When Gina Brugna, our NJMOMpreneur of the Week, moved to Lake Hopatcong development, she loved everything about living there except the hours driving to and from her recruiting job in Parsippany to let their dog out during her lunch hour. So when she tried to hire a dog walker and found nothing suitable in her area, Gina had an aha moment—why not create a service of reputable and reliable pet sitters in her development of 400+ families? Using her business background and recruiting skills, Gina launched The Peaks Pet Nanny in 2004, where professional pet caregivers give personalized and customized care to each pet in the client’s home. It’s since grown to cater to Northern and Central NJ, with over 50 certified pet nannies who have helped countless pet owners with walking, daycare, and overnight services. We chatted with this Lake Hopatcong mom of James (14) and Jonathan (12) to find out about her most unusual pet clients, why The Peaks Pet Nanny will never be like a pet sitting app, and the historic shore town that’s high on her family’s list for a top vacation spot.
What made you decide to launch The Peaks Pet Nanny? Before the kids were born, our golden retriever, Duncan, was our fur child, and he was stuck at home all day while I was working at recruiting job in Parsippany. I’d use my lunch break to drive back and forth to let him out before returning to the office again. Someone suggested I hire a dog walker, but there were few businesses like this in the early 2000s, and practically none in our area. I hired the kids across the street for a while to do the job, but I knew I needed a better solution. And then a light bulb went off—our home is in development with 400 family homes and lots of pets, so I saw a need. I have always wanted to be an entrepreneur and realized I could do this. I researched online, created a business plan, acquired insurance, taught myself how to build a website, and began advertising my business in my development, The Peaks. And before long, The Peaks Pet Nanny was born.
What were the most unusual pets you’ve had to take care of? Over the years, we’ve had our fair share of interesting pets. There were chickens who loved to be held like babies, a pair of pet rats who were really social and friendly, a shy chinchilla, and an energetic hedgehog named Dexter–the owners were fans of the show. And when I first started, I thought my first client would be a dog, but it was a feathery friend instead. The parrot’s owners were going on vacation, and he needed a visit with mental stimulation every day. He wasn’t caged and sat out in the open, and over and over again, I’d hand him old compact discs (CDs). He’d slide them onto the spindles of the perch—I was fascinated.
How does your family help out with Peaks Pet Nanny? Patric has always been supportive. The first year was a leap of faith because we went from two incomes to one without the extra corporate benefits I had at the time. About 8 years ago, it made sense for our family for Patric to help me, and we made it a true family business. Soon after he joined, we decided to split up responsibilities, so we wouldn’t be talking about work 24/7, which works well. Mainly, he handles the day-to-day operations, including assisting our existing customers and everything that comes with that. I take recruitment and assisting our brand new customers and all that encompasses. Over the years, James and Jonathan have helped out, too. They’ve stuffed paycheck envelopes and worked on card mailers during Christmas time.
Some pet services like Rover and Wag are gaining in popularity. What makes your business different? There is a huge difference between them and us. We’re not a tech company created in Silicon Valley—they are like Uber for pet sitting. I get a lot of calls from people who think they have someone coming, and then they get ghosted—it’s a nightmare for them. Each of our pet nannies is interviewed, screened, trained, insured, bonded by our company, and perfectly matched with your pet. We’re more akin to a concierge service. Because I come from a recruiting background, I have the knowledge and experience of hiring the right people, so you can trust them to take great care of your pets. I currently have a network of 50 extremely qualified, reliable pet nannies that support me and each other—many of whom have been with us for years. We’re a family business—you’ll speak to a human being and meet your nanny, and if something happens, we’ll have a backup nanny. If we can’t help you, I have two services that are professional associations that I recommend.
What’s something you wish you knew before opening your business? It is essential to keep up with the constantly changing world of technology. I always joke that texting didn’t even exist back when I started. I had been creating spreadsheets initially, but we invested in scheduling software with everything integrated. It keeps things organized and running smoothly and makes the process much easier.
Have there been any significant changes in your business life lately? I’ve worked from home for the past 18 years but recently switched to working at En Masse, a co-sharing office space in Morristown. I couldn’t be happier. When I’m there, I can be super focused on work and not distracted by the hundreds of errands that need to be done at home—plus, it’s a tax write-off, so it’s a win-win. After the pandemic lockdown, I looked for more of a human connection and found it in En Masse. It’s gorgeous and serene, and it’s nice to collaborate, share stories, or grab lunch with other entrepreneurs or people that work remotely.
What are some of your favorite NJ businesses? Co-working at En Masse has made Morristown my home away from home, and I love all the restaurants and businesses I can easily walk to. A favorite restaurant is 1776 by David Burke, which has delicious food, a great happy hour, and many events. I’m also a big fan of Apricot, a brand new shop in town with chocolate, candy, and dried fruit and nuts. The owner recommended I try this white chocolate coconut-covered almond, and it’s absolutely delicious. I love surprising my family with treats from there.
Please share some places in NJ that you and your family enjoy. We always vacation in Cape May. You can’t beat the beautiful beaches, restaurants, and shops, and since it’s a historic town, you feel like you’re sightseeing every day. Patric and I used to go before having children, and we’d stay at a different bed and breakfast every year. This year, we rented at The Puffin, located in the historic downtown area, to see the horses pulling carts, the trolleys, and everything right outside our windows.
What’s your best piece of advice for an NJMOMpreneur just starting? If you don’t run your business, it will run you. Create your hours and plan your day, so you get a break from work and won’t be 24/7 on your computer and phone. If you’re a 24-hour business like us, designate a trusted team member for support because you can’t do it all.