Dogtopia has taken full advantage of the growing billion-dollar pet industry by becoming one of the leading dog daycare franchises, offering dog daycare, boarding, retail products and spa services.
We recently interviewed Christy Thom, owner of the Dogtopia Orange County, Calif. region and the Dogtopia of South Coast store, to talk about her experiences with our four-legged friends, what a typical day for her is like and get her advice for potential franchisees. This is advice you don’t want to miss!
How long have you owned a franchise?
My partner and I purchased the Orange County, Calif. region in April 2013 and opened our store June 21, 2014. This month is our first anniversary for the store and second for the region.
What were you doing before becoming a Dogtopia franchise owner?
Never being satisfied and growing bored quickly I changed positions constantly. In 2000, I was done with gaming and went back to school. I was accepted into Clark County’s accelerated accreditation program, completed my Masters of Special Education and taught middle school. I found a true love… teaching. Next step was learning how to combine teaching, writing, racing and my life goals into a business. My husband and I founded Vintage Fuel Magazine and embarked on the greatest journey of my life that still continues today.
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We learned to survive economic turmoil combined with the brutal realization I cannot succeed at doing something I don’t like. In 2008, I committed to learn everything possible about success, how people succeed, defining success and defining what success means to me. I have observed, worked with, worked for and learned from many individuals both rich and poor. I have read over 53 books on success and prosperity plus spend hundreds of hours watching interviews, documentaries, reading articles and networking. I continue to evolve and seek out opportunities to share the wealth of information I have gathered and I use it to my own benefit.
Today, I have a wonderful business partner who shares my desire to teach individuals how to be successful and self-reliant. Orange Dog Holdings LLC is developing Dogtopia Orange County. With a franchise system, we find we are able to give people the support we never had while the system is designed to be managed by first-time business owners. We are women who want to help other women reach a whole, balanced and prosperous life.
Why did you choose your franchise?
My business partner Jan Folk is also an investor in Thomas Franchise Solutions (TFS), which is now the majority owner of Dogtopia. TFS performed exhaustive research to find the best franchise opportunities and Dogtopia made the top of the list. In addition, the pet industry has continued to see billion dollar growth through a stagnant economy making it an ideal space to be in.
What does a typical day look like for you?
As a master franchisee/regional developer we have the added responsibility of growing the Dogtopia brand in Orange County so a typical day includes working from our South Coast store to address general facility maintenance and upkeep. As you can imagine, dogs are very hard on buildings so keeping our store looking and smelling brand new is a top priority along with the safety of our dogs and staff. Dogs have varied personalities just like we do so being in constant communication with our team ensures they have the best knowledge and support to handle safe, healthy playrooms. Dogtopia daycares have quite a few moving parts so a great deal of time is spent making sure each of our service areas is being properly promoted, managed and tracked. The business is still very new which means we balance a great deal of time between controlling costs, generating new business and teaching our team to be exceptional.
As our franchisees proceed through construction and opening their stores we engage regularly to provide support (lessons learned) as well as find ways to improve processes as well as our marketing efforts.
The highlight of my day is seeing playful, wagging tails. It can be very distracting but also makes any stressful situation some much easier to cope with. Dogs have an incredible capacity for love and you feel that in our business every day.
What were some of the challenges you faced when starting your Dogtopia franchise?
Real estate – finding buildings wasn’t a problem but finding landlords that would agree to the use was a challenge.
Zoning – city zoning codes and special use permit regulations are unnecessarily complicated, confusing and full of fees for ridiculous reasons.
Staff – managing safe play in an open play environment is something you cannot explain to potential employees. Unfortunately employees don’t find out the job is not for them until we have spent hours training them which costs a great deal of time and money. We have also found the employees most likely to succeed in our business are quite young and not nearly as reliable or committed as persons with adult responsibilities.
Where did you research or get advice about starting a franchise?
Thomas Franchise Solutions, a venture capital firm headed by Peter Thomas, a successful franchise investor for over 40 years.
What is your secret to success?
Persistence, communication, attention to details and excellent customer service.
What would you do differently if you had to do it all over?
Spend less money in construction of the facility and become more involved in everything in the pet industry during our downtime prior to store opening. I would have also recruited employees from other dog day cares or Dogtopias for a couple of key positions to have staff that knew the operations inside and out.
Where do you see your business in five years?
An average of 80 daycare dogs per day and 7 franchise locations in full operation in Orange County. So far we have sold Anaheim Hills and Irvine.
What advice do you have for others looking to own a franchise?
- Franchise does not automatically mean you will succeed. Franchises fail every day and there is no more guarantee of success than if you started your own independent business.
- Be prepared to be hands on for your first 2-3 years. The franchises that succeed are those run by an individual or team that is driven and with a vested interest in the business’s success.
- Watch expenses like a hawk and customer service like an eagle. These two things can kill you, specifically in a franchise.
- You are part of a system and not alone, but that means to get the best out of your business you need to be an active participant in the system.
- Self-advocate. Franchisors may often times attempt to impose new rules, or require you to buy new things that are not in any way a benefit to the business. Franchisors sometimes get caught up in creating what they see is a perfect brand and business when in reality it is not what is best for the franchise. You are on the ground operating your business every day, be a self-advocate when you are not getting support or new and expensive changes threaten your financial security.
Would you recommend others be franchisees? Why?
I do recommend being a franchisee! Point No. 1 above is there is no guarantee of success but point No. 1 in recommending being a franchisee is that someone else has figured out the best way to run a business which is what typically drives startups to bankruptcy. The cost of sorting out best practices, how to market, brand identity, procedures, etc. etc. often times outweigh the reward of creating something from nothing. Many people desire being in business for themselves for the potential financial freedom not necessarily to create and invent every detail of something from scratch. Being a franchisee allows individuals to reduce operational risks in a new business by purchasing someone else’s foundation.
In the case of our business I would also recommend buying a franchise from a master franchisee or regional developer. The learning curve is shorter, the support much more hands on and you are reaping the true benefit of being an independent part of a system. The business is yours, you are 100% responsible for it, its success, its struggle, its environment, etc. but you have mentors and a support system to help through challenges and celebrate rewards.
Not all entrepreneurs save money to prepare themselves for owning their own business. A franchise spells out exactly what money you will need plus a franchise like Dogtopia that is already an SBA approved business makes getting funding much less complicated than an individual startup seeking a loan or venture capital.
Starting and running a business is incredibly exhilarating but also very intense and stressful. A franchise makes the process smoother while giving the franchisee direct access to people who have been there, done that and did it very well.
Anything else you’d like to share?
I never pictured myself as a franchisee or the owner of a dog daycare yet today I sit watching a German Shepherd, Labradoodle, Golden Retriever, Black Labrador and Great Dane in what we call a dog tornado. Captivated, I watch smiling thinking about how happy those dogs are swirling around the room and ending in a tumbling ball of fur. Laughter comes from the lobby as the Playroom Attendant radios to the Shift Leader, “Did you see that!” with pride in a job well done. Dogtopia of South Coast is, for most of our employees, their first job or their first leadership role. We have a young business, a young staff in a young industry in comparison to other service businesses. The challenges sometimes seem monumental but then I pause and realize this incredible opportunity to touch so many lives, human and dog, in a positive and profound way has been made possible by being right where I am today.
Where can people learn more about Dogtopia?
Visit the website here.