Mark Van Wye is in dog training. But to thrive, he had to do his job better own company.
“We made a lot of the classic mistakes that many new franchises make,” he now admits. His company, Zoom Room, offers dog training classes as well as “a fun, sporty place” where owners can play with their pups. It was inspired by a sport called agility, in which dogs run through obstacle courses. “We wanted to completely demystify dog training,” says Van Wye, and dog owners took the opportunity. His company started franchising in 2009 and grew to 20 units in five years, but then those early franchisees started to fail. In 2019, Zoom Room had only six franchise units left — and Van Wye had put in place a two-year moratorium on new locations, giving him time to fix the business. Now there are up to 24 units open and soon 60 units in 21 states. Here’s what he did to make the tail wag again.
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What were those early years like?
There was an initial excitement – but when I got my head out of the sand I realized that although we had shops Open, they didn’t do particularly well. We didn’t do a thorough screening of franchisees, didn’t invest in real estate teams to make sure they pick the perfect location, and we had no idea what the unit economy was like.
So you press pause on new store openings. What then?
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 it’s over. So I created a curriculum that you can do with your dog for the rest of your life. Second, we focused on marketing and technology. We had a huge database of our customers, so how could we reach more people like them? We developed our own algorithm and software to find the right people in the community, let them know about the company, and had additional layers of technology to engage and keep them engaged.
The last piece was planning – getting people in as much as possible. We have set up a credit system so that customers do not have to make major commitments. And we’ve added flexibility. This is very normal in, say, a yoga class: you come in when you can. Reducing all the friction points of when you can get in, what commitment you sign up for, and having so many options available through positive reinforcement led to instant success.
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Image Credit: Courtesy of Zoom Room
Have you considered bigger changes in the company?
We haven’t increased the prices, we haven’t added any other rules [of revenue]. The classic mistake business people make is, “Oh, we don’t make enough money; let’s add care or childcare to it.” But we haven’t changed the fundamental nature of Zoom Room, which is that we do dog training with an emphasis on socialization. We changed subtle things that impacted the speed at which people bought lessons, how often they attended, and the ability to effectively target the ads with our technology. A penny here and a penny there is how you get to each unit that makes six digits of profit every year.
What advice do you have for others hitting a similar roadblock?
There must be something that drives you. If you have a business that is stuck or failing then you can’t do it for the money because there are much easier ways to make money than tackling something that is old, silent or broken. You need to be guided by something, be it mission-driven or goal-oriented. If you don’t have that passion and ability to commit, go all in and build the team you need to make that vision a reality, then I don’t think you can do it.
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