July 25--For Justin Soulen, the worst part of a long weekend at the Shore with friends was the drive home. Not because of the return traffic or the ending of a vacation, but because of what was traveling home with him in the trunk -- bags and bags of hot trash.
"It was gross -- all the stuff from BBQs, parties," Soulen said. "We just said to ourselves, 'This is ridiculous.' "
Because Soulen, 25, and friends would leave Ventnor on a Sunday, and trash day was at midweek, their only choice was to bring the trash home or risk being fined for leaving cans on the street too early.
The predicament, he soon learned, wasn't reserved for his group of friends.
"We thought we were just young, rambunctious kids having parties and then struggling to destroy the evidence," he said, "but it turns out there are intelligent, responsible parents doing the same thing -- driving to Pathmark and dumping the trash, loading up their cars, looking for easy solutions."
Soulen and longtime friend and current roommate Bryan Leopold, also 25, launched Convenient Collectors in the summer of 2013 with a simple business proposal: They will move your trash cans.
Sign up for a number of plans (full summer is $210, half is $140), and an employee moves your cans to the street the night before your trash day, and returns them the next day after the city has come around to collect.
The number of homes they serve in Ventnor and Margate doubled this year to 60, and next year they hope to move to Avalon and Ocean City. Similar small businesses and individuals are doing the same work up and down the Jersey Shore.
Jack Flynn, for example, started Flynn's Bins when he was 13 and now has nearly 100 houses in Margate.
"We learned quickly, this was something a lot of people were dealing with," said Leopold, who works for W.B. Mason as well.
Soulen and Leopold's friendship dates back to the third-grade bunk at Pine Forest Camp in Greeley, Pa. They grew up going down the Shore, and have brought in friends to help with the company, many who graduated from Germantown Academy or hail from the Lafayette Hill area. They hire part-time employees at a rate of $1,500 to $2,000 for the summer.
"It's the easiest job on the planet," Leopold said. "A competent 10-year-old could do it, and so many teenagers are down here looking for employment."
Margate and Ventnor each have a dump at the public works yard, but only those with proof of residency can use it, which rules out thousands of seasonal renters or one-time weekend visitors.
The Atlantic County Utility Authority also offers its own valet service -- but it's nearly double the price and doesn't offer some of the personal services for which Convenient Collectors has gotten requests. The staff have watered plants, brought in end-of-year furniture, and checked on pipes in the wintertime.
Soulen, a law student at Villanova University, got some help with his business model and financial plan from adjunct professor Sherry Lemonick, who was teaching an e-commerce class.
With only one full-time employee, Convenient Collectors retains about 80 percent of what it brings in.
Lemonick noted that for today's law student, an alternate means of income is important.
"There's a much lower employment rate for the kids graduating law school today, whose parents have just spent hundreds of thousands of dollars," said Lemonick, who uses the service at her Ventnor beach house. "So I think students are thinking outside the box about what they can do before they land the perfect job."
Mel Brodsky, 77, who lives in the Plymouth Whitemarsh School District, vacations in Margate with his wife, daughter, and son-in-law. When he saw the flier for the service, he signed up immediately. "I just think it's a brilliant idea," he said. "I don't like imposing on my neighbors, and at this age, I don't want to have to worry about my trash."
Longtime Ventnor Public Works Director Dave Smith said the business -- and the valet services like it -- do a service. "We frown upon those cans coming down ahead of collection," Smith said. "This is a good arrangement. It keeps them off the street."
Margate recycling coordinator Franz Adler echoed that: "No one wants to look at trash all week. It keeps things where they're supposed to be."
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Original headline: Small firms taking out Jersey Shore trash
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