The Boren family is leveraging its scarlet-and-gray credentials to build its waste-management business.
Zach Boren grew up wanting nothing else than to play sports. But when the former Ohio State University football star realized his NFL career was over in 2015, he found himself with something else in his hand: a phone, cold-calling prospective customers for his family's fledgling waste-management business, Boren Brothers. His older brother, Justin, himself a former Buckeye and professional player who always preferred business over football, wrote out a script for Zach.
Building a nascent trash business marks a stark difference from smacking around hapless Big Ten foes. Zach played fullback and linebacker for the Buckeyes from 2009 to 2012 and Justin played on the offensive line from 2009 to 2010. The two high school standouts who played in Pickerington had stints with multiple NFL teams.
The Borens benefit from their scarlet-and-gray past, earning them goodwill and strong name recognition, as well as a connection to one of the more memorable plays in recent Buckeye football history. In 2012, against Michigan, Zach Boren sacked quarterback Devin Gardner and, pumped up from the crowd, celebrated over Gardner's crumpled body. Ohio State capped off an undefeated season—and the resulting photo of the moment helped launch their business.
“There were so many people we came across being Buckeyes and when we played football that, you keep in touch with those people,” Zach Boren says. “It's crazy how big the network is at Ohio State. ... When you're done playing you're able to reach out to those people and really talk to them about the business world and see how they can utilize your services.” To help jumpstart sales, they put the Gardner photo on many of their Dumpsters, which gives their product a decidedly Buckeye feel along with a helmet-style stripe.
Using your Buckeye past can only take you so far, though.
Dee Miller, a top wide receiver on the ballyhooed Buckeye teams of the mid 1990s, has led a State Farm Insurance brokerage in Hilliard since 2006. Inside his office is a framed jersey from his playing days. “It definitely helps you,” he says. “It's an icebreaker, gets you into doors and stuff like that. For me, Ohio State is great, but let's talk about this claim we have going on with your home insurance.”
Indeed, employees at other companies are sometimes chagrined when a former Buckeye-led business enters their arena. Boren Brothers has hired employees from competitors who say they complain about an unfair advantage. It reminds Zach Boren of Big Ten media days, when players for all the teams were asked about Ohio State. “It's because people respect you, you perform well,” he says. “It's kind of the same thing in the business world.”
“We love it,” Justin Boren says, adding: “For us, it's not a job. It's constant competition. It's not the same as playing football, but there are a lot of similarities.”
Their business actually began with another football-playing Boren: Zach and Justin's father, Mike, a one-time standout linebacker at Michigan. Mike founded a landscaping and snow-removal business called Grass Groomers in 1991. (Mike Boren made Zach, Justin and Jacoby—another former Buckeye football player—vice presidents in different parts of the company to keep them competitive, Justin says.)
Grass Groomers began as a part-time operation, but business grew, and in 1999, he took it on full time.
Mike Boren added the waste management company in 2012 as a way to expand offerings to his current customers. In 2015, after Zach was cut from the NFL for the fifth time in three years and various managers failed to grow the Boren Brothers business, Mike Boren had a talk with him. “Dad said, ‘You're going to run the company.' I didn't have a choice—so I took it on,” Zach Boren says.
He took over an upstart business that had less than $100,000 in sales. Spurred in part by those early, incessant sales calls, revenue grew to $3.8 million last year and is on pace for $5 million this year.
“Ohio State and Columbus, they take care of their own,” Justin Boren says. “If you play sports, especially football, and you do the right things ... and you don't do something stupid, there's going to be endless opportunity.”
Tom Knox is a freelance writer.