Aug 16, 2019
What am I going to give in return, aside from the love for your dog and the caring. Walk in the streets of Brooklyn or any urban area you know you have to really be a detective. It's not just looking ahead and watching out for dogs, you gotta watch the sidewalks, the glass. Storefronts have good hearts and they leave out waterfalls in the summer. I will not let any of my dogs drink out of that.
Suzanne: Welcome to the Brooklyn made show I am Suzanne Lin. Today we're gonna be talking to a guy that well he just kind of rocks. His name is rock, Rocky Conway and he is a dog walker.
He's the owner for New York Dogs Rock in the Dumbo area. If you think it's just about walking dogs and it's an easy task and there's not a lot of skill to it, you are gonna want to stick around. Because Rocky has got a fascinating story about how he got into it. You're gonna hear his heart and his love of dogs, so let's just jump right into the show. Rock let's start off by talking about your love and passion for what you do and and how you got started?
Rock: Absolutely, it started really with my mom getting me to be not so frightened around our superintendent's dog. His name was Russ, he was a cutie. So, she had me threatening to go over and had him and whatnot. But I basically would hide behind her.
Rock: Oddly enough a few years later, I ended up becoming his dog walker though there's no such thing as a dog walker in those days you know.
For 25 cents a trip which was a lot of money in 1966. From there, I know what I don't think I would have really remembered the story so clearly if I had not become the dog walker you know so many years later.
Suzanne:Was your mom, she wanted to make sure you weren't afraid and she also had a love for animals clearly?
Rock: She had a love for animals. Yes, we had a lot of alley cats in those days and because there was Mrs. Conway, but chucking the cooked food to the kitties. You know the trick and hearts and stuff like that. It all comes to the window and just understanding the rapport between people and animals. She was a very strong person but more so she, in this case, she was being supported with me as a child, which she did to my three older siblings. She was fantastic in that way.
Suzanne: What a great inspiration, I mean we're recording this right the day before Mother's Day. You're kind of making me tear up, thinking about the love you have for your mom and what a huge influence here you know decades later.
Tell me about your business?
Rock: The business is, it's a modest-sized dog-walking company and we're out sounding all corporate America. I am trying to expand so this way ironically I'll have more free time and I'll be able to run it better you know. As I say run it better it's being run to the max and my clients who actually are customers, they're not better words are so formal. I just won't be so consumed because what goes into it is promotions as well as the physical and psychological manifestation.
They're taking care of the dogs you know they're like pills and I look at them for my being a 6-month-old baby to maybe a 10-year-old. You know you have to understand a lot of nurture and goes into this. Without sounding when I say psychology that it comes out of a textbook. I mean really understanding and that comes through love and being sincere. They all have their own personalities.
Suzanne: Wow, I love the fact that you understand each dog is so different.
I mean you have a special relationship with each one.
Rock: Yes, but as we know again it is a business that if you lose sight of that you'll find yourself out of business. This is why I buy offer packages; you know introductory, reduced fees for like when they first start walking with us for two to four weeks. If they use, they need multiple walks a day then they get at least a 5 percent discount, which just means that 20th walk is free.
Rock: Everyone likes a bargain and my client make a lot of money. But you give something back and it's not just a sales pitch, be sincere what are people looking for you know and what they eating. We all have to pay our bills and I don't walk into their very lavish apartments and homes and think; well these people can afford anything. Everyone gets charged the same price for whatever they need. See some dogs need extra care so you have to boost up the price. We still understand.
Suzanne: Now you were talking about like some packages and discounts and stuff. Tell me what else, since we're talking about your business, what other services do you offer?
Rock: I also do dog boarding and for those who don't know what that is understandably so. That means I have them stay at my home, if I do dog sitting then I stay with them. Sometimes you strike more for that because you are though kind of I don't want to use the word inconvenienced. But you're displaced you know and you have to, I mean I've stayed at someone's house well for two weeks. So, it's not just -.
Suzanne: Oh wow.
Rock: So, I got to live forever in middle-class.
Suzanne: It's not always real convenient though. I mean so you are charging a premium for that.
Rock: I do if you do use me on a regular basis. Which is usually Monday through Friday standard is like a half-hour walk, five days a week. If you're using me but almost every week how can I not give you a discount for dog boarding and dog sitting.
