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Just walking the dogs


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POSTED: Monday, April 27, 2009

Erin Gerwig is a go-getter, as shown by how quickly she moved up through the ranks when she worked for Voyager Submarines. Now she is running a successful business that takes care of pets for customers who typically are either away on vacation or putting in long hours at their jobs. Gerwig, 33, is a graduate of T.C. Williams High School (”;Remember the Titans”;) in Alexandria, Va., as well as of College of Charleston in South Carolina. With her husband, Steve, she has an 18-month-old son and resides in Manoa.

Mark Coleman: How long have you been running Dogwalkers etc!, and what was your inspiration for starting it?

Erin Gerwig: I started it by myself in June of 2001. The inspiration was that I was working as a boat captain for a tourist company that shut down and let all its employees go. So basically I was left without a job, but I saw it as an opportunity to create something for myself, so I could be my own boss. And, you know, I've always loved animals—that's always totally been a part of my life. Also, dog-walking, pet-sitting was starting to catch on on the mainland—I'm originally from the D.C. area—but it wasn't in Hawaii, so I thought I'd give it a shot.

Q: What enabled you to be a boat captain?

A: Oh, well, I like boats (laughter). I came here wanting to be a scuba-diving instructor, and it naturally placed me on boats. So I was offered to work my way from deckhand to captain, and that's what I did, in two years. I got my hundred-ton license from the Coast Guard.

Q: Where did you learn how to operate a boat?

A: I worked for Voyager Submarines—similar to Atlantis but we were yellow. (Atlantis subs are white.) It was owned by Roberts Hawaii. So they taught me everything I know. We did sub tours. I liked it a lot, but I didn't want to stay on boats.

Q: Where did you get the business background to start your own company?

A: Well, I have a bachelor's degree in corporate business. I did attend a four-year college; moved here after graduating in 1998. I was 22 and I started the business when I was 25.

Q: Is your business a franchise?

A: No, absolutely not. Hundred percent me. I'm not against franchises, but I'm proud of the fact that I did it myself.

Q: What made you think there was a market for dog-walking?

A: Well, about 60 percent of the homes on Oahu have pets. I didn't know that at the time. Unlike when I was a kid, we would throw everybody in the car and drive six hours to go see grandmas with the dog. You can't do that here. So you pretty much have to leave them behind, and your options are, “;Hmmm, what do we do?”; So what I provide is someone who is equally as trustworthy as a family member but a hundred percent liable as a professional.

Q: Do you go to the homes where the dogs live?

A: Yes, that's what we do. The pets stay at home. They stay in their own environment, where we feel they're most comfortable. They don't have any stress, they're not exposed to any outside illness.

Q: Is this just dogs you're talking about?

A: We take care of all domestic pets—cats, rabbits, guinea pigs, lots of fish, turtles, mice, miniature horses ...

Q: What about the dog-walking part?

A: It's a huge part of it. We do a lot of midday dog-walking, and those are for busy professionals, basically, who work 12-hour days. They leave at 6 and don't get home till 6, and that's a long time for a dog to be alone.

Q: About how many dogs does your company take out for walks each day?

A: We have 30 dog walkers; some of them are part time and some of them are full time. I'd say we go to probably 50 homes, sprinkled throughout the island.

Q: Are some dogs easier to work with than others?

A: Oh, I wouldn't stereotype any breed like that, because I've met every breed, pretty much, and sometimes the ones you think are pretty nice will surprise you, and vice versa, so it pretty much depends on where they came from and their past—just like people.

Q: What's the most burdensome part about running your own business?

A: Well, maintaining the schedule is, for me, a big one. I need to make sure nobody goes missed—a missed walk.

Q: What would you advise people who are thinking of going into business for themselves?

A: Well, I would research what's already out there. And I would find a niche. That's what I would do. Because, you know, you can spend your time and money re-creating something that's already out there, but people aren't going to pay attention unless it's something they can't get. But research first. That would be my biggest piece of advice.