August 5, 2021
We’re delighted to announce the $10,000 July Amber Grant recipient. Congratulations to Danell Eklund, Owner of 212 Junk Removal.
Danell is the eighth qualifier for the 2021 year-end Amber Grant ($25,000).
Recently, WomensNet Advisory Board member Marcia Layton Turner sat down with Danell for an exclusive interview. You can listen to their conversation and view the transcript below.
WomensNet: Welcome everyone to a chat with our latest Amber Grant winner. Today, we’re speaking with Danell Eklund, President of 212 Junk Removal Services, who is the Amber Grant winner for July, 2021.
I’m Marcia Layton Turner, and I’m on the Advisory Board for WomensNet.
So Danell, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a little bit about your business, why you started it and what kind of services you provide.
Danell: Sure. Well, first, before we get into all that, I just want to say thanks to WomensNet. This is going to be a game changer, not only for my business, but for my family. There’s not enough words to express the gratitude that I’m feeling. So, thank you, WomensNet.
On to 212 Junk Removal Services… This business was originally started when I had lost my husband in an accident. That was where it kind of all began for me. At that point in time, I didn’t have any type of formal education. I had a GED, very little professional experience in the job field and I had three mouths to feed at that time. I really didn’t know where I was going to go or what I was going to do.
How are we going to survive? How are we going to pay our bills? We needed to formulate a plan to sustain ourselves. I decided to enroll in school and accept a job at a senior living home so I could take classes on the side. I worked my way all through a master’s degree.
I received my MBA. It was hard work but it was also fun. We learned a lot and grew as a family — it was really chaotic in the beginning trying to organize all the schedules and the flow and everything like that. Once we got it ironed out, it was so neat. We really were like this finely oiled machine.
We moved on from that MBA, and I knew that I wanted to start a business. Every business I looked at starting had large costs involved and it was money I didn’t have. It was money that I certainly didn’t want to put myself in the red for. I didn’t want to take out loans for it, although it was certainly an option, but it wasn’t something that I wanted to do.
WomensNet: I think it’s so interesting that you decided you wanted to start a business. Why did you decide to do that versus being an employee? What was the thought process there?
Danell: I was a single parent with three kids, one of them being a special needs child with autism. There were a lot of meetings, a lot of appointments, a lot of sporting events — things like that. A traditional nine-to-five job did not fit into that. I couldn’t be in all of these places at one time.
It was almost pertinent for me to find something that I could fit into that lifestyle for us. The only thing I could think of was to start my own business — to have my own flow of income and to dictate my own schedule. I continued to work with the senior living home as I investigated different options. Again, I had really evaluated different scenarios and found that the businesses I thought I could start would be taking so much of a financial strain on my family. It was not possible. One day, I had just been sitting there and I saw one of those large trucks come by that had 1-800-GOT-JUNK written on them. These trucks are really big.
I thought, well, most businesses have a smaller-type business associated with them. There has to be something out there with these businesses. It was more just entertainment for me as I was on my break, starting to scroll about junk hauling. I had stumbled upon the fact that there are independent haulers across the United States, not just a few, but thousands of them across the states. As I got into it a little bit more, I realized that the field is dominated by males. It’s hard work, it’s dirty and it’s not easy, but it’s fun at the same time, don’t get me wrong there.
My first reaction to finding all of this information was, is this something I could really do, physically? Well, I did grow up on a farm as a kid and I’ve thrown a lot of hay bales and picked a lot of rocks out of fields. I had always been quite a physically strong person. So I thought, you know what? I think that there’s a good possibility I could take that on. With more investigation, I realized that most of these hollers had started with such minimal equipment. In fact, I already had a utility trailer and an SUV with a hitch to hook it up to, which meant that I did not have to take out any loans.
I didn’t need to invest money into that equipment. I thought, I know I’m strong and I’m tenacious. To start, I ended up doing a little bit of market research in my area to see if there was a need for the business. Next, I placed some ads on [Facebook] Marketplace to see if there was any bites for it initially, and there were quite a few in my area.
I’m the only person that does it.
I realized an interesting trend with that research; about 76% of the folks that contacted me were women. It made sense. It made sense that that’s the demographic that would probably need these services the most. And so I kind of knew from there.
What I’m finding out with this is that women happen to be in charge of the households. They are the ones that are predominantly making these calls and getting rid of this stuff. It seems as though I get a lot of calls saying, “You know, they just won’t let go of it, my husband, or my significant other, they just won’t let go of it. And so I’m just going to need to get rid of it.” I’m finding that a lot of the people that I deal with are women, so making those final calls and cutting those strings is what they’re doing. So that’s fun. I’m always obliged to help with that. I was able to spot market trends easily by doing just that minimal research. Ultimately, I did end up starting to place several free ads on marketplace and began getting calls and that is pretty much how 212 Junk Removal was born here in Minnesota.
WomensNet: And how long ago did you start the business?
