Dirty Dog Hauling still taking out trash, despite coronavirus pandemic
Leland Nelson worked as an accountant before he got into real estate, and then he found his calling.
“The first thing I needed was a garbage man to take the rubbish away,” he said. “Because I had that need, I thought other people might have that need too.”
It took a few rounds in life to start his own business, but he soon bought his first dump truck and started Dirty Dog Hauling. He’s been in business for 15 years.
The name, along with the purple and yellow color scheme, comes from his college fraternity Omega Psi Phi, known as “Q-Dogs,” he said. The recognizable dump truck with the mascot of a dog holding a broom may have caught your eye while driving around town.
“Because we get dirty at work, we say ‘dirty dogs’,” he said.
Over the years he has worked his way up to three trucks and six full-time employees and is now pulling out the trash within 30 miles of Harrisburg.
Although the pandemic has slowed down a bit, people still have to take their trash away if it’s more than the garbage man is going to take, and he said things picked up this summer as people cleared out their old couches and mattresses , Televisions, and other large items.
As an essential business, Dirty Dog Hauling continued to operate in the early days of the pandemic, even promoting a discount for contactless hauling, where homeowners put their trash outside and paid by credit card over the phone.
And he’ll get rid of pretty much everything.
“Pretty much anything that is harmless that two men can pick up, we take,” he said. “In 15 years we’ve seen everything.”
His strangest move? Someone called him once to get rid of 10 5 gallon containers of homemade wine and a couple of giant tortoise shells.
PennLive recently sat down with Nelson to discuss his struggles and accomplishments as a black business owner:
Q: What motivated you to start your own business?
A: I always had an entrepreneurial spirit from my father and grandfather, but then I bought real estate and needed a garbage truck. Then in 2005, I was laid off by a local employer and decided to do it full time. I didn’t really like the feeling of getting fired so I went and tuned in. It was a fortuitous entrepreneurship … let’s make lemonade out of lemons, and that is exactly what we did.
Q: Was it as successful as you hoped it would be?
A: It was tried. There were ups and downs. Sometimes you can get shiny ball syndrome and you want to do anything. You’re spending too much. You invest in certain things that don’t really pay off. I’ve learned what to do and what not to do for over 15 years … It was trial and error. They say overnight success takes about 20 years so we’re almost there.
Q: What was the most important factor in your success?
A: I would say resilience. There will be ups and downs and it will throw you every blow. This is not for the faint of heart … It has thrown a lot of things in my way, but we’re still sticking to it … It wasn’t easy with funding. It’s been boot strapping for a long time. Take the money we made and invest it back … The Community First Fund has funded our business twice and we appreciate them very much because when the bank said “no” they said “yes”.
Q: Were you prepared for the challenges of running your own business?
A: Yes, my background is in accounting and finance. In these 10 years I learned how companies work. I said, “Let’s take some of these principles and apply them to my own business.” It was trial and error.
Q: What would have prepared you better?
A: You really have to learn by yourself. We don’t know your sales model and we don’t know how much money you have. We don’t know if you have to stick to it. You may need to clean up your bank account. You may need to turn off the lights … This is the first, second, or third year. “Do I get new tires or do I pay the electricity bill?” You hedge your bet … but you learn from it. It is not for everyone.
Q: How has the pandemic affected your business?
A: We’re down about 35 percent year on year … But we have so many variable costs. Our personnel costs fell and our dumping price costs fell. It sort of aligned, but 35 percent is 35 percent. We felt it.
Q: What resources would have helped you build your business?
A: Access to capital. Additional networking opportunities. Some mentors help work with some local, larger garbage transport companies. We also attach great importance to the diversity of suppliers. Why shouldn’t some companies come and work and diversify your supply line?
Q: What resources or information would you find most helpful now?
A: I’m President of the African American Chamber … and that’s exactly what we’re doing. We hold conference calls two or three times a week, giving small businesses, micro businesses, and businesses the resources they need to grow.
Central PA’s African American Chamber of Commerce has a variety of tools businesses can use to grow. Please see their website for more information.