Dogs Love Running! is an interesting new low-cost, home-based pet franchise that enables people to do what they love and work with animals for a living. It’s a full-time, yet flexible, business. Their efforts to help pets live longer and behave better through exercise make them unique in the pet industry.
John Reh, president and founder of Dogs Love Running!, has about 9 years of experience working in the recruiting field helping computer professionals find jobs, and another 3 years of sales experience selling television advertising airtime on major cable networks.
Franchise Chatter (FC): Can you tell us a bit about the history of Dogs Love Running!?
John Reh (JR): My wife and I were sick of the corporate world and were simply looking for a “fun” job. After searching high and low in all types of industries, we came upon the idea for running with dogs as a service instead of the traditional “dog walking” that many people are familiar with.
We consciously ignored all our business school and corporate training to create a complex business plan around our idea and, instead, just thought about what would simply make us happy and enthusiastic to get out of bed in the morning.
With that philosophy, we had our first client within 2 days of opening our doors, first staff member within about 3 months, and were drowning in business by the end of our first year. This prompted us to put together a very structured and streamlined operational plan so that we could run the business as efficiently as we could.
When people started contacting us from around the country to ask how we had done all this, we figured that this interest, combined with all the processes and procedures we had developed, could be a great foundation for a franchise. So, we decided to expand via franchising and focus on being the best possible franchisor we could be.
We started franchising in Illinois (where we’re located) in the fall of 2011 and we’re now looking to grow with additional franchisees all across the country.
FC: For those unfamiliar, please tell us about the range of services that you offer? What are some of the things that set you apart from other pet set services franchises?
JR: Our strategy is to be absolute and complete experts in just a few areas. With that in mind, we focus primarily on “dog running” and “dog walking” services.
If you’re not familiar with what this is, our service is designed so that when a customer is gone during the day (typically at work), we’ll come to their home and take their dog out for a run or a walk for some exercise, a bathroom break, and socialization.
Our secondary service is “pet sitting” where we’ll take care of a customer’s pet(s) at their home for a day, a weekend, a week, or longer. This usually involves three or four visits a day to the client’s home. Franchisees also have the option to offer overnight stays at the customer’s home, private boarding at their own home, and other private and customized services that relate to pet care.
What sets us apart from other franchises and local mom/pop competition is that we focus on trying to help pets live longer and behave better through exercise. Everything we do has some athletic component to it. Other services may offer “dog exercise” as an option, but with a name like Dogs Love Running!, you can tell that this is clearly our main focus.
What’s really nice is that, even if a customer doesn’t need our “running” service, they still decide to use us for walking and sitting because they appreciate and value that we stand for living a healthy lifestyle. They know we’re doing something great for their pet even if all they need is just a casual stroll around the neighborhood.
Another differentiating point is that we’re specifically not all things to all people. We don’t offer dog training, dog grooming, pet taxi, food delivery, and other services that someone may find in other franchise options. The reason for this is because many of those services require different business processes, different labor skill sets, and other considerations that may ultimately reduce your efficiency.
We have a focused set of revenue streams that compliment each other and allow a franchisee to maximize the result of their efforts.
FC: What is the business model for your franchise? How do your franchisees make money? How much do they typically charge for the service?
Our business model is super-simple: Step 1 – get dog walking/running customers. Step 2 – schedule and manage your staff to make the required pet visits. That’s it. Franchisees make money on the spread between what they charge the customer and what they pay their staff (and, of course, covering the rest of their business expenses).
Note that we focus on dog walking/running customers because these are people that will typically have you visit 2 or 3 times per week all year long. This means that once you get a customer, they typically end up becoming weekly recurring revenue without you having to do any additional work. This isn’t a one-and-done sale where you have to keep hunting for new customers just to keep the money coming in. This is a business model where you generally get a customer, keep them, and just keep adding more and more.
We charge by the job that we complete. This is typically about $20 for a 30-minute visit.
FC: What is the estimated initial investment for a Dogs Love Running! franchise? What are the major ongoing expenses?
JR: A franchisee is typically going to need about $15,000 to $20,000 to cover the franchise fee and everything else they’d need to get up and running for the first few months. Relatively speaking, it’s pretty cheap.
