Talen Von Gunden has a dirty business. In fact, it stinks.
He no longer notices.
Von Gunden, of Bellefonte, has been scooping up dog waste from commercial and residential properties as the founder of DoodyPro, his side company, since 2008.
“It can get a little smelly,” he said. “I think I’m getting used to it.”
When he’s not driving his red Dodge pickup to homes and snapping on a pair of blue latex gloves, Von Gunden, 35, makes medical transducers for Blatek in College Township.
A father with three children, he started DoodyPro after looking for entrepeneurial opportunities. A short-lived venture selling e-books didn’t work out. Then he stumbled upon the dog waste removal field, apparently a profitable line of work, judging by the hundreds of companies nationwide.
The variables looked favorable: constant supply, demand from dog owners too busy or unable to clean their yards, and a modest overhead.
“I didn’t need anything other than a rake, a giant dust pan and trash bags,” Von Gunden said.
He was used to hard work, having held jobs since age 11, when he delivered newspapers in his Bellefonte neighborhood. In high school, he sold men’s clothes in a department store and studied carpentry. After graduation, he worked construction, delivered auto parts, made laboratory instruments and then landed at Woodcraft, where he spent seven years as a team leader.
Cleaning up yards? A breeze.
At first, he drove a silver truck emblazoned with a cartoon logo of a chubby man with a blue glove hovering over a dog. It succeeded in attracting attention.
“A lot of times I’d be at lights and I’d see people pulling out their phones and taking pictures,” Von Gunden said.
He’s also got a dog suit, but has only worn it twice for promotion, including at one State College Spikes game.
Over time, he has built a client base in the Centre Region, visiting mostly homes but some apartment complexes in the afternoons and weekends. He charges a variety of rates, but for one dog, it’s $28 a month for biweekly visits, $40 for weekly and $72 for twice a week. Two dogs cost more, but not a lot.
“Half the work is walking around the yard, so another dog isn’t that much,” he said.
To avoid higher prices, he doesn’t take away waste, instead bagging it and placing it in the client’s trash. He dons ratty sneakers in warm weather, old boots in the winter, and disinfects each along with the rake after his rounds.
His routine isn’t complicated. Fresh snow can pose an obstacle, but a day of sunshine usually solves the problem. Summertime mosquitos can be pesky. Sometimes he takes a wrong step.
Occasionally, he runs afoul of the sources of his business. Some dogs left outside object to his presence, leading to awkward meetings.
“Usually they warm up to me, and I get to know them, and we’re good to go,” Von Gunden said.
People sometimes ask him why he cleans dog waste. He has a few answers. It prevents the spread of diseases, keeps neighborhoods cleaner and helps people.
It also may help him start another business plan, custom T-shirt printing. Selling DoodyPro eventually could yield seed money.
But it probably wouldn’t buy him another dream: owning a rescued greyhound. Between his jobs and his wife’s work at Penn State and her Snow Shoe salon, plus sports and activities for three kids, who has time to scoop?
He’d have to hire someone.
“We have three cats,” he said. “We’re too busy for dogs.”
— By Chris Rosenblum