Ballston Lake’s Ray Gagnon and his family have found their calling in the world of junk. The retired U.S. Marine Corps master gunnery sergeant, his wife, Robin, and their sons R.J. and Kyle operate several local JDog Junk Removal & Hauling franchises. Both R.J. and Kyle are graduates of Burnt Hills/Ballston Lake High School and the University at Albany.
Gagnon retired from the Marine Corps after 25 years of service. In addition to working as a jet mechanic, he spent twenty years serving as a career recruiter. After leaving the military, Gagnon established a successful training and consulting business.
“My wife and I were happy that our business had done well,” says Gagnon. “But we wanted to give back. I wanted to find a business where I could bring in other Marines and other veterans and offer them the opportunity for entrepreneurship.”
They found that opportunity when watching a television interview with Army veteran Jerry “JDog” Flanagan. He was discussing the franchise opportunities that his junk removal company was offering exclusively to veterans and their families. Flanagan started JDog as a one-man operation in 2011 and built his business around respect, integrity, and trust—things he had learned in the military. As JDog grew, he started hiring other veterans to help him.
“I wanted to build a business where I could share the success with fellow veterans, and that is exactly what JDog’s mission is,” says Gagnon. After travelling to Pennsylvania to meet with Flanagan, he decided to take a chance and purchase the JDog franchise rights for Schenectady.
When they opened for business, JDog had just three employees—Gagnon, Robin, and Kyle. It didn’t take long for the family to realize their business model was a success. They decided to open franchises in Albany, Troy, and Glens Falls, and R.J. joined the business.
It was then that Gagnon reached out to Glenville resident and retired gunnery sergeant Vinny Roman who was working as the chief operating officer of the Red Cross/Eastern NY region. The two men had met many years before when Roman served under Gagnon’s command at a recruiting station in New York City. Roman received that assignment after returning from a tour in Afghanistan.
“Vinny was the absolute best operator I had ever seen in my career,” says Gagnon. “So much so that I invited him to be a career recruiter. But he turned me down.”
Roman laughs and says he turned down the job because he had a love/hate relationship with his recruiting duty. “It’s hard work,” he says. “You are on 24/7 non stop. I wanted to explore other opportunities.”
Those other opportunities led him to Iraq where he served two tours of duty. His military career ended with a medical retirement after more than 16 years of service. The Brooklyn native settled in Glenville, and although he didn’t know it at the time, he moved just one mile away from Gagnon. The two old friends eventually bumped into one another at an event for veterans.
Roman took a leap of faith and left his job at the Red Cross and became a partner and director of operations at JDog. He traded in his suit and tie for the JDog uniform of military-style camouflage pants and an olive green t-shirt. He and his wife Johanna joined the company in January 2018.
As the business grows, Roman and Gagnon have made hiring veterans a priority. Although employment law prohibits them from hiring only veterans, being a veteran puts a qualified candidate at the front of the line.
The veterans that they have hired have proven to be excellent employees. “They have served their country, and they understand what service is, and most want to continue serving in some capacity” says Gagnon. “And you can turn your back and know that they are doing the right things for the right reasons even when no one is watching. They are empowered to do their very best. They believe in giving and serving to the best of their capabilities.”
Roman acknowledges that it is hard to return to civilian life after serving in a combat zone. Five of his fellow Marines, including his sergeant major, have committed suicide in the past year. “We are losing the fight,” he says. He believes it is imperative for veterans to find purpose after their military career ends.
And that is exactly what is happening at JDog. Roman says their employees find purpose as well as a sense of pride and belonging. “They feel like they are back on the team.”
“When someone is having a tough day, we get it,” says Gagnon. “It’s the brotherhood. It’s knowing we’ve got each other’s back. They aren’t employees. They are team members. We view them as our fellow airmen, fellow soldiers, fellow sailors, and fellow Marines. We need to put them in positions where they can be empowered and grow the skills they learned in the military.”
Gagnon and Roman have plans to expand throughout New York and Connecticut, and they hope to offer opportunities to the many veterans who struggle to find success and purpose in the civilian world. “People don’t realize how smart these men and women are,” says Roman. “We need to be smarter about how we employ them.”