Ed Fernandez owns a one-man business in Salem, New Hampshire. He drives a nicely detailed late model pickup truck with his business’s name professionally painted on it. His clientele keeps him busy 60 hours a week during peak season.
Like many another neighborhood tradesman, he uses a computer to do his billing. He has worked seriously on his logo and name. He lists in the Yellow Pages. Like many of today’s tradesmen, he sports a sort of post-hippy look: overalls, beard, hair tied back in a ponytail.
He has a tax accountant. He networks with other small business people. And he speaks fluent business-speak, talking about his “market niche” and “filling a need.”
Ed does not mow lawns. He does not paint houses. He doesn’t repair windows or electric wiring or plumbing. He does not deliver pizza or newspapers or groceries.
He calls his business “Canine Custodians.” He picks up dog poop.
THE IDEA CAME TO HIM from personal experience. In the summer of 2002, Ed, who himself owns three dogs, was cleaning up his yard before a barbecue.
“I said to my wife, ‘I’d pay somebody to do this,'” he recounted. He was joking, but later that night, “I went on the Internet and found out that some companies actually did this, out west, in Arizona and Texas. So I started throwing the idea around with my wife.”
Working at the time as a delivery coordinator for Home Depot, Ed pursued his new business idea “after shift or on weekends. Time passed, and I got another full-time job. But about a year and a half ago, I got a real surge in customer accounts. It got to the point where my wife and I had to sit down and decide whether or not to go with it full time.”
The numbers looked like they could work, so Ed Fernandez “gave notice and took the first baby steps toward being a business owner on my own.”
THOSE STEPS INVOLVED logo development, detailing the truck, finding an accountant who knew how to handle small businesses, getting billing and paperwork in order. Taxes, Ed says, were “eye-opening,” an experience anyone newly self-employed has shared. He credits much of his success to finding a self-employed accountant who knew exactly what he needed.
Ed’s wife still works full-time, and the couple has health insurance through her job — like many another entrepreneur, Ed piggybacks on the conventional economy that way. The open market for health insurance, as he found out, was “very expensive.”
The business really began to take off when Ed successfully formed networks with other single-practitioner business people in the Merrimack Valley. That extended his range of client referrals, and he has now picked up his first business-to-business clients, with Greyhound Rescue Week and Doggie Daycare.
ED’S BIGGEST CHALLENGE? “Preparing myself for winter. Unlike companies out west, I have to shut down for the winter, Thanksgiving through spring. If I was going to run Canine Custodians as a full-time business, I had to take that into account. This winter I actually picked up a couple of businesses that I’m serving. So this year, for the first time, I sent letters inquiring about winter accounts, and I got enough to keep my business going.”
In season, Ed works hard. He leaves the house at six in the morning and gets back home about 5:30 in the afternoon. He allows that there are sometimes disgusting days, involving such things as rain and sick dogs.
“No matter how bad it gets, I enjoy it,” Ed says. “I enjoy the dogs, I enjoy the people. Those bad and disgusting days just fade away.
“Friends ask why I do it and I tell them they’ll never understand if they don’t have their own businesses. It’s mine. Even if this eventually failed, I can always realize that I made it work. I found a little niche, and I can always pick up and do something else.”
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