As a home-based business that only sells services, there aren’t really any major ongoing expenses. Labor will be a franchisee’s biggest expense, but since we get paid by the job, labor expenses don’t go out until the revenue has already come in. To cover the royalty, bare-bones marketing, software costs, and other fixed expenses during the first year, a franchisee is only looking at about $500/month in costs. So, again, pretty cheap.
FC: What do you look for in a prospective franchisee? Are there any minimum physical requirements?
JR: With a name like Dogs Love Running!, the very first question we get from a lot of people is “do I need to be a runner to do this job?” The answer is NO. This business is designed from the ground up for the franchisee to be the business operator, not the person making the pet visits. The franchisee can make some/all visits if they want (which may require running, walking, or pet care in the home), but there aren’t any set physical requirements that someone needs to meet to be able to do this job.
The main thing we’re looking for in a franchisee is for them to realize that this is first and foremost a real and full-time business. The biggest mistake people make in getting into this industry is that they just want to play with dogs all day. This business can be a ton of fun because you do get to work with animals during the course of your day, but there’s a lot more that goes into doing this job well than just getting along with our four-legged friends.
If a franchisee has a true love for animals, has some basic business experience, and is dedicated to running it as a year-round business and not a part-time summer job, we’re happy to talk with them.
FC: What kind of training and support do you offer your franchisees?
Training starts off with about 3 days of in-person training at our corporate office. Once they get home, they’ll continue with additional homework we give them to make sure they know everything inside and out.
Franchisees can always contact us via phone, email, or video chat with questions. They’ll talk to a real person that’s on our direct DLR! staff, not an outsourced support person at a franchise consulting/management company.
This business isn’t rocket science, but it’s way more sophisticated than most people would imagine. Franchisees will have questions and it’s our job to provide them with all the tools and support to make sure their business keeps moving forward.
FC: What are you doing at the corporate level to increase awareness for your company and your services? What forms of marketing do you recommend on the local level to attract new clients at a reasonable cost?
JR: Because we’re such a localized business, the best thing we can do at the corporate level is to enable franchisees to be as visible as possible in their local market. So, what we want franchisees to do for marketing is to 1) Build relationships online and 2) Build relationships in person.
Online relationship building revolves mostly around a franchisee’s local section of the DLR! website and using social media to enable new customers to get to know, like, and trust us.
Building relationships in person is just good old fashioned networking; get to know vets, groomers, trainers, and other dog-related business owners whom you can share referrals with.
Like our strategy with our focused service offering, our local marketing is very concentrated on a few things that a franchisee can master and do very well with consistently. Simple yet sophisticated is what our marketing is all about.
Although we’re not large enough to do mass-market advertising at the corporate level, we create awareness through alternative forms such as PR, social media, a pet-industry blog, a world-wide podcast we recently started, and videos on both our site and on video-specific sites such as YouTube.
FC: Can you name a franchise (inside or outside your category) that you admire, and why?
JR: I love McDonald’s. I know that choice probably isn’t the most original, but there’s no denying their absolute mastery of what they do. Whether or not you enjoy their product, the way that they do what they do is both art and science. They know their market, don’t try to be all things to all people, and offer franchisees a fool-proof plan. That’s basically what we’re trying to do as well.
FC: What are your goals for Dogs Love Running! in the next few years and how do you plan to grow your business?
JR: I once worked for a company that grew so fast that they imploded and fell apart. With that in mind, we feel that our franchise has the opportunity to grow, but we’ll make sure it’s done in a controlled manner. We’re looking for just a handful of superstars to join us in 2012 so that we can start the ball rolling with positive momentum. If we focus on making current franchisees happy, we know that will result in faster and easier franchise sales for us in the long run.
FC: Is there anything else you wish to share about Dogs Love Running!?
JR: We’re excited to provide a franchise opportunity that isn’t just a money-making device that someone needs to grind through everyday to make it successful.
Instead, a franchisee with Dogs Love Running! gets to make a real and positive impact on both their human and pet clients that helps them feel good about what they’re doing with their life. It’s a business, but you can have fun with this job, too. And, as a side benefit, you can also make real money that pays the bills. We think that this is a pretty good combination of things for a wide array of people.