So, that's the kind of not just to get them to use my full-time, if they don't need it they don't need it. But again, it's always about giving something back. You know what I mean it's that conversation like we're having now.
So, you hire me I appreciate it well sometimes I can't always take on a client that we can discuss later. But then what am I going to give in return aside from the love for your dog and the caring. Walk in the streets of Brooklyn or any urban area you know you have to really be a detective. It's not just looking at watching out for dogs, so watch the sidewalks the glass. This storefront has good hearts and they leave out dog water bowls in the summer. I don't mean to paint New York as a bad town but I will not let any of my dogs string out of that.
Because who knows, evil person, evil country, might drop something in the water.
Suzanne: Wow, I never thought about that.
Rock: Well, I grew up born and bred I'm a Brooklyn, I don't know how heavy my accent sounds but it's.
Suzanne: So, I mean just some of the things you're talking about showing me that you have a very unique business model. What are some other things that maybe you haven't touched on that makes you sound unique?
Rock: I would say, well, first of all, I don't even like using the word client even though technically they are. They are customers and what they do is that buying time for me you know. The time that they need for their dog, walks can be 20 minutes, 30 minutes, 40 minutes an hour. They can be a group walk or can be a solo walk. If it's a solo walk that means the dog is either very timid or just very aggressive. You said why would you walk with are aggressive? Well, they have a right to enjoy life too.
Suzanne: Sure. How do you get business, I mean are you relying on social media or how does this work as word-of-mouth, what you do?
Rock: Yeah, that's a good question. Dog walking as a whole, when it was at its early stages social media didn't exist with this.
It maybe existed for other businesses but this wasn't a big corporate business at that point saying. So, what we do is just flyers, word-of-mouth mostly. Which ironically even though I am really delving into social media recently. All my work in the past couple of years has come from what about. Restaurant owners, clients recommending me people that what it depends on what area you work in. So, tumble now is very much like Manhattan in New York City.
So, they're mostly skyscraper big buildings with a concierge, I meet different people look at the front desk. So, they've often got me work and not for free if you know what I mean. You network with all the dog walkers, so maybe you'll trade-offs. He or she will say, I can't walk that dog can you walk it. I'll either give them cash upfront or I'll maybe see it, I have a dog in my area that, I want to walk the dog but I'm just too busy at that time.
There’re many variables yet have to keep yourself open. But the social media is a blessing to be honest because then you can sit at your phone or laptop and get the word out there. But now we're getting back to corporate America. Because it depends how big your budget is you know. Like when social media again when that was in its early stages, “oh look he's got an Instagram, she has a Facebook account, oh this company is on Twitter”. Now everybody is, even your carpenter any independent contractors you know. If the more you spend the more recognition you get.
I have to be realistic because I'm a small company what my budget is. I put a very little down for Instagram and I got many more hits. If those hits turn into money so, therefore, I have more money to put into advertising.
Rock: Exactly, sauce the pillow up it's just to go in a positive direction you know.
Suzanne: Rock, how did you get into dog walking?
Rock: A mutual friend introduced me to a man by the name of Scott, who is a really good jazz musician. I'm a rock musician which the woman didn't know. But that's fine she meant well sweetheart of a woman. We did talk and it so happened that he was a dog walker and was going on vacation. I filled in for him and I briefly worked for the woman, he worked for then I thought I can do this for myself, I'm a Conway. I don't mean that arrogance it's going back to my mom giving us that strength that, you believe in yourself it will happen you know.
I went and it's actually too long of a story, but I met a woman who hired the woman I was working for to walk her dogs. Her name was Nicole. Nicole is not happy with the service that the woman provided but liked me. I interned and brought her company because she was going to hook up with another dog walking company and joined forces. That was the start of me walking dogs and Dumbo at the places.
Suzanne: Rocky, I mean you've been doing this for a long time. I'm sure that you have some amazing success stories. Would you share one of those with us?
Rock: Sure, and this might not sound like a success story for those who don't realize how involved and detailed dog-walking can be. But when the dog is very timid, usually and the person needs a dog walker. They want the dog to be solo and you charge more but in the long run, you make more money if you can do group walks you know. Again, that could make it all about business but we all have bills to pay.
