Justin Reeder didn't have much when he came to town three years ago, but he did have a plan.
Reeder had just turned 20 and was a freshly minted college dropout, 700 miles from home and in a city where he didn't know a soul. Eager to get into the real world, he had moved to Charlotte from Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to open an N.C. franchise of a business called Superior Wash.
The company washes commercial vehicles on site, deploying trucks laden with cleaning equipment to the businesses whose vehicles need a good scrubbing.
Reeder started the business with one truck and his older brother Joshua, working 100 hours some weeks – most of them with a pressure washer in hand. He poured his savings into startup costs and got the rest in a loan from his dad, a church music minister. He put his paycheck back into the company for at least a year.
Now, Reeder has more of an office job at Superior Wash. He's grown the company to five trucks, 16 employees and three offices (Charlotte, Hickory and High Point), washing 2,500 trucks a week for the likes of FedEx, Pepsi and Coca-Cola.
“We're definitely in it for the long haul,” said Reeder, now 23.
He talked with the Observer last week about lessons he's learned, no textbooks required. Questions and answers have been edited for clarity and length.
Q. What did your friends say when you decided to leave school?
My friends were all saying, “What the heck are you doing? Why are you going to leave the best years of your life?”
It's hard when you're out working long, hard hours and you get phone calls from your buddies about how they're having a good time back at school. But at the same time, I was so focused, because I knew what I wanted to do.
Now, most of my friends have graduated, and they're looking for jobs while I've already got a three-year jump on them.
Q. What's it like going into business with your sibling?
It teaches you a lot of patience. It's a lot of giving in to each other and being aware of what your position is, so you're taking care of your business and you're not up in his. And always remembering that he's your brother first and your business partner as well, but not letting the business take over.
Q. You're younger than most of the guys who work for you. What's that like?
Honestly, it's been great working with these guys, and with the respect that we have for one another, the age thing doesn't even come into play. I worked on the truck with a lot of those guys, out sweating for long hours with them.
They know what it took for me to get where I am, they know that I didn't just walk in and have it given to me.
Q. What advice would you give aspiring entrepreneurs?
It's not for everybody. The first thing I would say is be willing to be flexible.
I have an operations manager who is unbelievable and takes a lot of the stress off me, but in the beginning, you get phone calls at 4 or 5 in the morning. Or you might think you're going to go out and have dinner and your plans quickly change because a phone call comes up, and you've got to be willing to do that.
You've got to learn how to handle pressure. You're going to have accounts that might not be happy with you, so are you going to shy away from that or go deal with the problem head on?
And if an employee doesn't show up, are you going to strap the boots on and go to work? I had to do that many, many times, and I'd be in my sales outfit: slacks and a dress shirt.
Finally, you have to believe in yourself, and you have to believe in your business and give it 100 percent. If you don't, you're just kidding yourself. You're not going to put in the hard work and your business isn't going to be successful.