Gus Elfving is not your typical business owner. If a client calls him at 9 p.m. on a Tuesday in a crisis, he’ll come a-runnin’.
His client base of around 750 pet owners, including dogs, cats, birds, hermit crabs, spiders and once, a hedge hog, sometimes demand a level of care that extends beyond normal business hours. “She was freaking out and certain that her dog had a tick infestation,” Elfving said. “I ran over to her house. I was so concerned, and I was relieved to tell my client that her infestation of ticks was actually an infestation of nipples. She hadn’t noticed the dog had nipples.”
The story seems to be one of his favorites, as he ended it with a big, hearty laugh.
Elfving has dedicated his career to taking care of people’s pets, which makes the name of his company, “Pet Peeps,” even more fitting.
Started in 2006, Elfving originally worked in retail, but found he didn’t have his heart in it. A friend offered to get him a job walking dogs, and six years later, he manages over 30 pet sitters and is expanding the Pet Peeps into Baltimore later this year.
“Most of our clients are people who are not fresh out of college, usually they’re post graduates, people who have to work 80 hours or plus a week, and they want the comfort of a pet in their life but they’re not able to take care of it themselves. And when you’re billing $250 an hour, $20 an hour to pay someone to walk your dog so you can work an extra hour is minimal,” he said in a recent interview in Logan Circle, where his office is located.
His approach to care for pets hasn’t changed since the beginning: individualized care with standardized service, which he says, gets harder to accomplish as the company gets bigger.
“People want both, and it’s pretty challenging,” Elfving said. “Whether they realize it or not, it does take a lot of work on our end.”
The boom in neighborhood gentrification also hasn’t done a disservice to his business.
“Our client base follows population of city,” he said. “Wherever there is a dense population, and typically a gentrified neighborhood, we’re there. We don’t have as many clients in Anacostia or upper Northeast, but we do have clients there.”
Whatever the neighborhood, dog walkers are trained to keep dogs out of busy parks and never off the leash because of the potential danger. And dogs are only ever walked one at a time, or with the permission of the owner, two or three at a time.
“Incidents are minimal, but we don’t like to expose our clients to that. Becoming a dog walker you learn to look for grassy spots that aren’t overly used by other dog walkers,” he said. “From the beginning I saw the importance of doing an individual service, because in the city it’s not safe to do multiple dogs. If two dogs get into it, or if a dog gets off the leash, what are you doing to do if you have five dogs tethered to you?”
Elfving’s ultimate hope is to become a regional service with an office in Philadelphia. It’s a long way from where he was just a few years ago, sticking up business cards on bulletin boards and getting clients through word- of-mouth. He also developed his own pricing structure and how pet sits would be designated.
“We’ve reached the preliminary goals for the city. At one time, I had the goal of having an employee, then of becoming incorporated, and then having ‘x’ dollars, and now we’re starting to expand service to outside of the city like Maryland. We follow the path of the burgeoning areas.”
And with a dedication to clients that runs 24/7, there may be nowhere to go but up.
Learn more about Pet Peeps at petpeeps.biz