Franchising a Pet Business



Last month, five national pet businesses—including Pet Supplies Plus, Dogtopia, Petland, Aussie Pet Mobile and Wag N’ Wash—were included in Entrepreneur Magazine’s annual Franchise 500 list.


Every year the magazine ranks franchises based on a number of factors including financial strength, growth rate, stability and size. They also consider length of time in business, start-up costs and other data, which they then send to an independent CPA firm to evaluate and score. The highest scored companies become the Franchise 500.


So, how did these pet businesses get to be successful franchises and earn a coveted spot on the list? Like all businesses, they started with an idea, or purpose—whether it was a product that was missing from a certain market, or a service they thought they could perform better than anyone else—before evolving into the empires they are today.


“Dan Remus and Jef Strauss, the co-founders of Wag N’ Wash, both had corporate jobs and wanted to create a business model that would allow for them to be with their companion Geni [their Dalmatian] in her aging years,” says Robert Flanagan, President of Wag N’ Wash Natural Food and Bakery.  Wag N’ Wash, which provides professional grooming, self-serve wash and retail products, currently has 16 locations with plans to open four more this year. 


It can take years and multiple tries for start-ups to find the right formula for their brand to succeed. After one store is established companies begin to realize the true market demand of their products and services, which often results in the decision to begin expansion. “They wanted to share their passion with others, so they started franchising with the first new stores in Phoenix and the greater Denver area,” Flanagan adds. It’s best to start local when beginning to franchise, making the learning process of overseeing other shops and franchisees easier and smoother.


Franchising isn’t for every company, or every industry. Without the need for the products or services a company is marketing and selling, the possibility of expansion—or even sustaining current business—falls flat. Luckily, the pet industry is one of the fastest growing in North America.


“Demand and fast growth within the pet industry has allowed for Dogtopia to expand in both existing markets and new markets,” says Neil Gill, CEO of Dogtopia. Dogtopia provides dog daycare, boarding and spa services at more than 60 locations in the U.S. and Canada. The company’s past success doesn’t stop them from continuously learning more about the industry and evaluating current and new trends as time goes by. “We are constantly enhancing our model by leveraging our village of knowledge, a perpetual need for improvement and constantly delivering on world-class systems and support,” says Gill.


Once expansion begins, it can be hard to maintain the core principles and beliefs set forward by the original store and owners. They have to make sure their franchisees understand and follow the same core principles that made the company who they are today.  “Maintaining the same business principles as we grow is about a relentless focus on our mission.  This means not memorizing a lot of words, but living, breathing and acting every day on our core values,” explains Flanagan.


With over 4,500 active franchisors in North America, according to the World Franchise Network, it’s hard for companies to stand out amongst the competition. What can they learn from these companies that have successfully franchised and gained notoriety?


“First, create outstanding operational systems for your business model,” advises Flanagan. “In franchising, you are partnering with other business owners and the systems must drive the business.”


Gill adds that companies need to “establish a proven financial model with robust and repeatable systems, tools and processes.” A good foundation and operation systems that have proven themselves to work are key to profitability and growth.


Once companies have an established business model that works and have figured out a plan for growth and expansion, they shouldn’t rush into anything. Finding the right location and franchisee takes time and patience.


“The first franchisees should be more entrepreneurial and understand that they are pioneers for the brand.  Later franchisees will follow more established systems and their personalities should fit that criteria,” says Flanagan. Remember that while many franchisees may have always wanted to run their own business, they might not fully grasp the realities of being a business owner. “We communicate these realities during the discovery process and have planned touch points with each franchisee to explore the next step on their franchise journey,” he adds.


Franchising a business takes a lot of hard work and dedication to building a company that benefits both the employee and the customer. When it comes down to it, each business started with a dream, and a plan to execute that. That dream should continue no matter how big a company gets. “At the core of everything we do is our desire to enhance the joy of dog parenthood,” says Gill.


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