By Christina Harper Special to The Herald
MOUNTLAKE TERRACE — From grooming and boarding to vet fees and food, the estimated total Americans will spend in 2014 on pets tops $58.5 billion.
Of those pets, man’s best friend, the dog, gets no shortage of pampering. A Mountlake Terrace business has found its own niche in this industry, and its a service that pooch owners can feel good paying for: poop pick-up.
Bill and Nicki Walters are the owners of Pooper Trooper, a business that cleans dog waste in pet owner’s yards.
Bill Walters came up with the idea for the business in 1989 when he was a college student and living at his uncle’s house. His uncle paid Walters $25 to pick up the dog waste in his yard.
Recognized a need
Walters recognized the need for a dog waste pick-up service and soon had more customers.
“I said, ‘I guess if you pay, someone else would pay,’” Walters said.
After college, Walters went on to jobs in the music industry and the phone company. He married and in 2003 relaunched Pooper Trooper.
In 2005, his wife, Nicki Walters, was getting tired of her demanding job as a buyer for Macy’s. She quit her position and the couple worked on Pooper Trooper as a team as she took on the role as account manager.
“I felt confident because I was able to apply what I knew to help us,” Nicki Walters said. “But I was terrified, also.”
It took three months for the couple to get their first client. They soon noticed that business went on an upswing around October.
“In fall rain, people can’t keep on top of it,” Bill Walters said. “That’s when people call us.”
The company was hit hard, as many others were, when the economic downturn came along.
“We struggled along with our community,” Nicki Walters said.
But clients came back and that proved to the couple that pet owners valued the waste pick-up services.
Dogs are customers, too
From the beginning of Pooper Trooper, Bill Walters passion was to excel at customer service. He and his staff have done just that by forging relationships not only with dog owners but also with the pets themselves.
“We build a bond and attachment to the dogs,” Bill Walters said. “The poop is secondary. It’s the relationship with the dogs.”
There is a German shepherd named Gus who appears sad if he doesn’t see Bill Walters. Dogs also want to know where their treats are when he or other staff members arrive.
Client Niall King of Seattle can attest to the importance of those relationships and having a poop-free yard. King was tailgating with the Walters at a Seahawks game a few years back when Bill Walters gave him his business card.
“I said, ‘Oh, my God. This is the answer to my prayers,’” King said.
King had been spending an hour each weekend picking up the poop of his two Alaskan malamutes.
Pooper Trooper staff visit King’s back yard once a week and pick up all the dog waste left by his two pooches.
“It’s a big win from a hygiene point of view,” King said. “The dogs are not stepping in their own poop in the yard.”
The Pooper Trooper staff are passionate about more than the dogs. King is encouraged by the dedication of community outreach of Walters and his staff, including supporting animal welfare and making people environmentally aware of the hazards of dog waste if not picked up and disposed of correctly.
“Dog waste needs to be picked up,” Nicki Walters said, noting how it can contaminate streams through stormwater systems.
Picking up after your dog is great, but poop cannot be put in yard waste or in compost. Dog feces holds E. coli, salmonella and giardia, all present in a dog’s guts. The best thing to do is to bag the waste and put it in the garbage.
Pathogens in pet waste can be harmful to other animals and humans as well as the environment, and bacteria can live in the ground for up to four years. If not picked up and disposed of correctly, poop gets washed away in groundwater and into streams.
Pooper Trooper staff are so committed to green practices that the company was recently voted one by Seattle Business magazine as one of Washington’s top 50 greenest companies.
Spring and fall are the busiest times for Pooper Trooper and the serve an area that includes Snohomish County, the Renton Highlands, West Seattle, Issaquah Highlands, Woodinville, Bothell and Sammamish. Throw all of Seattle in there and it’s easy to see how Walters and his staff of three keep busy.
Next up for the company could be consulting and stablishing a PU or Poop University where those interested can be trained on the ins and outs of the business. There would be a licensing option for people who would like to use the Pooper Trooper brand or training if they want to work on their own.
Whatever dog owners spend their money on Bill and Nicki Walters are sure to find ways to continue to educate people about the not-so-fun part of having a happy and healthy dog.
“Poop can be a topic a lot of people poo-poo,” Bill Walters said.