Jacob and Susan D'Aniello shared with Gaebler.com the story of starting a new company in a new industry and creating a nation-wide franchise.
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Where is your business located?
DoodyCalls is based out of Charlottesville, Virginia with over 35 territories in 18 states and three corporate owned locations.
Tell me about your current business. What are you doing exactly?
DoodyCalls is a national franchise providing professional pet waste removal services to residential yards, apartments and homeowners associations.
Equipped with rakes, shovels, and bags, DoodyCalls' professional scoopers let pet owners wash their hands of the whole clean-up business. For homeowners, DoodyCalls offers weekly, bi-weekly, monthly, and one-time cleanings. DoodyCalls can also clean and deodorize decks, patios, dog runs, and kennels, provide brown spot treatment to eliminate damaged areas of a homeowners' lawn caused by pet waste, and can even exchange dirty litter boxes from cat owners homes on a weekly basis.
What were you doing before this, and is this your first business?
Jacob worked as an IT consultant and Susan was preparing to leave for nursing school. We wanted to start a business that would help them spend more time together outside while also providing unlimited income potential. We wanted to do something totally and completely new. We were attracted to pet waste removal because pet waste removal services benefit from low overhead, a variable cost business model, recurring revenue, and are recession resistant (dogs keep pooping - even when the economy slows down!)
This is our first business.
Where did you get the startup money?
We started DoodyCalls with their own money. Since we didn't have much money at the time this meant that DoodyCalls grew slowly at first. We reinvested everything they earned for 3 years and gradually the business picked up steam. In order to launch the franchise concept we raised money by selling part of the company.
Who are your main competitors? How do you compete against them?
Sometimes those who you think are going to be your greatest competitors turn out to be one of your greatest allies. We thought that lawn and landscaping services would naturally want to start competing with us for clients. Nothing however could be further from the truth. Landscaping companies have enough business without worrying about dog poop. Pet waste mucks up their machinery and they have to spend a lot of time cleaning it after they mow a lawn that is full of pet waste, it slows then down. Landscapers have become one of DoodyCalls' greatest sources of referrals. Some lawn companies will even refuse to mow the lawn unless the dog waste is picked up first, and if the homeowner doesn't want to do it, they recommend DoodyCalls.
How has your experience in running the business been different from what you expected?
We have learned that it's impossible to grow a franchise system and manage your own local business at the same time. One of our smartest moves was to hire an operations manager who runs the daily activities of the team.
We also learned that experience is invaluable. Franchising is like no other business they imagined. A successful franchisor must master a multitude of skills. These skills are different than the ones that helped the company owned unit grow to the point it could be viably franchised in the first place.
What have you done that has been very effective in helping to grow the business?
With DoodyCalls, we have been very successful in creating brand awareness, and service awareness, but say it is still very tricky breaking into a brand new market with an industry that is still being developed. Especially when there is a certain "stigma" attached to that industry. At first no one wants their neighbors to know they are getting the service. It is like a dirty little secret they feel they need to hide. They would ask us if we could pull our trucks around back so no one would see. They thought they would be labeled "lazy, or frivolous, or just didn't want to stand out." It is funny to watch the tables turn however when more and more people on the street start getting the service. Then you finally get that phone call where someone says "I think I am the ONLY one on my street who doesn't get your service" and they start to feel foolish for NOT getting the service.
What advice would you give to somebody else who wanted to start a similar business?
Employee retention, customer service, and efficient routing are the keys to this business. DoodyCalls treats its employees well and in turn they treat customers well.
When we first decided to start a business, we decided that we could either compete in an existing and crowded marketplace. Or, we could build a new industry, and establish ourselves in that industry as the leader. While there were some scoopers around at the time there were no 'big players." Brands were immature in development and service and brand awareness was small to non-existent. This created a tremendous opportunity.
When 40% of households are doing something they do not want to do – and no company is helping them do it – that's a tremendous opportunity!!
Thanks for giving us the scoop, Jacob and Susan. I'm sure your advice will help others who are thinking of starting a business and dreaming of turning it into a franchise.