Jenny Foley turned her passion for animals and the outdoors into a full-time business.
Foley, who attended the Fashion Institute of Technology, majored in home product development and marketing and worked with big names in home goods like Jonathan Adler and Michael Aram. After several years working in sales, Foley began to burn out.
“I’ve always loved animals,” she said. “My whole life I’ve loved being outside. I’m into hiking and being at the beach. Sitting at the desk all day just killed me and I was like, ‘You know what? This neighborhood is exploding. It’s still exploding, which is really great. I love dogs, dogs have always liked me. Let me see if this could work.’”
Foley, 31, was laid off in 2012 and enrolled in the Self-Assistance Employment Program (SAEP) while she was unemployed. SAEP helps individuals start their own businesses while collecting unemployment and she was able to attend business and marketing classes and find mentors through a program called SCORE.
Though there were already several dog walking companies in the neighborhood, Foley decided to do something different.
“Everybody in the neighborhood was doing group walks so I sort of differentiated us by doing individual walks only,” she said. “It’s kind of nice being one-on-one with a dog. They’re all individuals themselves and they don’t all have the same personalities. You can’t stereotype a breed and say they’re all the same.”
Now, Long Island City Dog Walk employees 15 people, who are mostly from Queens. Clients can sign up for a range of services like potty breaks to one-hour walks to overnight stays. Foley also heavily utilizes social media to give owners updates on the adventures of their four-legged friends.
“We send updates every day after each walk with photos and a little note,” she said. “Clients love that. They’re like, ‘It’s the best part of my day. I’m sitting in my office and my dog is having such a fun time.’”
Each of Foley’s employees gets certified in dog and cat first-aid to learn how to handle situations like an animal choking or getting hit by a car.
“My assistant manager Kathy and I will train new people almost for a month before they start out on their own, and they start out very slowly,” she said.
The dog walkers will almost always assist the same clients so the dogs can get comfortable with them and Foley will also learn each dog’s routine in case she needs to fill in for an employee.
Managing employees was the most difficult learning curve Foley had to face when starting her new business, along with time management.
“In the beginning you think, ‘I have to work 24 hours a day’ and when you do that clients sort of expect you to work 24 hours a day and it got to a point where you start burning out,” she said. “It’s really bad for your health and your mental stability. That’s a big learning curve but it’s settled now.”
In the future, Foley hopes to partner more with Yuri Olguin, a dog trainer who helps train some of her clients. She is also thinking about expanding her services to other Queens neighborhoods or opening a physical location but doesn’t feel the need to grow her business further just yet.
“I just take it day by day, year by year so far and see how it’s going,” she said. “I’m always kind of thinking about what I can do next.”
To learn more about Long Island City Dog Walk, visit licdogwalk.com.