Fionna Gotts, co-owner of commercial waste management business Junk Run, talks working in a male-dominated industry and getting into the waste business after a successful sporting career.
What does your business do?
Junk Run is an inorganic waste collection service to the construction and commercial sectors and for residential needs. We are Auckland-based and mainly do big office clear-outs when a company is down-sizing or renovating. We collect everything that is in an office, and do clear-outs for liquidators, property managers. If a premise with all of its office furnishings have been left behind we separate everything out and find it a home to go to in the community.
We work closely with charities to ensure the community benefits as well as the environment, in making sure waste does not end up in landfill. We divert on average 75 per cent of waste away from landfill.
What was the motivation for getting involved with Junk Run?
I've always been involved in the business, but took over the running of it in 2010. My business partner was the financier originally back in 2005 and I purchased it back from the bank after it had been operated quite differently about five years later.
I worked for construction companies for a few years as consultant and I saw how much waste was occurring and I thought there had to be a better way of managing and putting it to better use than just throwing it into skip bins.
Demolition companies used to dominate that space, they used to have lots of furnishings for resell but now with heavy time pressures on them to demolish, and expensive real estate, we have seen that activity die down and so we make sure we rescue whatever we can. I saw there was an opportunity to do that and to help people who don't have access to furnishings and leftover materials.
How big is your team and how much junk are you collecting?
There are 15 of us and we run four trucks but hire big trucks when we need them. We are fully booked all of the time and work in with the timetables of al the builders and shopping mall operators that use us. We're out there at 6 in the morning getting in and clearing out before the public get access. The number of collections we do varies week to week. We could be at absolute capacity with 20 jobs or 50 jobs each week, it depends on the size of the jobs and difficulty factor.
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Talk me through your background, when did you moved to New Zealand and what you did before running Junk Run?
I came to New Zealand at the beginning of 1988 from the United Kingdom, and came here for the mountains as I was an extreme athlete. I was swimming and I came over to the Southern Hemisphere originally with the British Surf Life Saving team which I captained and I had about 15 years as an athlete.
What's it like operating in a traditionally male-dominated industry?
I have always worked in male-dominated industries and when I was at the heart of my competitive career I was competing against men because there was no women's events so it is no different to me. Waste collection is a male-dominated industry and I think because I'm the only woman who heads up a waste company that has huge benefits. When you're dealing with the corporate scene it is nearly always women making the decisions on this and women tend to cut to the chase a bit quicker and actually say exactly what they want and when they want it.
We do a lot deceased estates and work for people downsizing and going into retirement villages and rest homes so having a women's touch for that is great.
What are your long term plans for the business?
The long-term plan is to continue to lead the way and change how New Zealanders purchase, think and deal with waste. Ideally we want people to think about what they purchase and the quality. We can go into one office and the quality of furniture is fantastic and you won't have trouble moving it to be reused, then there is other stuff made of MDF which is cheap and nasty and is not reusable. We want to help people to make smarter decisions and think about where the product they buy ends up. We've got to stop making bigger landfills.
Junk Run is involved in a number of charities, talk me through those?
We fitted out a school with desks and chairs - a girls' school and a girls' university in Tonga through our charitable partners. We work with a charity called Take My Hand and we have moved container loads of beds and all sorts of amazing medical equipment from an Auckland hospital and shipped it to a remote area in north Pakistan - enabling the first women-only medical clinic to be established. We also work with Habitat For Humanity, we provide them with building materials.
The biggest challenge with our business is finding new places for things to go, we are always working on that and sometimes to the detriment of our commercial operation because sometimes we have to hold on to furniture that we can't hold on to or have to divert 10 men to load a container because a charity we are working with doesn't have the capacity. It's rewarding help communities that don't have access to certain items and I want to do more of this.
What advice do you give others thinking about starting their own business?
Make sure you've got great advisors and you've done a good business plan before you think about taking the next step - it is all about strategy.