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Here's to the pooper scoopers

Pet waste companies are cleaning up


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Matt Boswell, "chief excrement officer" of Pet Butler.

Matt Boswell knew people loved the perks of having a pet, but he figured there was one part of pet ownership that had people down in the dumps.

Boswell, “chief excrement officer” of pet waste removal franchise Pet Butler, wanted to create a business that freed people from tasks they hated to do, and scooping dog poop was high on that list. According to the American Pet Products Manufacturers Association, 43.5 million U.S. households own a dog, and there are 73.9 million dogs in the U.S. Boswell estimates his Dallas-based business cleans up after nearly 10,000 dogs a week, collecting about five tons of dog poop.

Becoming a professional pooper-scooper certainly wasn’t something Boswell anticipated. When his girlfriend first suggested the idea to him nine years ago after reading a Wall Street Journal article about an elderly immigrant woman making a good living by scooping dog poop, Boswell was offended. But as his various Internet businesses—financial consulting, job search and resume-blasting Web sites—weren’t turning profits and his career as a Cadillac salesman left something to be desired, Boswell decided to trade his suit for a scoop.

With the $1,600 available on his only un-maxed-out credit card, Boswell started Pet Butler as a side business. He kept pursuing his other endeavors, and for about five years he remained only semi-committed to his new company. But slowly he began to realize that he had found a market with huge potential.

“I kept trying in my ignorance to do other business, and yet this crazy pet waste cleanup business that I didn’t take seriously at all continued to grow,” he says. “I finally woke up to the reality of what I had my hands on and went after it.”

Pet Butler and similar concepts seem to be logical additions to the expanding pet industry. Pet owners will spend an estimated $40.8 billion on their pets this year, according to the APPMA, up from $38.5 billion in 2006.

Pet Butler started offering franchises in 2005. There are currently 61 franchises and 20 company-owned units in 16 states, and Boswell hopes to have 100 units open by the end of the year. In the first year of franchising, system revenues were over $2 million; Boswell anticipates over $4 million this year. Pet Butler receives more than 200 franchisee applications each month, and selects about four. New franchisees pay a $22,900 franchisee fee and a required $30,000 marketing investment for the first year.

Last year, Boswell acquired Pet Butler of Ohio, an unaffiliated company that had been operated for 19 years by Pete Hulse, who Boswell refers to as “the Godfather of the industry.” It now operates as a Pet Butler franchise. Hulse joined Boswell in part to eliminate the hassle of billing and scheduling, which frees him to spend more time with customers.

Boswell says many franchisees share Hulse’s sentiment, and are drawn to Pet Butler because its national headquarters handles everything. Scheduling and billing for all franchisees comes through “Poop Central Command” in Dallas, and is sent to technicians’ web-capable devices, showing the day’s schedule, directions to customer’s homes, and additional requested services, like odor-control or disinfectant sprays. This is a huge help for franchisees, Boswell says. “They really only have to do two things: They have to put our marketing out on the street and they have to scoop some poop.”

And there’s no shortage of people willing to trade their office for a poop-filled backyard. Each job opening has an average of 200 applicants. The “fecal matter technicians” earn an average salary of $34,000, and are given a company van and the necessary tools—a three-foot aluminum spade and an industrial-sized dustpan. The Dallas corporate unit employs seven full-time scoopers, but in most units either the franchisee doubles as the scooper or has one or two employees.

In addition to Pet Butler and Virginia-based franchise company Doody Calls, hundreds of companies offer pet waste removal services. The pun-heavy industry includes Wholly Crap in Brookfield, Ohio, The Grand Poobah in Centennial, Colo., Hounds Mounds in Dallas-Fort Worth, and Dog Gone Poop Patrol in San Diego.

Boswell says that a sense of humor is essential in this business. “Anybody who scoops poop for a living and can’t laugh at themselves has some real issues,” he jokes. “It’s a hilarious business.”

Boswell admits he has had some trouble convincing people that this service is for everyone. “People automatically view a pet waste clean-up service as something for rich, lazy people, but it’s often quite the opposite,” he says. The services are most appreciated by those who are just plain busy—the same type of people who hire maids, lawn-care services, gutter cleaners, and roofers to do jobs around the house. “Scooping dog poop is probably the most disgusting job of all, so if you’re going to hire someone to do any of that, certainly scooping dog poop would be the one,” Boswell says, adding that it’s also probably the cheapest with an average cost of $12 a week.

Steve and Kappi Helms of Plano, Texas, have been Pet Butler customers for about a year, and Steve says he can hardly imagine life without it. “Once you get it, you’re not going back,” he says. “You see the value of not having to do it and the time it saves you.” The couple began to look for a pooper-scooper service once their two daughters became old enough to play outside. A Pet Butler technician comes to the house once a week and scoops everything Helms’ two dogs leave behind.

With the success of Pet Butler, Boswell is considering expanding his business into more well-known industries. He’s tight-lipped about the details, but says the company is creating two new subscription-based home services concepts. Both will likely launch before the end of the year.

Slowly, the pet waste removal industry is gaining acceptance, Boswell says. Where he used to see disgusted and confused reactions to his business, he’s now seeing interest. “You see the wheels turning in people’s heads, and then they say, ‘wow, that’s amazing. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that.’” But to get himself and his business to this point, Boswell says he had to stop worrying about people’s reactions, and get serious—and it wasn’t easy. “I drew a line in the sand and said I don’t care if people think I’m crazy, I’m going to make this thing successful,” he says. “And at some point I’m going to go from the crazy person that scoops poop to the genius that made millions helping others get rid of a job they hate.

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