by James A. Bacon
Two years ago, Jody Burton purchased a used F-150 pick-up truck for $1,200. The old guy she bought it from seemed to have done a good job of maintaining it, so she figured it would hold up pretty well. Next, she ran a couple of ads in the paper. Bingo, she was in the hauling and disposal business.
“I will haul anything,” declares the pint-sized woman with long, braided hair. With the help of a two-man crew to do the heavy lifting, she started cleaning out attics and garages. Soon she discovered that that she could generate steadier business by forging relationships — with real estate agents seeking to spiff up houses for sale and with home improvement contractors doing renovations that generated loads of debris.
Burton’s up-from-the-bootstraps business received a boost early this year when she received a SEED grant (Supporting East End Entrepreneurship Development) from the Bon Secours Richmond Health System. She used the money to increase her working capital so she didn’t have to live hand-to-mouth between payments from her customers, and to create marketing materials like a website and fliers.
Now, benefiting from a second SEED grant — part of $57,000 dispensed to seven east-end businesses — Burton plans to buy a F350 truck with a dump bed that she can use to haul debris. No more truck rentals. There are some good deals on the market right now, she says. It’s a good time to buy a used truck.
The 25-year-old whirlwind is a born entrepreneur. “I was never comfortable with the idea of working 40 hours a week for somebody else,” she says. She remembers her first job with dismay: She made only $13,000 a year — before taxes. She concluded that the way to make more money was to become the head of her own company. “If you can visualize something,” she says, “you can make it happen.”
Entrepreneurial roots run deep in Burton’s family. Previous generations owned a hog farm in Henrico County and ran a trash-hauling business back in the 1940s, ’50s and ’60s, an era of rigid segregation in Virginia when opportunities for African-Americans were scarce. Her mother grew up on land that was sold to the developers of the Regency Mall in Richmond’s near West End. “If they could do it (own their own businesses) back then, there’s no reason I can’t find a way to make my own money.”
Burton is not married and has no children. She gives her unrelenting focus to her business. J. Burton Hauling and Disposal, and to self improvement. With a high school diploma and a junior college degree from J. Sargeant Reynolds Community College, she is now studying at night through the Turner School of Construction Management.
She’s always thinking ahead to the next step in growing her business, she says. Right now, she’s concentrating on building strong relationships in the construction business — taking on small jobs and proving herself in the hope of winning bigger jobs in the future. “It’s all about who you know.”
Burton hopes in time to move up the scale to big, commercial construction jobs. She is quietly confident that she will — and anyone meeting her probably will feel the same. “When preparation meets opportunity,” she says, “it’s bound for success.”
Bon Secours of Virginia Health System is a sponsor of Bacon’s Rebellion.