It’s a poopy job, but somebody’s gotta do it.
Photo by Jack Mellott.
When University students dream about making their mark on the world, they look to successful graduates as examples — doctors, lawyers, educators, scientists, artists and pooper-scoopers.
Doing a double take?
It’s okay. Jacob (Economics ’99) and Susan D’Aniello (Art History, Anthropology ’98) are used to that by now. When your job is perfecting the art of pet waste removal, they say, a great sense of humor is essential to dealing with the bemused, confused or even grossed-out looks you get when revealing that your business is, to put it delicately, dogs doing their business.
The D’Aniellos are the founders and owners of DoodyCalls, the first franchised pooper-scooper service in the U.S. The chuckle-worthy name is accompanied by the slogan, “When nature calls, we answer.”
But despite their light-hearted approach to advertising, the couple takes the management and development of their business very seriously (as they should: pet care is a $34 billion industry in America and 40 percent of households own at least one dog). “Anyone can pick up dog poop,” admits Jacob. “You don’t need a U.Va. degree or even a high school degree. But I think we’ve taken our U.Va. education to bring a new level of professionalism to the entire industry.”
DoodyCalls’ most popular offering is a weekly waste removal service for private homeowners. Employees are trained, wear uniforms and use freshly sterilized tools at each site. Customers can choose any cleaning interval that suits their needs — bi-weekly, monthly, seasonally or one-time. The cost per visit varies based on yard size and number of dogs but averages around $17.
The D’Aniellos also focus on commercial clients, such as homeowners’ associations and apartment complex managers. The responsibility of cleaning up pet waste in common areas generally falls to these groups, who turn to DoodyCalls for solutions. Clients can request regular pick-up service or opt to purchase custom-designed pet waste disposal stations, which are installed and maintained by DoodyCalls. In addition, DoodyCalls offers its assistance to clients who want to add a dog park to their properties.
Property managers love DoodyCalls because Jacob tells them, “If there’s anyone you can call at 10 p.m. at night and yell about dog poop, you actually can call me! I actually will listen and won’t hang up the phone!”
Neither alum grew up with dreams of becoming a professional pooper-scooper. But as recent graduates living in pricey Northern Virginia, they were looking to make some extra money. “We both loved working outside, and we wanted a job where we could work together,” says Jacob. They put up flyers and placed classified ads to advertise and started cleaning their first yards in 2000.
By 2003, they had so many regular customers that Jacob quit his job as a technology consultant to work full-time developing DoodyCalls. The D’Aniellos had always wanted to own their own business and to move back to the Charlottesville area, so the time seemed right. They hired their first employees to work the Northern Virginia territory, and Jacob continued to manage from their new home in Fluvanna County while Susan worked as a nurse at the U.Va. hospital.
In December of 2004, DoodyCalls sold its first franchise in Alexandria, Va. Five months later, Susan quit her job so that “Jacob could focus on franchising and I could manage Northern Virginia,” she says. “It was too much for one person.”
DoodyCalls currently has three franchises that operate seven territories in Virginia, Maryland and Massachusetts and two company-owned units that provide service to Albemarle, Fairfax and Loudoun counties in Virginia. The D’Aniellos manage hundreds of customers themselves, not counting the expanding customer bases of their franchises.
In the future, says Susan, they hope to “expand through clustered growth, so franchises can help each other out in their businesses” by pooling advertising resources, sharing ideas and building brand recognition.
Though the numbers alone speak to the popularity of their service, not everyone thinks poop scooping is a necessary industry. “Some people just flat don’t get it,” says Jacob, and wonder why pet owners don’t just clean their own yards. But he and Susan liken it to packages of pre-sliced apples, pre-washed lettuce or pre-cooked pasta in the grocery store. Some people want to do it themselves; an equal number of others love convenience. “For any activity people would rather not do,” Jacob says, “a niche market exists for a service to perform that activity.”