Going further: How a 17-year-old high school student started Varsity Haulers as his own boss

Battle Mountain High School student Ralph Lowen (right) started Varsity Haulers in 2023 with the help of schoolmate Nathan Rak (left).
Chris Dillmann/Vail Daily

For many high school students, finding a job means working in local restaurants, stores or on golf courses. However, 17-year-old Ralph Lowen had something bigger in mind and decided to try a different course.

Last spring, Lowen started Varsity Haulersjunk removal and removal company in the valley.

“We wanted something better than what other teenagers were doing,” Lowen said. “You learn more here than in a restaurant because you solve problems and brainstorm on your own. What we do requires a surprising amount of creativity.

“We have had so many mentors, but it is a completely local, youth-led, high school-led business,” Lowen added.

Varsity Haulers offers junk removal, yard hauling, and moving services. It will collect various “household garbage”, including furniture and mattresses, household appliances, garden debris and much more. Moreover, its services are available for relocations.

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While Lowen said he could “point to a million little things” that inspired the business, the immediate idea came from a similar teen-run business in Austin, Texas, where his cousin worked.

“When I heard about this idea in Austin, I thought, ‘Why can’t we do it here?’” Lowen said.

From there, Lowen reached out to Nathan Rak, another Battle Mountain student who graduated this spring. Rak has been with the company from the beginning.

“When Ralph told me about this idea, I didn’t know if it would be successful, but I wanted to do it for the experience and to learn a lot, and I really did learn a lot,” Rak said.

Starting last spring, they moved to take advantage of the spring cleaning atmosphere and “tremendous demand from people trying to get rid of stuff,” Lowen said.

“I don’t think most waste removal companies can handle such smaller tasks, so we wanted to fill the empty space,” he added.

Lowen said today that Varsity Haulers offers a “cheaper alternative,” adding that it “is able to quite affordably move people from home to home or get rid of trash that they otherwise wouldn’t be able to.”

“We have to solve problems every day.”

Since last spring, there has been a lot of learning to learn the ins and outs of running a business. This includes everything from learning how to back up a trailer to training peers and pricing their services.

“We have to solve problems every day. Every day we encounter a new problem and we have to work as a team to solve it. Every day is a bit of a surprise,” Rak said.

In the early days, problem solving involved figuring out everything from who their target market was, how to advertise, how to get the job done, how to price people based on their costs, and how to communicate professionally with adults.

Initially, Lowen claimed that it was a “It’s a little hard to find people who take us seriously because we’re teenagers.”

But since then, Rak said, through experience they have learned to communicate clearly and act as professionally as possible, and now they can demonstrate that.

We have done so much work in the valley. Over time, we established cooperation with local companies. We worked with Perch Vail. We worked with a ski storage facility in Avon. There was a dog daycare in Edwards and we helped them move out so they could become a regular daycare for kids,” Lowen said. “We left a huge mark on the valley and became more confident in what we did, and with that confidence we were able to overcome that prejudice.”

In addition to building confidence and professionalism, Lowen and Rak said they learned a lot from running Varsity Haulers and created a good company culture. Lowen said the company relies on peer support, employing 12 to 15 teenagers so far, four of whom he described as “core employees.”

“We have developed this kind of camaraderie because as much as we love the job, it’s not an easy job,” Lowen said.

“Every day we encounter a new problem and we have to work as a team to solve it. Sometimes we wonder, how do we fit everything into this truck and trailer? How do I carry it down the stairs without damaging anything? How to divide to do it most effectively? There is so much communication and problem solving between us that you wouldn’t believe. Thanks to this, we all grow up much faster,” he added.

Growth and problem solving is something they hope to make available to other teens through their partnership with Varsity Haulers.

“I want other kids to have the same experience as me.”

Varsity Haulers’ big goal is not only to find ways to “help all these kids save for their future, especially for college,” but also to learn these valuable skills, Lowen said.

“I want to start involving more kids in this and see who we can get involved because in addition to making money for them and having an impact on the community, we learn and teach many great life lessons to many children through work,” he stated.. “It would be great to help all these children develop these skills to make their future a little brighter.”

In addition to growing their influence, Lowen and Rak also have plans for future growth.

After graduating from Battle Mountain this spring, Rak plans to attend the University of Colorado at Boulder in the fall. The goal for him is to build a Varsity Haulers company there.

“I want other kids to have the same experiences I had. I want them to learn because having these skills is important in life,” Rak said.

And next year, when Lowen graduates and is ready to start college, he hopes to continue the business.

“I want more kids to come and see how we can do this without me or with minimal touching,” Lowen said.

Until then, they plan to work their hardest this summer and continue to make a positive impact on the community.

“Before we leave, we’ll be able to say, ‘We’ve helped a huge number of people move. We supported local companies. We are rooted in the history of certain places. It feels great and is our greatest achievement,” Lowen said.