- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 9, 2005

Forgive Jacob D’Aniello if he is dog-tired.He has spent nearly five years building his pooper-scooper business from a weekend job with a few clients into a full-time operation with 400 customers and five employees.

Now he is hoping the customers really pile up.

Doody Calls of Centreville will rely on a growth strategy typically reserved for fast-food restaurants. Mr. D’Aniello’s company is the first pooper scooper in the nation to sell franchises.

“This is a huge untapped market,” he said. “There are other pooper scoopers out there, but the market is ready for a professional, standardized company.”

Mr. D’Aniello, a 28-year old native of Buffalo, N.Y., started Doody Calls in summer 2000 to remove pet waste from the yards of homeowners who have no interest in picking up what dogs leave behind. Doody Calls charges $14 a week to clean a yard at a single-family home and $12 a week to clean smaller yards at town houses.

His plan to offer franchises is unique, said Terry Hill, spokesman for the International Franchise Association.

“As far as we know, there isn’t another one” selling franchises, he said.

But it could work because of consumer demand for personal services, said Wayne Jordan, an adviser to Mr. D’Aniello and the first person to open a Chesapeake Bagel Bakery franchise.

“The most unusual things have the greatest potential,” said Mr. Jordan, who purchased a bagel franchise from Chesapeake in 1984 and opened one the next year in Springfield.

Others are skeptical.

“It doesn’t cost that much start your own business. I started mine with $100. Why would you pay someone for a franchise?” said Debbie Levy, co-founder of the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists and the owner of Yucko’s, a pet-waste disposal company in St. Louis.

Mr. D’Aniello, who graduated from the University of Virginia in 1999 with an economics degree, has sold one franchise so far.

John Bright will take over Doody Calls in Alexandria. Mr. Bright, a 41-year old native of Manchester, England, owns a company based in Alexandria that sells specialized bins to cities, homeowners associations and apartment complexes that pet owners use to dispose of dog waste.

Doody Calls is one of Mr. Bright’s clients.

“Jacob has the other end of the puzzle. This is a great add-on to my business,” he said.

Mr. D’Aniello hopes to sell 12 franchises this year in Virginia, Maryland, Massachusetts and Rhode Island.

“Eventually we want to be everywhere, don’t get me wrong. But I want to be methodical,” he said.

For a one-time fee of $12,500 and 9 percent of annual revenue, Mr. D’Aniello is selling use of the Doody Calls name, which he thinks has increasing value as the company grows.

In return for the franchise fee, Mr. D’Aniello provides training and marketing materials, and shoulders the cost of a broader national advertising campaign to raise awareness about the brand name.

Mr. D’Aniello said he decided to offer franchises rather than expand operations in hopes that franchises give their buyers a greater sense of ownership and increase the likelihood that Doody Calls succeeds.

Others in the industry are watching to see whether Doody Calls succeeds.

“Can it work? I don’t know. I think it could, but it’s not like opening a McDonald’s. You’re not guaranteed customers. I don’t know if Jacob will corner the market. I think he’ll do very well on the East Coast, though,” Miss Levy said.

Mr. D’Aniello and his wife, Susan Otis, have nurtured their business slowly. They had one customer until early 2001.

By early 2003, they had about 100 clients.

Mr. D’Aniello appeared on an MSNBC news program later that year to talk about his business. After that, Boston-area resident Brian McCann called Mr. D’Aniello and encouraged him to expand to Massachusetts. Doody Calls now has 40 customers in the Boston suburbs, and Mr. McCann runs the business there.

In June 2003, Mr. D’Aniello took a gamble and quit his job as a technology consultant at American Management Systems in Fairfax, devoting his time to Doody Calls.

“When I left, my boss said, ‘Jacob, are you sure you’re going to be OK?’ I figured if I really screwed up that I could always go back,” he said.

The turning point came in December 2003, when he met Mr. Jordan, who introduced Mr. D’Aniello to Brett Lowell, a local franchise lawyer at Piper Rudnick LLP, later that month.

Over dinner, Mr. Lowell encouraged expansion of the pooper-scooper firm.

“There are a lot of hurdles. A lot of ideas have died on the vine,” Mr. Jordan said. “But I think Jacob has tapped into something.”

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