Mark Van Wye is in the dog training business. But to thrive, he needed to do a better job of training his own Company.
“We made a lot of the classic mistakes that a lot of new franchises make,” he admits now. His company, Zoom Room, offers dog training classes, as well as a “fun and sporty place” where owners can play with their puppies. It was inspired by a sport called canine agility, where dogs run through obstacle courses. “We wanted to completely demystify dog training,” says Van Wye, and dog owners jumped at the chance. His company started franchising in 2009 and grew to 20 units in five years, but those early franchisees then began to fail. By 2019, Zoom Room was down to just six franchise units — and Van Wye had imposed a two-year moratorium on new locations, giving itself time to fix the business. It now has up to 24 units currently open and 60 units opening soon in 21 states. Here’s what he did to get the tail to beat again.
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How were those early years?
There was initial excitement – but when I lifted my head from the sand I realized that although we had shops open, they weren’t going particularly well. We weren’t thoroughly vetting franchisees, we weren’t investing in the real estate teams to make sure they picked the perfect location, and we had no idea about the economics of the unit.
So you have paused new store openings. Then what ?
First, we had to introduce the idea that our service was repeatable. When we started, we offered a six-week program—you do it, you get a certificate, and you’re done. So I created a program that you could do for a lifetime with your dog. Second, we focused on marketing and technology. We had this great database of our customers, so how could we reach more people like them? We created our own algorithm and software to find the right people in the community, introduce them to the company, and have additional layers of technology to retain and keep them engaged.
The final element was planning – getting people to come as many as possible. We have a credit system in place, so customers don’t have to make big commitments. And we added flexibility. It’s quite normal in, say, a yoga class: you come when you can. By reducing all the friction points related to when you can come in, what commitment you commit to, and having so many options available through positive reinforcement, this led to immediate success.
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Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Room
Have you considered any bigger changes in the business?
We have not increased prices, we have not added other lines [of revenue]. The classic mistake that businessmen make is, “Oh, we don’t make enough money; let’s add beauty treatments or child care. But we haven’t changed the fundamental nature of Zoom Room, which is that we train dogs with an emphasis on socialization. We changed subtle things that affected how quickly people bought courses, how often they came, and the ability to effectively target ads with our technology. A nickel here and a nickel there is how you get to every unit making six figures in profit every year.
What advice do you have for others who run into a similar roadblock?
There must be something pushing you. If you have a business that has plateaued or is failing, you can’t do it for the money, because there are many easier ways to make money than taking something that is outdated, stagnant or broken. . You have to be guided by something, whether mission-oriented or goal-oriented. If you don’t have that passion and that ability to commit, get going, and build the team you need to accomplish that vision, then I don’t think you can do it.
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