Sunday, March 30, 2008
BY DOUGLASS CROUSE
NorthJersey.com - Click here to read article on NorthJersey.com
The job's got a lot going for it: Time spent outdoors, regular travel to new places, no heavy labor or pricy equipment — and endless possibilities for puns.
Chris Rago, owner of Doggy Deuce Removal Service, is partial to this slogan: "We do our business after your pet does theirs." Then again, "We're No. 1 in the No. 2 business" is a close second. The others are best left unprinted.
Rago recognizes that working for a professional pooper-scooper service may not be everyone's ideal pursuit. And it's not exactly a perfect fit for him — Rago's been allergic to dogs for as long as he can remember.
He started the company, which cleans canine lovers' yards during regularly scheduled visits, last year as a way for an unemployed friend to gain some income.
Customers quickly started signing up, but Rago found his friend's work ethic lacking.
He decided to take it over himself.
"I had money on the table and knew it was something that was going to work," he said in the back yard of an Upper Saddle River home as several dogs barked inside.
Rago, 29, first heard of dog waste removal businesses while traveling in Memphis, Tenn., and Tampa, Fla. He figured it would be a natural fit for Bergen County, where population density is high, yards are often large and dog owners are many.
Today Rago has 40 accounts in Bergen County and southern Rockland County in New York, with homes ranging from multimillion-dollar spreads to town houses with small yards.
Strangers normally have one of two reactions to Rago's line of work: "That's disgusting" or "That's amazing." Marlene Arute falls squarely in the latter category.
One of the original customers, Arute hires Doggy Deuce to keep her one-acre property in Closter free of canine mess. Her "doggies" are two king shepherds, one weighing 130 pounds, the other 80.
Arute said her two children, ages 5 and 10, often had to clean off their sneaker soles after playing in the back yard. That's changed since Rago and his crew began cleaning it up twice a week.
"It's changed my life," she said of the service.
"The kids can run around and I don't have to worry about them stepping in mines."
Rago has employed a mix of traditional and modern advertising tools, handing out fliers in dog walking parks and posting their services at no charge on craigslist.com.
He plans a dog food drive next month and hopes to donate the company services for a park cleanup in Bergen County.
Rago said most people who call sign up for service, which runs from $20 to $35 a week depending on yard size, number of visits and dogs.
He also refers customers to dog walkers, pet day care centers and even a dog whisperer schooled in correcting "bad dog" behavior.
An industry site, pooper-scooper.com, lists several New Jersey companies, but Rago believes his is the only one based in Bergen County.
His start-up costs have been minimal, with equipment consisting primarily of trowels, plastic bags and deodorizing chemicals.
"The best part is being out in the fresh air," said employee Michael Chormanski.
A culinary arts graduate of Johnson & Wales University, Rago also runs a catering business called Elite Professional Chef out of his Emerson home.
At night he does work for a mortgage company.
Rago said those additional duties keep him busy, while the poop pickup business keeps him humble. So far, his dog allergies haven't been a problem — Rago has become a diligent hand washer.
"As long as I'm not touching the dogs then touching my face, I'm OK," he said. "My mom thought I was crazy starting a business like this. Now she loves it."