(Ambrosio’s note: I’ve been wanting to cover a wider array of franchise industries, so when the opportunity came to do an interview with a successful franchisee of a top pet franchise, I jumped at the chance. I’m so glad I did.
Darien Fischer and his wife Janine opened their Dogtopia franchise in December 2008, right around the time the US economy was coming undone. It’s truly inspiring how they were able to turn their business around after a very difficult start. Darien and Janine got to work, took action and are now enjoying the fruits of their hard work. Thank you, Darien, for sharing your story with us!)
1. Can you tell us about your work background prior to becoming a franchisee of Dogtopia?
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I worked in the insurance industry as an underwriter and with software development. I wanted to change fields and owning a business was always a personal dream. My wife and I love dogs, and we had been taking our dog, Charlie, to doggie daycare a couple times a week so we thought we would look into opening one ourselves.
2. What made you decide to become a franchisee of Dogtopia?
When my wife and I decided that doggie daycare was the type of business we wanted to start, we researched all of the different franchises associated with the business. We always knew we wanted to be part of a franchise. We knew we would need help since it was our first business. Dogtopia’s values and business philosophy aligned with our own.
3. What is a typical day like in your life as a franchisee?
It’s all sorts of things: greeting customers and their dogs as they arrive for daycare and when they’re picked up at the end of the day, working with my staff to make sure all of the dog and customer needs are met, and, finally, working on the business to see how we can increase participation, make our services better, and cut costs.
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4. Can you name some specific things that you’ve done for your business that have produced the greatest results?
The first thing we’ve done is to offer each customer’s dog its first day of daycare free. It gives them an opportunity to check us out and make sure they feel comfortable leaving their dog with us without any obligation on their end. It also allows us to have time with their dog to make sure daycare in a pack/group setting is the right fit for their dog. “First day free” shows our customers that we are confident in our services and that they will come back for many more visits.
The second thing we have done is to really try to get to know our customers and their dogs personally. Getting to know our customers by name, telling them about what their dog did at daycare, and asking them how their day has gone, has really gone a long way for us.
Getting into this kind of business, of course, you focus on dogs because that is the nature of the business, but owners are just as important. Prior to starting our business, I was a little shy about meeting and talking to new people but, now, I am the opposite. It is really interesting talking to our customers and finding out about them. Once your customers know you and your staff, they feel a lot more comfortable leaving their dog with you, because they know you will take good care of their dog.
The highest point of our journey is right now! Currently, our participation is great and business is fairly steady. We have people in place whom we trust and can rely upon to help run our business.
The lowest point of our business was a little bit after we first opened. We opened our doors in December 2008, which was at the height of the recession. All reports were that the economy was in shambles and, for us, we really didn’t know if we could make it.
We became involved in a lawsuit with the general contractor who completed our build out. The general contractor did not pay its subcontractors who in turn slapped a lien against the property. We had to pay money for legal fees which we did not have. We made it through, but that was a hard time for us.
6. What mistakes have you made as franchise owner that have taught you the biggest lessons?
The biggest mistake as a franchise owner is that you cannot always rely upon the franchise to know everything about your business. You have to do your own due diligence when opening your location. Even though the franchise can help you in many ways, they may not know everything about the laws, rules, and regulations in your state or area.
Our location is the first in Colorado. In Colorado, there are different laws and regulations which set us apart from other locations in different states. We had to pay a tap fee to use water at our location and also became involved in a lawsuit with our general contractor because we did not follow specific guidelines when paying him, which would have protected us from liability with the subcontractors.
There were specific air-flow requirements which required us to get a special unit to attach to our air conditioning for our kind of business.
I believe if you are looking to get into a business working with and caring for dogs, this franchise may be one of the most profitable ones to go with. We are very pleased with the profits we have made from our business.
8. Can you describe your working relationship with the home office of Dogtopia?
We have a positive relationship with our home office. Any time I have a question or need assistance, they are always able to help. Their response time is very quick. We know the support staff at the home office very well and are very happy they are on our side.
9. What do you like most about being a Dogtopia franchisee?
Being with a franchise is the best. If I need any marketing collateral, all I have to do is order it online. The franchise has procedures and costs for expenses worked out so I don’t have to take a lot of time worrying about those kinds of things. I can focus on growing my business.
Along with home office, there is also a network of other franchisees whom I can communicate with. It’s been really nice to know that you are not alone — there are others out there who are in the same boat and that you can help and lean on each other.
10. Is there anything else you’d like to share with us about your Dogtopia franchise?
If you are looking to get into the doggie daycare and boarding business, I think Dogtopia is the way to go. We did our research and looked into other franchises (attended other Discovery Days) and knew right away Dogtopia was for us.
To learn more about Darien and Janine’s Dogtopia franchise, please visit the website of Dogtopia in Highlands, Colardo.
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