What I've done on occasion dogs that attended, well they're very aggressive they have to be walked alone. I've managed to get them into group walks and the people and that's stroking my ego here I've just blown away by it. They've even they can't wait when I send them pictures and post it to Instagram, “look like my dog Charlie it would never give him off to a dog and he's walking in a group of six”.
Rock: Well, they come home early from work and then they see their dog trotting along with six or seven dogs. They just really, they just smile on their face makes it all work.
Suzanne: That's a huge deal.
Rock: Yeah and the dogs were aggressive too. What happens is, now when they're not on my watch they generally go back to their behavioral problems unless the parents stick with what I tell them to do. But a lot of times they don't because that's their babies and they're not professional dog walkers. But on my watch, people come up to me and say, “is that so and so is dogs. I can't believe it because they were so to kill my dogs and right now they're touching noses and they're fine”. I said, yes, just keep in mind that when the mom or dad are walking them today we'll go after your dog again.
Suzanne: Yeah, right. Don't think it's been miraculous change overnight.
Rock: Yeah, no he didn't change anything but again they have to listen it's like what Cesar Millan caught on to. I am not trying to compare myself to him as I am better anything like that and no ego gone over here. But I'm glad he finally one day stood I realize I have to train the people more there's a dog. That's what it's about you know.
Suzanne: I'm sure that every day is a little bit different. I get thinking about, what about dogs that are on medicine and you know diabetic and have special care. Well, talk to us about that?
Rock: Yes, I'm glad you brought that up. People forget that dogs get very much the same illnesses and diseases that humans get you to know. If there's a dog has an issue like epilepsy or what have you, I get as much information from the clients you know. Because if one for my protection and but more so for the welfare of the dog. That's the way it really has to go. With this I then whatever the problem or problems with dogs have, I will research it on the internet. But more so I find out who their vet is and I will have a conversation.
You have to do this very carefully because you don't want the client to think you're stepping up over them. You know, “well okay what you told me but you know what, I want to hear it from the horse's mouth”
Suzanne: You become kind of part of the family in a way which leads me to the interview process with potential customers and clients. What's that like?
Rock: I have a consultation with them at their house which is free. Ironically, I interview them I want to ask them two important questions. Where do you live? Then I find her address I go is that out of my reign and then and maybe I can get them another dog work. Like I said or the people who incorrectly work for me or and/or what time frame you're looking for. If it's a goal right then and there the consultation it will happen in a physical way. Where I go to the house and then we talk further. Then I take the dog out for a nice walk, to be honest, so that I know or what the dog is about.
90% of the time people are honest but after I got burned a few times and realized the dog is just completely crazy and turned even on the dogs it was walking with.
Which that's rare you know. I mean when you first bring the dog there'd be a group walk that could be up to six to eight dogs. You don't have to start that nonsense no worries or the dogs, you walk in such a large group. It's overwhelming, dog how sweet the dog is.
Suzanne: You need an honest assessment.
Rock: Exactly. You bring up and I will unless they tell me the dog is hostile. I will on that first walk, I let the dogs that dog at all sometimes it's two or three to a household. Go up to other dogs to see what reaction will happen and then I will come back. It's not about confronting, I'll just say yes, it is and then also I will let them know what kind of dog where they need regarding color and various colors. My favorite is the easy walk honest because it's comfortable for the dog and it keeps them especially if the dog likes to pull, a lot of them do.
Then click underneath, underneath your chest so it to say if you clip it on the back and this dog is a puller so to speak.
The more you keep pulled on that leash it's like someone talking on the back of your shirt. What would you do? Think that will you try to go forward to get them to stop talking. As you might turn on want to slap them, but it's all getting a lot of doing that it wants to feel like I'm on a treadmill. So, what happens because you walk harness goes underneath the leg pitch. So, what tries to go left the right and a quirk manner it aborts bad without.
Suzanne: I was gonna ask you how do you handle difficult issues with pets?
Rock: Well, sometimes I don't. Like as I talk to them again as I come to the house if I think I can't what sort of repeating myself here. I will then get them, someone, I think who can handle is better than me. Because I'm not a certified trainer by the way, does it give us a difference? I'm not too proud there we go here. I have brought trainers in if I'm stuck on something. It's not even about aggression sometimes it's about the dog just being so having such difficulty wanting to walk.
