Summer 2015
Opportunity Barks in the $58 Billion Pet Industry

Woof Gang Bakery & Wellness Centers are primed to grow to 77 franchise locations in 2015. Learn how they’re doing it.

It’s a place where everybody knows your (dog’s) name. It was in 2007 when the level of service at their local pet store disappointed Paul Allen and his wife Cara. Already ardent pet lovers and devoted to the cause of animal rescue, the couple launched the first Woof Gang Bakery in Jupiter, Florida, late that year. The focus is on the best of everything: the best food and the best service, says CEO and co-owner, Paul Allen. “We know our customers and their dogs on a
first-name basis.”

It is this simple formula that has yielded rich dividends for Woof Gang Bakery. Right from the outset, there was a sustained interest from customers who wanted to recreate Woof Gang as a franchise concept, Allen says. The very first franchise location opened in Palm Beach Gardens, Florida, in mid-2008; Woof Gang is expected to grow to 77 locations across the country in 2015. It doesn’t hurt that the pet industry is an extremely lucrative one. According to the American Pet Products Association, approximately 82 million homes in the United States own a pet and Americans will spend more than $58 billion this year on pet supplies and care.

Service unleashed

Each Woof Gang Bakery store carries approximately 15 lines of food—these include dry kibble and raw freeze-dried options. In addition, stores stock dog treats, of course, and leashes and collars and boutique items. The Woof Gang private label range currently offers 120 different products from baked goods to antlers and poop bags. Emphasizing best-of-class service, each location also offers grooming. “The best part of the service equation is that it can never be copied online and then you’re not competing against the Amazons of the world,” Allen points out. Since the company introduced grooming three years ago, it is a part of the business that has seen meteoric growth. “We now see 7,000 dogs a week for grooming,” Allen reports.

Grooming is just one part of Woof Gang’s multipronged approach into broadening its menu of services; transitioning from a retailer that also provides service to a service provider that also does retail. Woof Gang Wellness Centers, similar to a Minute Clinic at CVS, will be introduced as part of each store and will be phased in over time. While details are still being ironed out, Allen expects the centers will offer basic vet services, grooming and doggie massage. Doggie daycares are also a part of a few stores.

Embarking on a franchise

While Woof Gang is seeing strong growth, it is also targeted and measured. The essential qualification to become a franchisee? “Somebody who loves animals as much as we do,” Allen says. “You can tell the type of person who really wants to have a career in the pet industry. This is not for just investors. We look for somebody who lives in the area, who understands that market, whose friends are in that town.” Interestingly enough, most franchise owners started out as customers at Woof Gang. A Discovery Day when potential franchisees get to learn the lay of the land, is especially useful. A total average capital layout (all liquid) of $130,000 is required for a franchise store. This can vary depending on size and services. Monthly royalties are
5 percent. Allen says the company’s marketing and support team does everything to ensure the franchisee’s success—from social media marketing to store visits and on-site support. Woof Gang does have corporate-owned stores as well, but they’re mainly used as bases for expansion into other states. “It gives us a regional office that can support our stores in that market,” Allen says. Case in point: the store in Savannah, Georgia, located at City Market, attracts 300 customers a day, and can be used as a base for growth in the Peach State. Plans are underway to expand into high-traffic shopping centers and airports.

A special training center in Orlando, where the company is headquartered, will accommodate growth by not only hosting franchisees for training and customer support sessions but also as a base to build prefabricated models of future stores. Allen says a lot of time is spent in build out at sites, a process that can be made more efficient by building the store in Orlando and then shipping a flat-packed version of it to different sites. Made of composite and recycled materials, these pre-fab versions mean franchisees can get started faster and that it would be easier for Woof Gang to keep tabs on store design and look. All in all, plenty to wag about.

The Allens have their own woof gang: Monty, a 14-year-old Chihuahua mix and Sasha, a two-year-old Doberman mix.

Poornima Apte

Poornima Apte is a Boston-area freelance writer and editor specializing in retail and the book publishing industry. Learn more at wordcumulus.wordpress.com.
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