Did you hear the one about the hot blonde dog walker? Dominika Rosinski hopes so, but her growing business is no joke. As owner of Hot Chicks...
Did you hear the one about the hot blonde dog walker?
Dominika Rosinski hopes so, but her growing business is no joke.
As owner of Hot Chicks Dog Walking Co., people pay top dollar to have the attractive girl with hipster flair walk their best friends.
“Men love confident blondes,” said Rosinski, a 26-year-old with a platinum bob.
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For $20 per half-hour, Rosinski also feeds and cleans up after her furry clients.
She and other dog walkers are seeking an edge in downtown Seattle’s booming, pet-friendly housing market. Last year, thousands of people — many of them young professionals — filled more than a dozen new apartment or condo buildings, and nearly 6,000 new downtown units are on the way. With those, come business catering to the retail, entertainment and culinary tastes of these new urbanites.
Dog walkers are no exception. In their increasingly competitive market, they’re offering customers more than a pair of strong legs and a way with animals. Rosinski and other pros are tapping into their clients’ tastes and interests by catering to their lifestyle choices and values.
A day-hiker can hire a dog walker who specializes in taking pooches to outdoor sites away from the city. Fitness buffs can hire 20-something joggers to take their place on afternoon runs. And for those who prefer finer things, there are walkers who promise an extra dose of affection, premium pet foods, even distilled water.
Making an impact
Finding the right marketing niche is indispensable when it come to grabbing the attention of busy pet owners, said Lori Campion, owner of Seattle Green Dogs.
The company’s Craigslist ad pairs photos of dogs frolicking in the ocean with a serious pitch for its eco-friendly services. To help reduce the carbon pawprint of her clients, Campion, who has recently taken to calling herself the “pack leader” of the company, stocks her biodiesel van with biodegradable waste bags, natural-fiber leashes and organic treats.
“There are a ton of dog walkers out there,” Campion said. “But my company is about making life changes. We offer a service to pet owners who don’t want to contribute to the problem.”
Whether an eco-friendly, hot-chick or day-hiking dog walker offers furry clients more than what any other dog walker offers is up for debate.
Sure, all dogs should have a good dose of exercise to expel energy and stay fit, said Robin Grannell, a Redmond-based dog behaviorist. But picking specialized walkers is more likely to appease owners.
“Humans are humans,” Grannell said, and, if the basics are covered for the dog, most owners will pick a company that interests them.
“It’s the people who have the pocketbooks. Pets don’t care if their owner or their walker lives green.”
Indeed, Rosinski, Campion and others characterized their typical downtown clients as young singles or couples with large disposable incomes and no children.
Their dogs are their kids, Rosinski said.
Bob Cottington, creator of Seattle-based Findadogwalker.com, said more specialized pet-walking services are emerging as the urban population has grown.
For years, busy dog owners have paid walkers to make life easier. But replace the old-fashioned coffee-shop bulletin board with the 21st-century power of Web sites like Craigslist and it’s possible for almost anyone to start a dog-walking business.
In recent years, Cottington has witnessed a boom in boutique pet stores, doggy day cares and health-and-wellness services increasingly targeting residents in South Lake Union, Capitol Hill and Belltown.
He started his Web site nearly a decade ago when his wife owned a Wallingford dog-walking business. Before Cottington started his site, families found dog walkers through word-of-mouth and only a few dozen walked dogs full time, he estimated.
“Back then, you could just be just yourself,” Cottington said. “You could put up a little sign and, bam! You’d have a business.”
But these days, without a Web site, business cards and a thoughtful marketing scheme, the chances of a success are greatly diminished, Cottington said.
Still, some picky pet owners defend their hyper-specific tastes, saying the specialty trend is a good thing.
Jen Chwalibog, a 28-year-old fundraiser for a nonprofit, said she hired a traditional walker a few years ago, but she quickly realized her dog, Grace, needed more than a half-hour trot around the block.
Grace, a lab-rottweiler mix, had grown accustomed to long jogs with her owner.
So she switched from her walker to a jogger last year, becoming a client of Jogs For Dogs, a Ravenna-based company that hires 20- and 30-something runners to take pets on 45-minute runs.
“Grace runs three times a week and now she is the most calm dog ever.”
And Chwalibog says she took comfort in Jogs For Dogs’ hiring standards. Owner Brendan Fahey, a University of Washington alumnus who traded in a job in geology for dog jogging, hires only college graduates or students working toward a degree.
“My husband and I are both college-educated,” Chwalibog said. “It’s important for us to get to know the walkers and I can’t say that I would trust just anybody else.”
“It’s an attention-getter”
Even with so much hype, some pet-owners are skeptical of paying hundreds of dollars a month for a service they could take care of themselves.
Brian Mehlberg, a dog owner who lives in South Lake Union and works at REI, says he is reluctant to pay a stranger to walk his two dogs. But, in a pinch, he could see himself choosing a pet walker with an appealing brand.
“This is a city where no one has time,” Mehlberg said. “If I was choosing someone in a hurry, I’d probably pick an attractive woman over a big, scary man.”
Sticking out in a crowd has made a huge difference in landing clients since she started her business a more than a year ago. “I’m like a label to my clients,” said Rosinski, who, wearing a sweat shirt straight from the ’70s, $200 jeans and a pair of Chuck Taylors, touts a style usually reserved for fashion risk-takers.
Many of the people who hire Rosinski are the same crowd that she rubs shoulders with in her mainly Capitol Hill social circle.
Downtown Seattle resident Hannah Boeck, 27, counts herself among that group. Six months ago she was drawn to Hot Chicks to walk her 2-year-old Yorkie-Pom, Bosco, because Rosinski seemed “cute and fun and trendy.”
“She’s hilarious,” Boeck said. “She’s the sort of person I would be friends with.”
And though the Hot Chicks name and Rosinski’s look might be the first thing to lure potential clients, it takes more than a catchy slogan for return business.
“It’s an attention-getter,” but without reliable, responsible service, her business would surely fall flat, Rosinski said.
“When you’re handed the keys to someone’s place — it doesn’t matter how good-looking you are — you want to be professional, you want to have integrity.”