Because they've come from a shelter or they come from a farm and now they're in this urban environment. If the dog is aggressive and I think I can take it on I start with doing lots of commands. Snapping my fingers which is standard for all dogs that I walk. This is mostly elevator buildings where I work and getting to sit. If they were in a sitting position should elevator door open or on the street and we're stuck on away, kept there sitting there in the, not in the position of a TAC mode.
They still might try to go for it, but they're not only on all fours you know and also, but they also listen to me better. As they see that I'm keeping them calm where there's a dog that they want to get aggressive with. They're more in tune to listen to me with each passing time that I walk them you know. By snapping my finger, by telling them to know and so for this. I don't reward them with a treat for that's something else.
Suzanne: That's standard.
Suzanne: You know we've fostered a dog for 2 weeks recently and trying to take two of them for a walk was a challenge. I mean how many dogs, did you say you walk at a time because I'm blown away by the number I think I heard you say?
Rock: Well yes, it's true I try to max out at six but the most I've ever done is nine. But that was only for a 10-minute walk and that dog went home and then I go, I still had eight.
Rock: I know it sounds to me and everyone has their own message with this what I like to do is have all the leashes on one hand. Because I'm right-handed okay, it might sound crazy but I keep all the leashes on the left hand. Some dog walkers do come up to me say man I just give it up to you. I feel the old one you bow before a Rockstar, and they'll say well I still have my pirate rock star. They're like how you do this man. I got like four or five dogs and I have to use two hands and I barely can do that.
But I've just you can either do it with one hand or you can use with it's not actually a dog clip but you get them from hardware stores They're just sort of rectangular shaped and all the leashes will fit on that. I also use that when I will tie them up to something so I can take some have a photoshoot you know. Then they're all sitting there in your attic and people come up and pet them and all that. But again, I keep it all on one and then I can react to anything that's about to happen with my right hand because I'm right-handed.
The thing you're most reacting to is a hostile environment. Sometimes your dogs as sweet as they are and mine are they love everyone. They come across a dog that I don't know they know because they only see it may evening, when they get walked with by their parents and in a flash, they want to fight. I couldn't even though it might be six to eight wishes I can grab that one dog's leash real horror him and have them sit. Then what happens they stick to form a posse.
The other dogs then will say, “hey I asked that Chloe up”, and that I don't even want to fight. That okay this is part of my crew member you know.
Suzanne: Cool, well so if somebody's hearing this interview and they're like you know what dog walking. I mean that feels like something I'd be interested in doing. What kind of advice would you give to somebody who's thinking of starting up the business up?
Rock: Don't do it, I already have enough competition.
Suzanne: There are other parts of the city outside of Dumbo that maybe don't.
Rock: Yeah, hey I was the king of the hill there for the longest time. I just by you know word of mouth but things change. Instead of Shakespeare would say, “instead of cursing the darkness, strike a match.”
Rock: Yeah, I've used that in many ways. They didn't have flashlights in those days, so he might have said turn on a flashlight.
Suzanne: Yeah right.
Rock: I would say, first of all, try to get advice from someone you know who's already established. If you don't have anyone like that in your personal circle, just go online and this is Ken where social media can be great. Check out how their advertising and check out their website. Stay focused decide what are you going to bring to the table that no one else can. You go oh Jesus always just walking the dog get over yourself. No, it's not and that's what people will pick up on. That's why someone will look at ten sites or ten advertisements so to speak.
Then or maybe when you look at two and say this person is talking to me. You don't have to do it my motto is its New York dogs rock you know every rock exclamation points and a dog with a guitar holding a guitar.
Suzanne: So, just I'm thinking about some of the dogs you would say once in a while don't get aggressive. What's the situation with insurance?
Rock: Insurance first of all, if you're going to go into this you better be an insurer.
Let’s just start with that, however, I have made clients sign off on more than one thing I'll give you a great example, thank you for asking this. I have them sign off freeing me of all financial liability. If they ask me to bring their dog to a dog run and the dog runs are a wonderful place. Because ultimately, it's a playground just like a playground for children, this is a playground for dogs. Even if it's a small one or a large one, it's when they really get along it's so fantastic.
