When you own a dog you are bound to meet other dog owners and dog admirers. On my many excursions to the dog park here in Long Island City, New York I met Tiffini Minatel- Schrieber when my dog was a pup. That was more than six years ago. I have had the honor and pleasure of her caring for my dog and helpful, timely tips for dealing with behavior issues in my dog. Tiffini is gracious, patient, caring, informative and a professional. It shows in her successful dog walking business. More and more residential property owners are becoming dog friendly as a way of attracting stable tenants and as a result dog walking is becoming a booming business.
Tiffini got in on the ground floor when she started and she will tell us all about it. Let’s welcome Tiffini Minatel-Schreiber of Tiff’s LIC(k) Dogwalking and Playgroups, LLC.
Purely Simple Words (PSW): Welcome Tiffini tell us: how did you get started in the dog walking business?
Tiffini Minatel-Schreiber (TMS): It was favor to my friends. My friend and old boss, Jimmy, just moved into a new building here in LIC and he and his wife just had a baby. At that time he had to go and tend to his restaurants in St. Martin. So that left his wife Jodi home alone with the baby and two dogs. She needed help with walks in the late evening when she was putting the baby down to bed but there were no walkers who worked late in the evening. She couldn’t leave the baby, obviously, so I would drive over from Astoria, where I live, and walked the dogs for her. She eventually found neighbors in the building who helped her out.
Back when I started here in Long Island City there were only two buildings, the Citylights and the Avalon, which is now the Avalon South because there is now an Avalon North. And they just finished building a third one. There are now more than ten newly constructed building and more on the way. This area is booming.
PSW: What year was that?
TMS: That was May 2007. The first dogs I started walking were Puli’s. They are the dogs with dreadlocks but the owner kept them trimmed. They looked like Poodles and they were show stoppers. People would stop me to ask what kind of dogs they were. As we talked about the dogs, they would ask me to walk their dogs. After talking to Jodi, she suggested that walking dogs would be a great job for me. And she is right.
So a business was born. I did have help from another friend, Nicole Billiot. We started taking business classes through SBA and SCORE, planning to eventually open a Doggie Daycare in the area. At that time there were none. Nicole and I started walking dogs and built a client base. She ended up getting a promotion at her “Real” job and decided to stay there. And I decided to keep on walking. She is in Miami now thinking about opening a doggie business. Hopefully she will.
PSW: What do you like the best about your work?
TMS: I am my own boss. I really like that. It is on par with working with the dogs. I really like working with dogs too. You can have the worst day in the world, but the dogs wash it all away with their unconditional love. I focus on the dogs and the playgroups and that keeps me grounded.
PSW: What do you dislike about your work?
TMS: The occasional bad weather. This year it was the Polar Vortex! WOW! However, I think now that I have been through it, my workers agree with me, it is the torrential, sideways downpour with wind gusts up to 60 miles per hour. No raincoat is going to protect you – you will get wet down to your underwear. These are my least favorite days. This happens three or four times a year. The Polar Vortex is easier because at least you can layer up and put your ski clothes on.
PSW: What kind of interesting clients do you have?
TMS: All kinds. Families, newlyweds and such that have a dog or two. One is a VP of Bravo network, I have another client who used to be head of security for the Yankees and now has his own security company and a gentleman who has his own construction company. I have quite a few lawyers and also business owners like myself who work from home. A very eclectic mix of people who all teach me something new when I meet them and their dogs.
PSW: Do you have a routine with the dogs?
TMS: Yes we have a set schedule. We start at noon. I don’t do morning walks. I used to be in the restaurant and bar business so I am used to later in the day hours and I have never been a morning person. From noon to 1:30 is reserved for individual walks. We give individual walks to older clients, those with special needs or those who are undergoing stress or don’t play well with others. Whenever we get a puppy they are walked in the first slot until they are old enough for the playgroups.
Playgroups are Monday through Friday, although I have been getting Saturday and Sunday bookings so I have started an early afternoon group on these days too. Our second group starts at 2:45 – 3:00 pick up which runs Monday to Friday too.
PSW: How do you decide which dogs are compatible with each other in the groups?
TMS: Most of the time I know the dog from observing them in the dog run. However, at first I do an in home interview where I meet the owner and the dog to see the personality. I take them on a few walks before putting them in a group. We greet other dogs on the leash so I can see how the dog behaves. Most of the time I already know if the dog will play well in the group.
