wing and taught him how to talk to customers and do estimates. Decker says he learned lots of management skills from him. By the time he was 17, he had his first child and was working multiple jobs to support his family. Finally, when Decker was 24, he realized he needed to make a change as he wasn’t able to see his child due to working three jobs.
“I said I’m going to start my own landscaping business,” Decker says. “I have the experience. I’ve been doing it for years now. So, I went ahead, and I started to knock on doors in my neighborhood. I quit my daytime job and did that and then worked my nighttime job. Within a couple months, I had 30 clients.”
Decker now runs his company, Buddy’s Services, LLC, based in Calabash, North Carolina, with his brother-in-law, Cory Owens.
When Owens joined the company he brought on his experience in hardscaping and handyman work. Decker’s customers liked that they always answered the phone, arrived early to jobs and did what they said they were going to do. They often asked if they had any references for a company like them that could haul away junk or fix things in the house.
“It was a need from our customers,” Decker says. “It was very hard for people to find committed companies that are willing to do what they say they’re going to do.”
At the time, they decided to add on junk removal and handyman services to their existing customers.
“I’m a Christian and I look at the fact that Jesus had disciples and he loved the people he was with and he poured into them,” Decker says. “So how can I pour into my customers and just plant seeds. That’s what I was trying to do. We had 30 customers, and I poured into them, and we would spend time with them, and we would hear their needs. When there was a need that we could solve the issue, we would solve it for them.”
After adding on these other two services, the business started to grow quickly. Decker says the additional services allowed them to utilize their equipment during the off-season.
“Junk removal is very easy,” Decker says. “You already have a trailer on site. You have dump trailers and enclosed trailers, why not utilize what you have? All you’re doing is hauling it away. So, I realized the profit margins on junk removal are very high, higher than anything we’ve done in landscaping.”
Decker decided to rebrand the three services into different divisions: Lawn Buddy’s, Buddy’s Junk Removal and Need a Buddy? Handy Man Services. He also created three websites for the divisions and the mother site is Buddy’s Services, LLC.
“There are customers out there that don’t want to hire a landscaper for handyman stuff,” Decker says. “They don’t want to hire a junk removal guy for landscaping. So, until they get to know your business model, you have to be separate. Once they get to know you and realize you have specialized guys who specialize in each service, then they begin to trust you once they get to know you.”
As they added team members, Decker decided to open the services up so customers could pick and choose which services they wanted to hire Buddy’s for. Eventually, they brought on an operations manager, a landscaping manager, a handyman manager and junk removal manager who each have separate crews. During the fall and winter, if things slow down for the handyman or landscaping crews, they can easily transition to handling junk removal.
“We create not employees here, but partners, and everybody is willing to do whatever for the company to help the company,” Decker says.
While the staff can do what is needed, they each have their own lane and know what responsibilities they have. The crew leaders can step into different positions if needed.
“Our crew leaders, they’re trained in every division,” Decker says. “The people that we put in leadership positions are the people that we see ourselves in.”
With the handyman crews, they have in-house employees who can handle minor repairs and maintenance but for home remodeling or home additions, they typically work with subcontractors or refer their clients to another local business.
As for the junk removal, they will keep items of value like working appliances and clothes.
“This junk is not junk,” Decker says. “This is nice stuff. We keep it for a month and we give it away. We find people and families in need.”
They will spread the word through local churches and on Facebook to find people in need and they can pick up the items they want. Decker says he noticed by donating the junk, their customers respond positively to that versus knowing the company is reselling their items.
“It fits our company vision better on planting seeds and really pouring into people,” Decker says.
If they can’t give away any of the items by the end of the month they’ll either scrap it or haul it away to the landfill.
As for the pricing of the junk removal jobs, it can vary drastically just due to the location from a one-story house to the 13th floor on a resort.
“The same job may take 15 minutes to half an hour on one location and then this location where you’re on the 13th floor may take an hour and a half,” Decker says.
Decker charges an additional fee for customers farther away so a couch removal an hour away can end up costing $600.
“I don’t feel good about taking $600 dollars from somebody for a removal of a couch because they live an hour inland and they don’t have anybody to do it for them,” Decker says.
He hopes to one day have remote locations in Charleston and Wilmington so they can have crews service those areas and can afford to offer better rates.
Decker says his strongest skill is team building. During the off-season, they have 10 employees, but they’ll ramp up to 20+ workers in the summer.
“I know how to inspire people and make them feel a part,” Decker says. “By adding the right team members is what helped us grow into an actual professional company.”
During the summer Decker will hire people from halfway houses and drug recovery houses as day laborers. If they prove themselves, he often gives them full-time jobs.
“A couple of my other guys have turned out to be clean and amazing team members, they’ve completely changed their lives, and now they’re in leadership roles,” Decker says.
He says you do have to mindful when working with people with past problems as some customers like it while it makes others uneasy. He says he encourages the employees to be honest and upfront with him, but he also never puts a day laborer on jobsite without someone they fully trust also there.
“With anybody that has an addiction, they’re going to battle that for the rest of their life,” Decker says. “The more they have security and a team around them, and company culture the better off they’re going to be and day by day it gets easier and easier.”
Decker says their main core value is to take care of people. He works hard to improve their company culture daily.
“Our goal is we want to be able to be a service company that provides services to customers, and that we can really pour out some good into the world because there’s so much negative out there,” Decker says.