Danell: The research started last fall and the business started this spring. I felt pretty prepared when I started this spring and the reason for the spring was, you know, Minnesota does that Minnesota cool. We get pretty cold and people kind of go dormant a little bit during that time. That was not the time that I wanted to launch the business. I knew I would have more success launching it in the spring and then going into the following winter, which we’re coming upon, you know, being able to sustain the business through that winter, having been through the spring already and the summer and the fall.
WomensNet: I think it’s so amazing that you were able to get started without any investment in new equipment and then using a marketing technique that is essentially free. So, from the start financially, I think you really set yourself up really well. So let’s talk about what’s happened in the last few months. What kind of results are you seeing already and how has the business grown?
Danell: Well, I think one of the neatest things that I’m starting to see is repeat customers. In my mind, that’s a sign of success and that is so neat. I’m really liking that. I’m starting to see a lot of recommendations come through from customers; that’s also, in my mind, a point of success. I also gauge success a little bit differently; it’s not always monetary to me. We’ve had a lot of success as far as recycling and I consider that a success as well. For example, in July, we recycled over two tons of metal and about 200 pounds of cardboard. That was another big win. For the month, we donated hundreds of pounds worth of home goods to different organizations. We also recycled 55 tires, which are actually a big one that we find in Minnesota.
They’re a big source of illegal dumping. People will throw them in the ditches or they’ll throw them in the waterways and that’s a little bit discouraging. Tires do foster illness here in Minnesota. They are a breeding ground for rodents and insects, like mosquitoes. We donate the tires to a recycling center where they use them in the making of asphalt, or in playground material, things like that. That’s pretty cool. I consider those successes along with the repeat business. That is one of the reasons that I do this; to make sure that we’re creating a sustainable future for everybody, including, and hopefully, my grandchildren one day.
WomensNet: What do you think has been the secret to getting this repeat business? Because clearly you’re doing something right if your clients are referring other people. So, what’s the secret there?
Danell: I like to use the golden rule, in my personal life and my professional life; do unto others as you would like them to do onto you. I’ve always incorporated that into most things that I do and it’s never failed me. It literally has never failed me and I know that sounds so simple and so easy for it to work perfectly, but that is literally what I do.
WomensNet: So how did you originally hear about the Amber Grant, and what made you decide to apply?
Danell: I had been Googling different sorts of grants and I hadn’t been set on the fact that I was going to apply for any type of grant. I had been able to start my business with a relatively low investment for myself. I set up a website, business cards and other things like that that. Outside of that, you know, it was a very low cost startup and I wasn’t exactly sure if I was going to apply for the grant. I knew I wanted to expand the business a little bit and I had come across the Amber Grant and I thought this is really such a neat organization. I held onto the information for about a month as I kind of toddled around with it and thought, you know, I think I will apply. I looked at it in June and then again at the end of July and I thought I’m going to do it. I’m going to do it, I’m going to apply for it. I was really reluctant to apply for it, I had watched the videos and there are doctors who have received the grants and bakers that have received the grants and I’m a junk hauler. I get dirty every day. I’m a simple person and I thought there’s no way but, lo and behold, here I am.
WomensNet: What are your plans for how you’re going to use the $10,000 to grow the business? Are there some things that you’re planning on investing in right away?
Danell: Yes, absolutely. I will be upgrading my equipment. The equipment that I have requires me to handle the waste multiple times in order to get it to where it’s going. The equipment that I will be able to purchase now will allow me to actually dump the equipment once I get to the waste transfer fulfillment facility, which is great and it’s so much more efficient.
Not only that, [but] it’s going to be bigger, meaning I can take on more. You know, it’s such a limiting thing when you can only take so much out at a time. This is huge for the business. It’s amazing.
Another investment will be creating additional advertisement, which thus far has been primarily low cost. This is going to enable me to put a little bit more money towards advertising and SEO and I’ll be able to drive more people towards my website. All in all, this money is going to be utilized to just really make the business boom, and I am so excited for it. It’s such a great opportunity.
WomensNet: What are some future plans that you might have for the company? Are you going to expand geographically?
Danell: Yes, absolutely. Ideally, I would love to get nationwide one day. Ideally I would love to be there in the next five years. I will settle for adding to the fleet and adding teams into the fleet. Having employees and what that would mean for me is probably a little bit different of a role for the business. It would take me mostly out of the field and put me in the capacity of an office worker, which, a few years down the road after doing this, perhaps I’ll be ready for that transition. I’ll probably be behind a desk at that point, but it’ll be more lucrative with multiple teams running at that point. That’s my five-year plan — to have at least three teams going by that time.
WomensNet: Based on your success so far, do you have any advice for aspiring women entrepreneurs? The WomensNet community is full of both aspiring and current entrepreneurs, so any tips or advice you’d offer them?
Danell: Don’t box yourself into one idea. Don’t ever forget to celebrate the good times. Celebrate the triumphs and don’t hold onto the tribulations when they happen. When those tribulations do happen, just keep your head up.