The first group is great for owners who have to be at work early, at 8-9 in the morning. The second group is great for owners that have to be at work at 10-11 in the morning and work late. Most of the dogs get along. I have some dogs that are good for either group. And it also depends on what the owner needs.
PSW: Tell me the most out of the ordinary event that happened when you were walking a dog?
TMS: Our neighborhood dog run property was sold so we had to move our playgroups to the Vernon Boulevard dog run. Before the Vernon Boulevard dog run was renovated it was just a small strip of land there with chicken wire fence with slats of wood along the back of it. Behind it was an empty lot full of weeds and garbage and downed trees. Well, someone managed to put a hole in the chicken wire fence and Sheba Enu Paolo and Beagle Daisy went through that little hole. As that happened, I saw it in slow motion. Daisy went in first, and by the time I ran over there, Paolo took off and he went after her and both were gone.
I was screaming NOOOOOOOO! So I went in after them and jumped over the fence. The weeds were in full growth and six feet tall, it was hard to get through them. I couldn’t see the dogs and they wouldn’t come when I called them, so I came back to the dog run and instructed my other dog walkers to take the other dogs home. I then ran down 48th Avenue following the fence. My first concern was if there was a breach somewhere else in the fence and they were going to get out. I got up to the end of the property where the dogs had run into and saw the end of some train tracks. I panicked and thought they were going to run onto the train tracks and head to Long Island! The property is a LIRR mechanic shop and luckily the area was fully enclosed and not open to the tracks. I look over from Jackson Avenue and there is Paolo looking through the fence down into the garden area of The Creek and Cave restaurant – a whole block away from Vernon Boulevard by the way – with a big smile on his face. I ran back to the fence hole opening and clawed my way through the weeds and over a tree that had fallen, down a big hill which I basically slid down trying to get back there. I got Paolo and he was just standing there, heavily panting because they were obviously running in the weeds and trees. It looked as if he was so proud of himself and tired. It took me another 10-15 minutes to find Daisy. I found her and we got out of there. It’s 40 minutes later and I am cut up from head to toe. These two dogs had the biggest smiles on their faces and they were panting and had weeds sticking out of their harnesses. They had the best time exploring, while I was panicking. That was a scary moment, funny moment and a moment of relief all wrapped up in one emotional release for me!
PSW: You are very successful here in Long Island City and you are one of the first dog walking companies and have lasted for many years. What do you think the secret to your success is?
TMS: I would say there are two secrets: one is I offer something other dog walking companies don’t – off leash time in the dog run. I don’t do pack walks. I offer playgroups in the dog run. I am from the country, in North Carolina. Growing up, my dogs were never on leash, they would run to the woods, run to the pond, go swimming come back and flop in the yard. They had freedom. I like offering that to my clients, at least an hour a day of freedom for their dogs. That’s the one big selling point of what I do.
The other is relationships. My client list is small compared to some of the other dog walking companies. And that is on purpose. I have really good close relationships with my client owners. They know me by name, I know them by name. I know a little about them, they know a little about me. Every year I throw a holiday party (Christmas). I buy them food and drinks and we hang out and talk about dogs all night!
PSW: Is there any negative thing that happened that you learned from and changed the way you operate for the better?
TMS: Oh yes, there are numerous things every day. I wouldn’t necessarily call them negative, I don’t like to use that word. They are just learning experiences. Every day is a different day. You have a different challenge. Whether it’s the weather or the dogs’ moods, new building restriction – every day you have to roll with the punches. There is always something new. There are always little tiny “failures”. Something happens every day that doesn’t work that teaches all of us we need to adjust this, we need to do that. I can tell you on a micro level, this has taught me and my walkers to be ready for anything. Every day we have to expect changes. We can’t be rigid. We can’t go to work thinking things are going to go a certain way because it never goes that way. We can plan, but we have to be fluid!
This is another thing I really appreciate about this job, it is ever changing. Even after seven years I am still learning.
On a macro level, the major HUGE learning experience I had in doing this business has been recent, with my old business name LIC Dogwalking. I filed DBA papers to do business as Long Island City Dogwalking, or LIC Dogwalking for short, in August of 2007. I never took it to the next level by turning it into an LLC. Because of that, another dog walking company opened in May 2013 called Long Island City Dog Walk. The names are very similar and there has been some confusion from the buildings and potential clients as well as the clients I already work with.
