Woof Gang Bakery, a franchise retailer based in Orlando, Fla., positions itself for sustained growth.
Nine years ago, Paul Allen had a vision for a neighborhood pet store: a welcoming bakery with gourmet treats, healthy foods, pet supplies and accessories. His initial idea was to open Woof Gang Bakery as a small, single independent pet store in Jupiter, Fla. However, when construction for the location was under way, an outside inquiry made Allen reconsider his strategy.
“We trademarked the name Woof Gang Bakery, Gourmet Dog Treats Made with Love, from day one,” Allen says. “And during construction, someone literally knocked on the door and asked, ‘Are you franchising?’”
Allen, who had a background in franchising, had not yet considered it. “At that stage, I sat down with my wife, who was working full time in a marketing job. I went to her and said, ‘We might have something if we could get it right.’”
When the store opened in November 2007 and was well received by patrons, Allen knew he had the right balance to go forward with the franchise concept, and he hit the ground running. By August 2009, Woof Gang Bakery, Gourmet Dog Treats Made with Love, had nine stores operating as pet bakeries. But while the first nine stores had loyal customers, Allen says something was missing.
“Once we got to nine stores, we realized we needed to something else. The stores were not making the money that they should have been making,” says Allen, who now serves as the company’s CEO. “We decided, at our expense, to add grooming to each of our stores. The minute we added grooming, it became what it is today.”
Now, the Orlando, Fla.-based company, operating as Woof Gang Bakery & Grooming, Your Neighborhood Pet Store, has 47 stores across seven states—Florida, North Carolina, Tennessee, New Jersey, Kansas, Nevada and Texas. And the pet industry is taking notice of the franchise’s rapid expansion and success. The company won the 2014 Best Overall Multi-Unit Retailer (10 or more stores) Retailer Excellence Award at Global Pet Expo and ranked 15th on Pet Business magazine’s 2014 Top 25 Retailers List.
Achieving that level of recognition, however, required establishing the right balance of having a consistent brand message, while also giving franchisees the opportunity to put their own personal stamp in each store. Woof Gang Bakery stores are each an estimated 1,600 square feet, with grooming areas taking up nearly 50 percent of the square footage. They are designed in a signature pink and brown color scheme, and the centerpiece of each store always features a large dining table set with an array of treats and a chandelier hanging overhead.
The company is currently in the process of introducing a new store design. “About six months ago, we started to design the new long-term store. In the beginning, our stores looked nice, but weren’t perfect,” Allen says.
In lieu of a brown and pink painted floor, which will still be featured in some stores, the new store design features either a wood-effect floor or a tile floor. Instead of building cabinets to the floor, the fixtures will be built off the floor. “The overall look of the store has cleaner lines, and is a lot more user friendly than it used to be,” says Allen.
The design will also enable the company to grow at an even more rapid rate, as it can be built off-site, flat-packed and shipped to the final location to be assembled. “We are going to grow at the rate of a store every 17 days,” Allen says. “We’ve got to build and design our stores at that rate, sell franchises at that rate and train at that rate.”
While each store has a similar look, all have characteristics that are tailored to their neighborhood. “We trademarked the name Your Neighborhood Pet Store,” Allen says. “By doing that, we always wanted each store to have a different feel. We want the franchise owners to have their personalities within the store, and you certainly see that, particularly within merchandise.”
The stores carry the same 12 to 15 food brands for dogs and cats. However, franchise owners are free to add a personal touch to their store’s accessories selection. Spa products, toys, leashes, collars and gourmet treats are typically tailored to the area and the store’s clientele—and the corporate office encourages it. “We want them to be local to the market,” he says. “For example, if they are in Raleigh, [N.C.], we want them to have items that correlate with the college sports teams from Raleigh.”
The company also has its own private-label line that is exclusive to its stores, which currently has 45 items, including chews, bones, bully sticks, antlers and baked treats. Allen hopes to expand the private-label line to 160 SKUs next year.
“We wanted to have a private-label line that will position our stores like a Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods or Fresh Market—that has our branding on it and helps get that brand recognition out there,” he says. “We waited two years until we got the packaging at a level we thought would be good for our brand. Then, we made the investment to make the product from conveyor belts to packing machines to everything that’s really needed to produce, pack and store the products properly in our Orlando warehouse until the products are ready to go to our stores.
“If we’re ever lucky enough to become a company with 200 to 300 stores, and really position ourselves the way we believe that the brand can be positioned, private label and our own distribution is going to the key to the future,” Allen adds.
If private label is the key to Woof Gang Bakery’s growth on the retail side, there is certainly an opportunity for the company to grow its array of services. “We quickly became a monster grooming company, and we really owe that to our groomers,” Allen says. Companywide, professional groomers service more than 5,000 canine clients per week, and grooming services account for 40 percent of the company’s revenue.
“As we grow, we have to continue to push the services, so my goal is eventually have a wellness center for dogs in our stores.” The company took the first step in achieving that goal this year by introducing its first full-service veterinary clinic in its Boca Raton, Fla., location, which is owned by franchisee Dr. Barry Wander. The clinic provides comprehensive pet health care, including exams, vaccinations, micro-chipping, surgery and radiology, in addition to a pharmacy, prescription diets, and nutritional and behavioral counseling.
“Dr. Wander showed me the opportunities, not only for full-service vet clinics within our stores, but also with the wellness centers,” Allen says. “In the next year, we’ll start to push out full-service wellness clinics for dogs in our stores.”
This year, the company will grow in new and existing markets, opening its first location in Virginia, with 19 additional franchise stores opening in Kansas, Florida, North Carolina, New Jersey, Nevada and Texas. By year’s end, the company hopes to have 61 stores operating—and franchise applications keep rolling in.
“It’s a nice position to be in that when you get 100 applications, you can turn around and say, ‘There’s really only one of these that’s perfect, and that’s the one I want,’” Allen says. “Without a franchise owner, we wouldn’t have a business.”