Archive for Sunday, July 29, 2001

Getting the scoop on the No. 2 business

July 29, 2001


— Joseph Brito stepped into his calling at a friend's barbecue last summer, after a toddler in a pink dress stepped in something else. Inspiration struck at the sight of dog droppings clinging to the little girl's polished shoes.

While the other adults blanched, Brito realized that he possessed the right stomach for tackling one of dog owners' most dreaded chores.

"A light went on," recalled Brito, 32, an apartment manager. "I said to my friend, 'Would you pay someone to pick it up?' "

Six months later, Brito and his wife, Isabel, founded the Poo Nanny Pet Waste Removal Service in Los Angeles, one of the latest entries in an expanding industry that indulges the hurried and harried. The job stinks, Brito concedes, but business is picking up.

According to the authoritative dog waste Web site run by Matthew Osborn of Columbus, Ohio, Poo Nanny is one of 340 businesses removing canine deposits, up from four in 1988, when Osborn began tracking the trade.

The potential for growth can be seen by deduction: More than 40 million dogs inhabit American homes and back yards, consuming more than 6 billion pounds of food annually.

Likely customers are those who consider themselves too busy, or who have physical limitations, or who find the task repugnant.

"No thank you," Paul Demadeira of Los Angeles replied when asked why he won't pick up after his two puppies. "It's disgusting."

Demadeira and others believe it's well worth the money to hire work-a-day scoopers, who charge $7 to $15 per dog per visit and extra for excess accumulation.

Brito makes about $1,700 a month from his weekly and half-weekly visits, and is ready to rake in more. "We want to be No. 1 in the No. 2 business," he said.

Career scoopers like Brito insist there is an art to the profession. Successful services, veterans will tell you, clean as many as six yards an hour. They invest in the proper equipment.

Brito and his wife, who handles administrative tasks, started their business with $250. They first consulted the Web site and writings of Osborn, who started a pet waste removal service in 1988 and sold it a decade later for $219,500.

Osborn's self-published manual, "The Professional Pooper-Scooper: How To Start Your Own Low-Cost, High-Profit Dog Waste Removal Service," is the bible of the business. It offers 117 pages of text, sample press releases, diagrams and illustrations demonstrating how an entrepreneur can earn $5,000 to $125,000 annually.

That's the gross, so to speak.

"Many people going into this business don't take it seriously," Osborn warned. "They're the ones who aren't going to make it."

Osborn regards no detail as minor. Consider the plastic bags used to dispose of dog deposits.

"I have tried many different types and brands of plastic bags," he writes in the manual. "My experience with some of the cheapest bags was not satisfactory."

Some bags tear too easily, and others are too hard to handle.

"Just a few extra seconds trying to get the plastic bags opened up, when repeated 30 or 40 or 50 times a day, really cuts into your time," he said.

His solution: Use only 13-gallon, name-brand bags.

Then there's the matter of shovels vs. rakes, an ongoing debate raging on the Scoopers & Friends Message Board on Osborn's Web site. Selecting the proper tool ensures efficiency, minimizes contact, and reduces the risk of injury.

Osborn favors a lightweight shovel with a long handle. But he acknowledges a rake's effectiveness on lawns "where there is a large amount of old, dried-up material."

For a speedy cleanup, Osborn recommends scoopers moving in a calculated zigzag pattern, from the front of the yard to the back. "Keep your eyes moving back and forth across a path about 4 feet to 6 feet wide," he advises.

Brito does exactly that while reflecting on the benefits of his job. "Here I am picking up poop on a beautiful day," Brito said as he drove his gray compact to his next job. "I'm my own boss. This beats sitting in a corporate office eight or more hours a day."

Timothy Stone, owner of Scoop Masters in Santa Clarita, Calif., since 1988, learned a hard lesson in customer relations when a woman refused to pay in the mid-1990s. Stone stockpiled 11 bags of dog waste and returned it to the customer's lawn. The act landed Stone in court and cost him about $1,500 in fines.

"I guess it's illegal to dump poop on someone's property," Stone said, despite his contract warning that he would do just that if a customer reneged.

He thought it was funny at the time, but Stone conceded, "I would never do it again." All the same, "you can't take yourself too seriously," he said. "I mean, look at what you're doing for a living."

On his tax form, Stone listed his job classification by pairing an expletive with "shoveler."

"The IRS has never audited me," he said.

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