Had I turned my DBA into an LLC, I wouldn’t have this name problem. My husband always reminds me that he told me to do this and I said “Yeah, Yeah” and I just didn’t do it. Should’ve listened to him! Ha!
Unfortunately, this business name issue was happening at the same time that my father was ill and passed away. I did consult three different lawyers and got some good advice. However, I decided, since most of my clients said they know me by my personal name and refer me out to others using my name, to let the business name issue go, because it was not worth the tens of thousands of dollars of litigation it would cost, not to mention the grief. I have to still work with this person in the area and I can’t work in a place with negativity and I think litigation exists in negativity and I don’t like it. So I learned from that to let it go. Just let it go. I made this mistake, now do the right thing and move forward in a positive way. So I changed my business name to Tiff’s LIC(K) Dogwalking and Playgroups, LLC. Now my business name is protected and actually better, I think, and I am preparing an announcement and new marketing campaign for fall of 2014.
I haven’t done much marketing because, in the past, I got most of my business from referrals and I only gave out business cards when I was asked. I was booked most of the time, so I didn’t think I needed marketing. However, I now realize that it is important. There is a time when a company’s name needs to be out there, clear and doesn’t need to be confused with another company’s name.
PSW: Do you have employees?
TMS: I have independent contractors. There’s a tax difference. Right now I have three walkers plus myself. I have a fourth who helps me out part time with dog sitting when I need her.
PSW: What are your future plans for your company?
TMS: I will continue to do what I am doing. Around this time of year (summer) we have clients who move so we will be looking for new clients. I’ll be doing a marketing push through my existing clients because they refer me. I will also do some fliers and brochures to get my new name out there. I will be hiring new walkers over the summer because one of my walkers is going back to school full time in the fall and another is moving out of the state. It’s hard to grow too quick too fast because of the nature of the playgroups. We have to know which dogs get along with which dogs. I have a 5 dogs per handler limit so we have to grow slow and organically. I will be doing that over the next several years. By the time I am 50 years old, I hope to be in a substantial place, retire and pass the business onto an interested walker. Or sell. I don’t want to be walking dogs after 50 years old! I will move on to something different. I am trying to figure out how to combine dogs, wine and travel.
PSW: Is there anything else you would like to add? Is there a wisdom you learned owning your own business?
TMS: Everyone should own their own business at some point. When I worked for someone else I was making lots of money for them and sometimes didn’t feel I was being acknowledged or appreciated for all the work I was doing. In owning my own business, I can now acknowledge everyone who works for me, give them what I felt I needed. I show my walkers and clients my appreciation for their loyalty and their business. Having my own business has also allowed me to give back to others. Which I love doing. I love helping others and being of service to others, and what I love about this business and this area (LIC) is the community focus that my business has.
I don’t just walk dogs in the area, I support the community. I was involved in parts of the planning phase of the Vernon Boulevard dog run renovation. I am involved in the local community organization DOG LIC, on Facebook. I participate in the monthly clean-up of the Vernon Boulevard dog run organized by this group. My dog walkers and I pitch in to keep the dog runs clean daily because we use them and the community is nice enough to allow us to do that. So you will see us always walking around picking up poop that someone might have missed or garbage that has blown into the run. I like giving back and this business has allowed me to do that. This business has allowed me to give to others more than what I have been able to do before.
PSW: It is obvious that you care very much about your work and are a good business owner and know how to handle people. I hope you have continued success for as long as you want.
TMS: Thank you very much Georgia for your time, interest in me and your friendship over all these years. You are truly a good person.
Tiffini and her organization are outstanding in there motivation to give our pups the best care they can give. This came from her finding her special path in life. That’s the whole idea of finding your path. It is the one that makes you happy and has the impetus to move you out of your comfort zone to become a wider, smarter, broader, giving, lively and better person. Being on your unique path inspires and gives permission to others to do the same.
I hope you take inspiration from Tiffini and move in the direction of your individual style. She took the risk of trying something new. Tiffini tries something new every day, has become proficient at it and gained confidence in herself. So can you.
To contact Tiffini go to:
Tiff’s LIC(k) Dogwalking & Playgroups, LLC
Owner/Operator – Tiffini Minatel-Schreiber