But you can be 200 feet away from your dog and a hostile dog comes in that shouldn't be in there in the first place and goes to attack your dog. To some very nasty people along with their nasty dogs during their dogs there and they don't care what the consequences are.
Suzanne: I mean these dogs get to know you pretty well. Do you get the same dog walker every day as a customer or client yours?
Rock: I do my best; you really do with the exception of when you go on vacation you know.
People want to see consistency just like we want to see from our parents and our teachers growing up.
Suzanne: How do you advertise?
Rock: Well, back to social media I go through Instagram is my favorite. Facebook sometimes I was doing a lot of that and I was getting so many hits. They offered me free advertising but they've gone through so many transitions and there's a lot many more steps to Facebook. Instagram is simpler to work it's simpler to get the message out. It's very pet-friendly and it's based mostly on pictures. Whether it's, as a matter of fact, that's how you guys found me. Thanks to the form of social media, David Ratner found me.
He's in real estate you know what how does real estate link up with the dog walking. Well, he's a smart man and he also created this company now aside from the real estate that wants to promote local businesses and small local businesses. You know such as myself, which I really appreciate.
That's why I advertise and I put the pictures, videos, captions. Then I also again I'm not too proud I look at what other people are doing whether there's a renowned florist by the name of Roberto Gonzalez. Who does phenomenal work which just blows me away.
The setup he has is everything that everyone else has, he has it on his site. In other words, he didn't take from them. It is every possible thing you could do between the stories in the words and then I got the idea from him. If you want this to write some inspirations in the carousel, they call it. The carousel is like your picture you say then you have another picture you can put up to ten pictures and one post on Instagram, right. But then you can also write the stuff out.
I've those inspirations and recently some of my clients said, why don't you write what the dog the way you write us recaps. They're so wonderful, so personal, so humble and heartwarming to us.
My wife and I each turn on our own phone while away in bed and shut the TV off so we can read your recap of what else the adventures how's my dog had today you know.
Suzanne: Wow that’s so special.
Rock: Yeah, one of my Ex clients, because the dog passed away, she's written a book for a living. She said you know, I can't wait to read what you write because I feel like I'm actually dog walking with you, you take me on the journey.
Suzanne: Alright, if people want to use your services, where would they hit you back?
Rock: They can find me on Instagram. I have a website, Facebook. I've recently signed up with google+, the google business account. I've also signed up with Dumbo direct which is a digital magazine exclusively for businesses in DUMBO. I'll be their first featured dog walking company in a month or two.
Suzanne: Sweets that's a big deal.
Rock: Yeah, between this gracious interview that you're giving me. While on that note I just want to say a big thank you so much from me to David Ratner for finding me. We were corresponding back and forth by the way, between because I love this picture. I love what he wrote in the comments I could tell you very sincerely. A very special thank you to you Suzanne for taking the time and following up on this. Last but not least hugs and kisses to my clients especially the ones who have given me sound advice on how to promote myself in a social media world, that's relatively new to me and those who give me financial backing.
Suzanne: I love that, I love your heart your appreciation of that. All right, tell me one more time the official name of your dog walking business is?
Rock: New York dog Rock, that formation fine.
Suzanne: Love it.
Rock thank you so much. I hope that we can check in with you again maybe later this year and see how things are going.
Rock: Sure. I would love that and feel free if you want to be a social media person. But if you have Instagram or whatnot, don't be a stranger.
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For you the listeners of Brooklyn made podcasts, Audible is offering a free audiobook download with a free 30-day trial to give you the opportunity to check out their service. Please go to our special link and get your free copy at Brooklynmadebook.com, also check out our preferred vendor’s page on our website www.BrooklynMade.blog/vendors/ or at www.Ratnerteamvendors.com.
Also, check out our resources page where we recommend essential tools and companies to grow your business. We hope that you found this episode valuable; we'd love to hear your opinion so please leave a review.
Be sure to subscribe to updates on our Brooklyn Made website to gain free access to countless insights into Brooklyn real estate, culture, and business. You can follow this series on iTunes, podcast or via our blog at www.BrooklynMade.blog you can also listen to all of our episodes on our Ratner team YouTube channel.
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