A waste-removal franchisor is looking to scoop up new business by targeting cat owners.
DoodyCalls, which launched in 2000 and began franchising four years later, originally marketed itself as a service for cleaning up after dogs. But in recent years, the company’s 35 franchisees have been increasingly getting requests from consumers for help with washing and sanitizing litter boxes, says Jacob D’Aniello, co-founder and president of the Charlottesville, Va., concern.
And so, in November DoodyCalls rolled out a system-wide program for expanding its offerings to consumers who own man’s other “best friend” – the housecat.
“There is such a huge growth opportunity,” says Mr. D’Aniello, in catering to cat owners.
Indeed, Americans own 93.6 million felines, compared with just 77.5 million dogs, according to a 2009-2010 survey from the American Pet Products Association. (Although there are more freshwater fish in U.S. homes than any other pet—171.1 million.)
So far, Mr. D’Aniello says clients include many pregnant and elderly consumers, likely due to the potential health hazards involved in litter-box maintenance. DoodyCalls’ new service entails cleaning and filling litter boxes with fresh litter, a product sold in containers weighing as much as 25 pounds and that commonly becomes contaminated by parasites.
Last year, DoodyCalls earned $3.5 million in revenue, an increase of roughly 20% from 2009. “We certainly expect the kitty litter service to provide 2011 with a revenue boost, but it will take a few years before it really has an impact,” says Mr. D’Aniello, who projects $4.8 million in revenue for 2011.
In general, pet-care businesses perform well even in tough economic times. Consumers spent $3.45 billion on grooming and boarding services in 2010, up from $3.36 billion in 2009, the American Pet Products Association reports.
Pet owners often cut back on other areas before eliminating services related to their furry companions, says David Wild, vice president of marketing and new business development for consulting company Francorp Inc. in Olympia Fields, Ill.
For entrepreneurs, pet-waste services has become an attractive niche because of the low overhead costs, Mr. Wild says. Further, consumers are willing to pay for the help, and some apartment complexes are offering the amenity to woo tenants, he says.
Those who wish to open a DoodyCalls franchise pay between $44,730 and $71,920, depending on the number of vehicles used. Meanwhile, franchisees charge customers weekly rates of $14 to $16 to clean one litter box and $15 to $20 for removing dog waste.
Caprice Bart, a wine-bar server in Minneapolis who’s four-month’s pregnant, says she recently ordered litter-box services from a local DoodyCalls franchise so her husband wouldn’t have to clean up after her two cats while she’s expecting. “It’s a peace-keeping technique,” she says. “My husband doesn’t like to do it.”
Ms. Bart initially hired the company two years ago to clean up after the three dogs she had at the time. (One has since passed away.) “I live in a densely populated area with a small backyard and my dogs are big,” she says, in explaining why she considers the service worthwhile. “It’s a godsend.”