ORLANDO, FL – Kelly Brott took home free candy from his previous job. In his new line of work, free samples aren't a perk -- he scoops dog poop for a living. But he doesn't complain.
Brott, 36, started a Pet Butler franchise from his home in Winter Garden in April 2006. He traded an office at M&M's World in Florida Mall for a bright-green van and a 3-foot-long aluminum spade. He uses the spade to chuck poop into a large dustpan.
"It's almost like I'm playing golf," Brott said.
Pet-waste management is a small but growing business in the United States. Dues-paying membership in the Association of Professional Animal Waste Specialists -- also known as aPaws -- has grown from 12 when the group was founded in 2002 to 123 a year ago and 175 today.
Brott ran his scooping business solo for a year but hired another "technician" a few months ago because he couldn't keep up with the growing number of clients. He and the other poop scooper now make 130 scoop stops a week. And just last month, he was able to expand his franchise rights in greater Orlando.
Brott attributes his operation's growth to his clients' ever-busier lives.
"There are so many things people want to do and see, especially in Orlando," he said. "Picking up dog poop isn't one of them."
So for $10.75 a week, Brott swings by area lawns weekly, removes the poop and drops it at a dump. Customers with two dogs are charged $13.75 a week.
"It's well worth the price of admission," said Mary Newhouse-Gordon, one of Brott's clients. Newhouse-Gordon said she and her husband don't have the "time or energy" to pick up after their golden retrievers, Kramer and Mr. Peterman, because they both work 50 to 60 hours a week at an asset-management firm in Baldwin Park. Pet Butler cleans the yard for Newhouse-Gordon and her husband so they can do the rest of the work -- mowing, sweeping up grass and trimming bushes -- themselves.
Nine Pet Butler franchises in Florida now scoop the poop of 1,000 dogs each week, according to Matt Boswell, the Dallas-based company's "chief excrement officer." The nation's first Pet Butler franchise opened in the Florida Panhandle in January 2006. Since then, eight other franchises, including Brott's, have opened across the state, out of 70 nationwide.
"There's a built-in need for the service," said Jerry Ross, executive director of the Disney/SBA National Entrepreneur Center in Orlando. "If times get tough and people don't have disposable income, they might get rid of those services," he said. "But I don't see the need going away."
Ivey Gomes pays Brott about $100 a month to clean up after her Great Dane, Doberman and Rottweiler twice a week. She said her husband, Derrick, would give up his gym membership to keep the service if he had to.
Customers have "earned the right not to do the most disgusting job in the world," Boswell said.
Jennifer Mercer doesn't think of scooping dog poop that way.
As owner of They Poop We Scoop, she scoops part time -- about 10 hours a week -- in her clients' yards in Seminole County. "You get play time while you work," the self-proclaimed dog lover said of her independent business.
Mercer, 34, charges $12 for one stop a week for one dog, and $2 more for each additional dog. One scoop stop should take 10 minutes at most, but Mercer likes being outside with her clients' dogs so much that she spends 15 to 20 minutes on one scoop.
"Longer, if I'm playing," she added.
Mercer and Brott both say they enjoy running their own businesses enough to make up for any unpleasant smells they encounter. Brott quit a job as an operations manager at M&M's World to start his Pet Butler franchise. Mercer did bookkeeping for a telephone-refurbishing company until she saw an infomercial for a poop-scooping business while vacationing in Pennsylvania in early 2006. When she returned to Longwood, she learned of an aPaws convention in Orlando and decided to attend.
"I've been to other, boring conventions before," she said. "This was nothing like that." Mercer learned business tips from established poop scoopers and competed in a turd-herding competition.
"It was fun!" she recalled.
But poop scooping isn't just fun and easy money. "A lot of people think it's a get-rich-quick scheme, and it's not," said Mercer, who cleans up at two pet-grooming businesses in addition to customers' yards. She noted that four other independent operators in the Orlando area have started and closed in the past year alone. "Nobody does the research" necessary to sustain a business, she said.
Mercer noted that she isn't turning a profit yet. She said she averages 28 stops a week, which at $12 each should generate more than $1,400 a month. But she offers discounts of as much as $3 a visit to some customers, such as the elderly, and while her monthly costs vary greatly, they can run as high as $800 for advertising and $600 for gasoline, she said.
Brott said he makes "a little more" as a poop scooper than he did managing schedules for a staff of 100 at M&M's World. Although advertising costs him as much as $3,000 a month, and gas about $500, his 75 steady customers pay on average $900 a year.
"There's a lot more potential to surpass anything I would have made in retail," he said. He now services two homeowners' associations and an apartment complex in east Orlando and hopes to expand the commercial side of his business.
Brott certainly isn't working with candy anymore, but he doesn't seem to mind.