From Dog Walking, a Business Bloomed

Carlos Puche (center), co-owner of this pet services store, started out as a dog walker, a job his family back in Caracas was not very happy about (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

Carlos Puche (center), co-owner of this pet services store, started out as a dog walker, a job his family back in Caracas was not very happy about. (Photo by Gerardo Romo via El Diario)

“I did have some business knowledge, but ending up with one of my own was more spontaneous than planned,” says Carlos Puche as he waits for his coffee at a small café in New York’s Hell’s Kitchen.

His shop, Coco and Toto, is just a few feet away. It is a large store where he offers all kinds of care and assistance services for pets. On Friday morning, there were nearly 40 dogs in the store’s spacious playpen.

It may have been spontaneous, but Puche is extremely mindful when it comes to service and details. Coco and Toto, named after his first two pets, currently has 18 employees, and grosses about $800,000 per year. Puche, who owns 50 percent of the business ‒ the other half is owned by his friend Ronald Brucki ‒ started his entrepreneurial career in 2007, and is confident that their billing for pet care services will surpass the million-dollar mark soon.

Talking to this Venezuelan entrepreneur about his career inevitably reminds us of the words of the Spanish poet Antonio Machado: “You make the road by walking.”

The co-owner of this pet services store started out as a dog walker, a job his family back in Caracas was not very happy about.

Puche was working as an accountant in Venezuela when he decided to come to the U.S. to study English 17 years ago. “It was something I thought would help me in my career.” However, your plans are one thing and where life takes you quite another. Puche didn’t return to Caracas to continue filling out spreadsheets in both languages, as he had planned when he first came to New York.

The political situation in his country made him consider settling here, and he went back and forth on a tourist visa in the hopes of “starting to open doors here.”

As he focused on learning the language and ate away his savings, his roommate walked dogs. To make ends meet, he too started doing it through an agency. “To me, it was almost natural because I have had dogs all my life and I know how to do it,” he says jokingly.

Puche says that he was surprised to see that the job, although apparently easy, was physically demanding. “You had to deal with several dogs at the same time, tend to the individual needs of each very different dog, give them water when they needed it, be aware of the temperature and of the salt that gets in their paws when it snows, among other things.”

“I spent four years walking dogs,” he says. Even though the agency named him supervisor for the area where he worked, he was able to amass a large private clientele to the point that he had to start hiring friends to help him out in order to continue growing. “There was more work, and I met Brucki. We began talking casually about opening a day care center for pets. We rented a space and started to offer services.”

“At that moment, I started thinking about the responsibility of owning a business: all the paperwork, insurances, taxes… We financed it with our savings. In the beginning, it was a very simple business. I put in about $25,000 of my own money.”

“We never saw ourselves having financial insecurity,” he says, adding that they started the business in 2007, when the economy was beginning to crumble. Still, the pet business remained strong throughout the recession. In fact, a little over three years ago, the business moved to its current location, with more space and facilities.

When he thinks about the future, Puche certainly foresees expanding. However, he points out that it is hard for him to consider doing that right now. He says that the hardest part for him and his business partner is hiring and supervising their personnel efficiently and making sure that they provide the same love to pets that they offer. “This is a delicate business. It’s like caring for children, only pets don’t tell you how it went in school today. It is not easy finding the right people to hire. Everyone thinks this is easy, but it is not. You have to be loving, careful about the hygiene…”

His family in Venezuela has seen the results of his work and now supports him fully. “I enjoy the business and I’d like my activities to be more closely associated with caring for dogs, but for now I have to be in charge of the administrative part and of supervising.”

He adds that you need to persevere in order to be an entrepreneur. “In this country, there are opportunities. You need to have goals, and working towards them is what will guarantee your success. Success is not just the money, but also what you contribute to your community in jobs, services, financial stability.”

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