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A can-do attitude: La Jolla boy launches a valet service for neighbors’ trash cans

La Jolla resident Mark Stoneham, 11, is the founder of Curbside Cans Valet.
(Courtesy of Amy Stoneham)

Inspired by the paper routes and grass-cutting of his grandparents’ era, 11-year-old La Jollan Mark Stoneham has started a business to take out his neighbors’ trash cans. It’s called Curbside Cans Valet, and Mark takes out the city of San Diego-serviced cans every Sunday night and returns them to their original place by Monday afternoon.

Mark said he was driven to start his business both by conversations with his grandfather and a book series he read called “Way of the Warrior Kid” by Jocko Willink (which happens to have a character named Marc).

“My grandpa said he did a paper route, and in ‘Way of the Warrior Kid,’ Marc starts a business where he mows people’s grass,” Mark said. “When [Marc] was thinking of what to do, the author mentions you have to think of things no one wants to do. Later, my dad mentioned that he doesn’t like taking out the trash. I thought, ‘I can do that.’”

Mark started Curbside Cans Valet in March and has three regular customers, along with people for whom he takes out the trash when they go on vacation.

“My goals are to get more customers and build the business so I can get more idea of how to work a bigger business,” he said. “I’ve learned a few things already, like that some people will need weekly pickups and others will do pickups just when they go out of town. You have to be flexible as a business owner. I want to have a business, so I have to learn more about how they work. I think if I’ve already had experience, it might be easier to start my own business when I’m older.”

Mark said he enjoys keeping track of his customers, how often they need his service and how much he is owed.

“I feel like the owner of a big business,” he said.

Mark’s father, Harrison, said he’s impressed with the real-world business experience his son is getting.

“He has our support, but he’s leading the charge,” Harrison said. “He wrote out a flier and we handed it out door to door to let others know about it. We didn’t have the flood of people we thought we would, so he learned that business is tough.

“I’m proud to see, every Sunday, no matter what, we have to stop at people’s houses to take out the trash. He’s busy with sports, but he prioritizes this. He learned accountability, and that has been cool to watch.”

“I want to have a business, so I have to learn more about how they work. I think if I’ve already had experience, it might be easier to start my own business when I’m older.”

— Mark Stoneham

Mark charges $2 for each can each week ($1 to take the can to the curb and another dollar to return it).

For customer Gaby Picquet, the service is worth every penny. “My husband hates taking out the trash, but he is usually the one that does it,” she said with a laugh. “When Mark’s business came along, my husband especially loved it. It’s a chore we don’t have to think about. When we go on vacation, we know we don’t have to worry about it.”

Picquet added that she wanted to support Mark in his effort because “he’s so young but he’s so dedicated. ... We wanted to support a kid. It’s so nice when they do something good.”

Customer Joe Norris, who calls Mark and his siblings Matt and Allie his “grandkids in training,” said he’s impressed with Mark’s innovation.

“We got to know the kids, especially during COVID, since they were home more often. We tried to help cure their boredom,” Norris said. “Mark would do little projects and help us out around the house. We wanted to support this because he is earning and learning through the whole process.

“He has been extremely efficient in how he approaches things. We have a little dog, so he knows to open and close the gate without letting the dog out. He knows how to move the cans without spilling or knocking anything over. We don’t worry about whether it gets done. He is very consistent.”

Mark currently is taking customers in The Village area, preferably close to La Jolla High School. To learn more and contact Mark, visit curbsidecansvalet.com. ◆