Our four-legged friends are not only a big part of our families and lives, they’re also inspiring a growing group of pet-focused franchise concepts geared toward their care and well-being.
If you have a passion for pets, here are five fetching pet-focused franchises that can help you bring that passion to your own franchise business.
The Bark Busters approach to dog training is simple, says Jeff Cooke, Canadian President and CEO: “We approach it from the dog’s perspective. Some trainers try to get dogs to think like humans; we’re teaching people to speak dog.”
Bark Busters has been training dogs since 1989, when the company was founded in Australia. Cooke, a former franchisee with the company there, returned to his native Canada in 2003 to spearhead development. There are now 20 locations across Canada, and 250 worldwide.
Cooke says that Bark Busters franchisees should be good communicators and teachers. “We want someone who can connect with others who are in a stressed state. This is empathy, something natural that our successful franchisees have. They also need to have a passion for what they do.”
Going into clients’ homes for appointments keeps start-up costs and overhead low. “You just need a home office, a car, and a phone,” says Cooke.
Franchisees come from varied backgrounds. “You don’t need to be a trainer because of our intensive training program. When trainers come out of our 23-day program, they’re on another level compared to those coming out of other programs.”
Cooke adds that franchisees benefit from Bark Busters’ established reputation, which includes a lifetime guarantee. “We get comments all the time saying things like, ‘We now have the dog we always wanted.’ Our franchisees feel a satisfaction – there aren’t too many jobs where when you leave a session you get hugs and tears and thanks.”
When the Greenhawk Group of Companies brought the Bark & Fitz pet retail brand into the fold three years ago, it was a natural fit with their established equine goods brand of 32 years, Greenhawk Equestrian Sport. “We’d always offered a small selection of pet goods in our Greenhawk stores,” says Garry Millage, President. “We saw increased interest in pets among our existing customer base, and so we saw an opportunity to move more aggressively into the pet market.”
Millage says they now offer standalone stores of both brands, as well as combo stores that combine both concepts under one roof. “It’s a unique retail environment – technical riding and equine gear, and then a separate full-on pet store.” Millage adds that many locations also include a grooming salon.
The company seeks franchisees who love pets and are prepared to work hands-on in their new business, educating customers about how to keep their pet healthy and safe. “It’s not just a job for them, not just selling a product. They’re giving active advice to pet owners on their best options.”
New franchisees work in the Bark & Fitz training store in Toronto before going into their own location to set everything up with the help and guidance of the Bark & Fitz merchandising and store opening teams. Millage points out that the company has a full in-house support team, including marketing, graphics, purchasing, and distribution from their 60,000 square foot distribution centre, which ensures franchisees have experts at head office to turn to for ongoing advice and support.
Millage says the brand is poised for widespread growth. “We want to expand in major markets specifically, but we have models for all population densities.”
Dog daycare and boarding franchise Dogtopia has origins dating back to 2002, and grew to 20 locations by 2011, attracting the investment of seasoned entrepreneur Peter H. Thomas, founding partner of Century 21 Canada. In 2015, he took over the company, which now boasts more than 44 North American locations.
Anu Dwivedi, Regional Director, Western Canada, says that Dogtopia gives the dog kennel industry a recognizable brand. “We’ve upped the ante on traditional kennels, and introduced premium daycare and spa services, all under one roof. Dogtopia really is a utopia for dogs and their humans.” Every room has an attendant, easy-to-clean walls and floors using a safe and effective system, special floors that are kinder on dogs’ joints, and HD webcams to allow owners to see their dogs having fun in a safe environment.
Dwivedi says that many of their franchisees have had previous careers, and now want to follow their passion into the growing pet care industry. “Early on, we felt that a love for dogs was enough to be successful. Experience has taught us that doggy day care is a business, so we developed Dogtopia University, where they’re taught the business of doggy day care. They also need the financial assets to ensure long-term success, plus motivation and drive.”
Franchisees learn the ropes at Dogtopia University in Phoenix. The four-week training program teaches everything needed to run a successful Dogtopia, such as marketing, sales, and operations. The company also helps with site selection and build-out, including renovating existing dog facilities to meet Dogtopia’s standards.
Dwivedi says that the quality of the concept and the expertise of its people are two of the biggest draws for franchisees. Getting to hang out with dogs doesn’t hurt, either. “Dogs wake up every morning excited for an adventure, and that’s what we want every day at Dogtopia to be like.”
In the early 1990s, Jim Walker was a franchisee operating two Global Pet Foods stores in Toronto. When Walker approached founder Morris Manna about a third location, Manna had a different idea. “He said, ‘How about instead of a third store you buy the retail side of the business?’ I was completely flabbergasted.”
Walker took over the retail side, while Manna continued to operate the wholesale business separately. By the late 90s, Walker had partnered with established franchisor Franchise Bancorp to buy out a competitor and expand even further. In early 2017, Walker and his two other partners bought back all shares, including Franchise Bancorp’s, to gain 100 percent control.
“All three of us who run the business have been franchisees. We’ve just crested 180 stores, and we are in almost every province in Canada,” says Walker, noting that Global Pet Foods is the largest privately-owned pet food chain in North America.
Franchisees benefit from the power of an established brand, says Walker, adding that low royalty fees, a strong supply chain, a loyalty program, and national marketing, which includes an exclusive Air Miles partnership, all factor into franchisee success.
Prospective franchisees should be pet lovers with some financial assets and business savvy. Franchisees receive six weeks of training, which they spend working with other franchisees and at a training store, plus ongoing support.
Walker says the 40-year-old concept has brought many firsts to the pet retail industry. “About 15 years ago, we changed to focus on only natural and wholesome products. We were the first chain to build our own private-label products, Nature’s Harvest, and to introduce frozen, raw foods.”
Pet Valu, celebrating more than 40 years as Canada’s largest pet specialty retailer, now has more than 360 franchise locations across the country. “It’s a franchise network compiled of dedicated, passionate pet parents that has enabled us to stand the test of time,” says Jocelyn Attwood, Senior Franchise Manager.
“Our franchisees are very passionate about animals, and are proud to provide the highest-quality nutritional products for cats and dogs,” adds Attwood. “The franchise network boasts owners from all walks of life, with many family dynamics in the mix. Many franchisees have been with the brand for decades, with some owning more than one franchise location.”
Franchisees train for two weeks in a store close to home, and for one week at head office, located in Markham, Ontario. Ongoing support is provided by Franchise Business Consultants allocated to a specific region, along with continuous online modules for franchisees and their staff. An emphasis on product knowledge helps franchisees and their employees offer informed advice to pet parents.
In addition to food and supplies, most new Pet Valu stores have dog wash stations, equipped with everything needed for bath time. Attwood says the self-serve dog wash stations also provide an opportunity for franchisees to host events in-store, using the dog wash stations to promote awareness for different local rescues and charities. The dog wash stations also supply a safe and easy way to bathe dogs of all shapes and sizes.
By Lauren d’Entremont