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Who clears properties when someone dies? Macabre as that sounds, someone has to do it, yet increasingly, there are fewer people to pick up the pieces.
The reason is that more people are living and dying alone without next of kin or partners, who would be legally responsible to sort out their homes and living spaces after they’ve gone.
The need for such a service has created opportunities for companies like Just Clear, and by placing recycling at the heart of its business operation, the growing business has even attracted the attention of Sir David Attenborough for its commitment to the planet.
Founded in 2007 by Irishman Brendan O’Shea, with just a small old van and his wife by his side, it has evolved from a household clearance small business to a hugely valuable asset management partner to the world of probate, spotting value among junk.
O’Shea had spent almost four years in commercial banking, specifically, financing property developments of up to £20 million in value, but he admits that the role was always going to be a stopgap to his real ambition of starting his own business.
“Being based in London really gave me a ‘crow’s nest view’ of how business is conducted in the toughest of environments,” he says. “Having worked with many client companies I’d become more interested in how businesses operated than in my finance role.”
Nevertheless he made a success of his role, and left by luck rather than design, when in early 2007 whispers of big changes to come in the City prompted him to leave and start something of his own.
“I’d always wanted to start a green or eco-friendly business, and had seen a gap for a professional house clearance business,” he says. “I’ve always loved the fact that we can reuse waste; it’s always been a fascination of mine – I love old cars and retro furniture – and it seemed a good idea at the time.”
In the beginning he and his wife worked day and night to get it the business off the ground, and he can still recall having to do all the heavily physical lifting and being covered in bruises.
The business cost £60,000 ($75,000) to set up and became profitable within two months. O’Shea invested this in more vans – they now have a fleet of 18 – and quickly achieved a steady pace of organic growth.
Their first break was securing a major account with three or four high-end law firms that passed on many house clearance jobs linked to the numerous probate cases they were dealing with.
“We went on to secure the largest facilities management in the U.K., which led to a significant amount of commercial work,” says O’Shea. “Typically we cleared office spaces of blue chip companies which had loads of bulky waste.”
There was a pivotal point at which the business transitioned from house clearance to asset management partner, when O’Shea recognized that lawyers needed more than a simple house clearance service. They also needed assistance with valuations, insurance, full property reports, and recovery of vehicles.
“All items need careful consideration,” says O’Shea. “Some need to be auctioned, reused, donated and recycled. We pitched this proposition to solicitors, which met their concerns about professionalizing the art of winding up the assets of an estate.”
The fact was that in a climate of zero regulation unscrupulous removal service providers would sometimes take control of a perceived waste site, only to uncover highly valuable items. On one occasion O’Shea found a number of hugely valuable classic cars that had been scrapped by unscrupulous junk removal firms.
“To address this, we employ an asset management service the moment any item of value is uncovered,” he says. “This can mean an unexpected generous inheritance to next of kin, but it relies on the integrity of the clearance team to spot and declare to all parties involved.”
Among the most unusual or valuable things O’Shea has uncovered in his work are a Model T Ford, a Vincent Black Shadow, the world’s fastest bike in the 1940’s, Nazi memorabilia, and even Picassos.
Recycling and waste reduction are key elements of O’Shea’s work. His mantra has always been ‘Everything that we think is junk can be turned into assets’ “Everything from paper and tires to TVs and rusted cars; old furniture can be made into biomass for example,” he says.
In December 2018, his green strategy was praised by none other than Sir David Attenborough who wrote to him commending him for his efforts to reduce waste.
“We couldn’t have had a better testament from the global voice on waste and environment awareness,” he says. “We have the eco-warrior mindset and have always adopted the ideology of reusing items. All our office computers, chairs, desks, have come from office clearance.”
Today Just clear employs 50 staff and turns over £5 million ($6.3 million) annually. In 2017, after a decade in business, O’ Shea decided to explore the franchise route as a means of scaling, with licenses recently sold to Birmingham and Edinburgh.
“At that stage our brand was established and we new that similar businesses in the U.S. had successfully expanded through franchising,” he says. “Across the U.K. we already have the country covered as we are converting current contractors into franchisees and we are in discussions with people in Australia.
O’Shea’s goal is to make Just Clear a household name for all the right reasons. He says: “My plan is to grow the business, but it is the personal care and attention to detail that will ensure its long term success, and I’m happy to expand at a pace that allows for that.”
July 2, 2019 at 03:59AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs