Ready For A Big Return
Entrepreneur|April - May 2021
The end of the pandemic is in sight, and many franchises are anticipating an explosion in business. Leaders at four franchises share how their brands are working overtime to prepare for the rush and win back coveted business.
By Stephanie Schomer

1 DOGTOPIA

PREPARES FOR PANDEMIC PUPS

For a dog, the pandemic has been the best thing,” says Neil Gill, president and CEO of Dogtopia. After all, when offices first shuttered and employees shifted to spending their days at home, pups enjoyed spending ample time with their owners. As a result, the dog daycare, boarding, and grooming franchise saw sales plummet by 80 percent in April alone. But in the long run, Gill sees a very different trend: The pandemic may ultimately be a great thing for his industry.

“Most organizations miss the signs of a tipping point, but that’s because a tipping point isn’t one single event— it’s a series of events,” he says. As he sees it, here are the factors combining for a doggy business boom.

First, the pendulum already swung back his way. Within weeks of lockdowns beginning in spring of 2020, some customers started to return to his business, which was deemed essential. (Juggling work and kids and a dog, after all, is no day at the park.)

Then came what Gill calls the “puppy binge.” Adoption rates rose 40 percent during the pandemic, and 76 percent of millennials now own a dog. What will happen to those dogs when the world opens back up? New dog owners will need a place to send their pets—and because Gill anticipates a pent-up desire to spend money (not to mention, for many, padded savings accounts from a year at home), he thinks pet parents will be happy to invest in great solutions. On top of all that, the federal government’s vaccine-rollout plan is helping consumers feel comfortable planning ahead—so he sees rising interest in Dogtopia right now.

All of this means he’s bracing for a business boost. “Our world won’t switch back on as fast as it switched off, but it will be a gradual, steady increase,” Gill says. “And we need to be ready.”

To help his franchisees prepare, he’s created a pandemic book list, with six areas of focus and actionable advice for owners.

1/ Marketing and brand awareness.

With so many new dog parents out there, now is the time to win their business. “We’re making sure franchisees are planning events, pursuing new local partnerships, really getting back out in their communities, with PPE, and bringing new pups into daycare,” Gill says.

2/ Strengthen store leadership.

Last year, Dogtopia created training for three in-store positions: general manager, pet-parent relationships manager, and canine coach. Additionally, it’s tracking customer retention and encouraging franchisees to be proactive. “If you see attrition, reach out to pet parents and ask them why,” Gill says.

3/ Retrain.

“If you have a team that can’t manage being busy, the seams start to split,” Gill says. Individual locations are encouraged to retrain staffers on daily tasks and priorities.

4/ Pricing strategies.

The pandemic changed Dogtopia’s business, likely forever. Years ago, boarding made up 50 percent of revenue, with daycare and grooming fees rounding out the other half. But today, daycare is 80 percent of the brand’s business. Franchisees are being encouraged to review their existing pricing models, and the corporate office is creating its own suggested updates.

5/ Review cleaning protocols.

Customers will want to know that any business is clean— and as store traffic ticks back up, that will require more attention and more supplies. Franchisees, Gill says, should make sure they have the equipment they need and prepare to adjust orders.

6/ Determine additional equipment needs.

Extra dogs means extra work. Anticipating a need for additional washers or dryers will help franchisees stay ahead of the game.

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