Picking up dog poop in people's yards or cleaning cat litter boxes may not be the most glamorous job in the world, but for thousands of Americans, it's a vital service. Seniors can often find it difficult to "stoop and scoop", and for those who can physically do it, they would prefer to pay someone else to clean up the little problems their pets leave behind.
If you want to make good money and be your own boss, starting a pet waste removal business like a dog poop pickup service is a great opportunity. Startup costs are almost nothing, and the job requires no specialized training, education or licensing. All you need is a good supply of plastic bags and a shovel. In fact, you don't even have to get your hands dirty.
Exploring Your Local Market
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, almost three-quarters of households have at least one pet. There are about 218 million pets in the U.S., not even including fish. Americans don't mind spending money on their beloved pets, averaging about $500 every year for a total of about $61.4 billion. The average cost of having someone pick up poop is about $15 per visit.
The first step in starting a pet waste removal business is to look at your local market. Go to Google, Craigslist and Google Maps to find out who is already offering this service in your community. Make notes on everything you find, including their websites, advertised rates and branding. Starting a business is pretty easy, but picking up dog poop all day isn't for everyone, so don't assume everyone is hustling or even still in business.
Next, take a look at your community and look at the sizes of the yards. The Google Maps satellite view is a good tool for this. Small yards are faster to clean than large yards. Single-unit homes don't necessarily have to be your only market. Apartment building managers and local businesses may also be interested in your services.
Determining the Value of Your Time
Animal waste disposal is a local business, so you have the benefit of charging a rate solely for your local market. You should find out how much competition is in your area and how much they charge, but if you can offer a faster, friendlier or more thorough service, you should be able to charge more than others if you want.
Determine how much you want to earn each year and divide that by the number of hours you will work collecting waste. The typical work week may be 40 hours, but if you're self-employed in this field, your income comes from your billable hours, excluding travel time between customers or the time you invest in finding new customers, billing clients, etc. Supposing that you don't mind working six days each week, 30 hours of billable time each week would be five hours each day on average.
Next, divide the amount of money you want to make each year by 50 weeks (allowing yourself two weeks of vacation) and then divide this by the number of hours you plan to bill each week — for example, $40,000 divided by 50 weeks and then divided by 30 hours is $26.66. Rounding this up a bit, you get a nice round number: $30 per hour. Compare your own calculations to what your competitors are offering and make sure it makes sense with that and with local incomes and demand.
Determining Your Pricing and Packages
The amount of time you spend at each client site will be determined by three primary factors: the size of the yard, the number of pets they have and the frequency of your visits. If a client with three dogs wants you to clean up once a month, you will spend a lot more time there than someone who wants you to come by three times each week for one dog.
A good pricing model used by Doo Care in Chicago is to charge clients on a per-visit basis based on the number of visits each week. The more often you visit, the less each visit costs. For example, once a week is $11.30 per visit for one dog, twice a week is $9.12 per visit and biweekly service is $18. DooCare then charges on a monthly basis and an extra $10 per month for each additional dog. If you want to offer cat litter cleaning services, you can charge a similar rate per visit.
Your first visit will almost always take the most time since most people aren't going to be calling you until they've determined they have a pet waste problem. You may want to charge a higher rate based on an assessment of the job or offer a flat fee like $50 as a discounted promotion to get more weekly clients.
Starting Your Poop Cleaning Business
Removing pet waste requires very little startup money. All you need to get started is a car, plastic bags, a shovel and a rake. Look at your state and city requirements for starting a business and whether or not you need to charge sales tax for your services. In most cases, working as a self-employed contractor or a sole proprietor should be fine while you're working on your own, but you should probably look into liability insurance.
You will need a way to bill customers and accept payments. You can do this on your website using a service like PayPal and send receipts automatically via email. There are also apps you can use on your phone so you can accept payment at the customers' door even if they don't have cash with them.
Next, you should create a website where you can describe your business, post your contact information and advertise your rates. Get your business on Google Maps. If you don't want to give out your home address, you can rent a post office box. Get some business cards with your phone number, email address and website.
Marketing and Advertising Your Services
Once you're ready for business, it's time to start finding customers. Small flyers and business cards should be enough to advertise your new business, but you can also consider social media marketing or partnering with local relevant businesses or charities.
Market strategically to your target customers: A few well-placed flyers at local dog parks would be a good idea. Stop by at local businesses catering to pets to introduce yourself and ask if you can leave a few business cards or — even better — put a flyer in their window for a few weeks until you start to get some customers. Businesses with which you should connect include:
- Pet groomers
- Pet stores
- Maid services
You may want to consider getting a magnetic sign for your car door advertising your service.
Expanding Your Poop Cleaning Business
There is only so much poop one person can clean up alone. As your business begins to grow, you should probably consider hiring some help. Even if you don't want to take on more business, you will still need someone to fill in for you if you get sick or want to take a week or two off.
Before you start hiring employees, you will need to register your business with the federal and state governments for payroll taxes and for workers' compensation. (Always make sure dogs are leashed before you enter a yard.) Be prepared to pay employees well for their work and consider offering them their own territories for commissions. Otherwise, you could expect a high turnover rate since many employees might find picking up poop for a living to be disagreeable.
- Start a Pooper Scooper Business: How Much Should I Charge for my Pooper Scooper Service?
- Doo Care: Service Rates
- Profitable Venture: Starting a Pooper Scooper Business
- The Independent Millennial: How to Start the Pooper Scooper Business, a Complete Guide
- Rhode Island Stormwater Solutions: Do You Scoop The Poop?
- Bureau of Labor Statistics: Households Spent an Average of $528 on Pets in 2015
- Once your business expands, you may need to hire employees. In this event, be sure to purchase worker's compensation insurance. Ensure that the bonding coverage extends to your employees. Consider purchasing uniforms and a commercial vehicle.
A published author, David Weedmark has advised businesses on technology, media and marketing for more than 20 years and used to teach computer science at Algonquin College. He is currently the owner of Mad Hat Labs, a web design and media consultancy business. David has written hundreds of articles for newspapers, magazines and websites including American Express, Samsung, Re/Max and the New York Times' About.com.