It’s a little after 10 a.m., and the rain has held off just long enough for Mason Bauer and Sarah Hall to get to work.
Unburdened from school for the week, they delay their start several hours this Friday morning to lead an unusually large posse: their mothers, two former employees (who happen to also be their siblings) and a local reporter seeking an exclusive.
They take the disruptions in stride, understanding the life of an entrepreneur is nothing if unpredictable, and soon stand on the doorstep of their first client.
Julie Davis hands over her rambunctious golden retriever, Berkley, to Mason, who, at just 9 years old somehow manages to rein in the dog’s youthful wiggles.
Jones, the Davis’ elder statesman, stands alongside two other pooches attached to Sarah’s leash. The trio sniffs the grass and each other while Sarah chats with Davis, and Mason and Berkley continue their tango.
A minute later, the group bounds across the damp sidewalk — first stopping to check for traffic — cross the street, and they’re off.
Sarah and Mason are used to the hectic roundup. They’re among Essex’s youngest business owners and have been for the last few years. Their moniker, M.A.P.S., incorporates their names and their two siblings’, who accompanied the venture until leaving to pursue their own interests (an amicable split, it seems).
Sarah, the company’s oldest executive at age 11, traces her business savvy back to a win in her first major negotiations: a deal with her father that said they can get a second dog if Sarah pays for it.
M.A.P.S. has grown from those humble beginnings to now serve four neighborhood clients. And while it’s trimmed staff in half, the duo makes up for its lack of manpower with enthusiasm: They can be seen walking around their neighborhood well before 8 a.m. some days.
It’s an effort to achieve their ambitious mission of donating $100 to every non-kill shelter in Vermont. On Sunday, they dropped off a check to Maple Leaf Mutts, marking their fourth shelter thus far.
With 29 more shelters and dog-walking bringing in an average $5 per client, however, the entrepreneurs knew they needed to expand. So they began running summertime lemonade stands and now sell batches of homemade paw wax for winter protection.
Still, walking has and will remain a tenet of the M.A.P.S. business model. The duo is now looking for more neighborhood clients through a precise advertising campaign. The media blitz includes flyers, business cards and a surprisingly comprehensive website.
They even keep a binder that denotes a handful of options — Google Map printouts on which they highlight various routes like the “Elephant,” which, well, looks like an elephant. There are also plans for a shed they’d like to build one day.
That’s down the road. For now, Mason and Sarah are focused on providing the best service possible, learning a few important lessons along the way.
“Always have treats,” Sarah said.
“And Band-Aids,” Mason mused. Sarah, who admits she’s fallen a few times, agreed.
Doggie bags are a must. Friday’s trip was twice halted as they took turns picking up after a bathroom break (The rule: Whoever is walking the culprit picks up the poop.)
You must also know your clientele. Some dogs get along better than others, they said, and some are more likely to chase a bird.
M.A.P.S. fills a void for dog owners who struggle to find time to give their pets the exercise they need. For owners and dogs, the benefits are obvious. But the two business gurus receive something in return for their efforts, too.
Mason said he values helping dogs get exercise. “It’s just fun,” he said. His reason for loving dogs is as equally simple: “They’re cute, and they sometimes have a lot of energy.”
“I’ve loved dogs my whole life,” she said. “I always wanted to be a vet or dog trainer … if I’m ever nervous or anything, dogs have always just been like a comfort.
“They have no opinion,” she continued. “They’re just really great friends.”
Plus, they both agreed, there’s no better feeling than handing over a check and knowing their days of hard work have all been worth it.
Davis, the dogs’ owner, meets Sarah and Mason outside her house as they return from the half-mile trip. She hands over payment, including an additional dollar owed from a previous walk, and then offers up her own five-star review.
“They’re super, super, super amazing,” she says as she ushers her two dogs back inside. Jones, standing on the porch, seems happy to be home. Berkley, meanwhile, walks in, sits down and peers from behind Davis toward his friends through a small gap in the doorway, as if counting down the hours until they return.