An Australian Franchisee Case Study
Interview by Phil Blain of Franchise Alliance
Hoppers Crossing, Victoria
So Luke, what’s your background?
I left school at 15 and followed my Dad into the printing industry where I worked for several organisations over a 12 year period. Part of that time was shift work, which I found was very demanding. I saw I would never achieve my goals working in printing for someone else, and needed a change.
My partner Rebecca saw the HydroDog franchise featured on a Sunday morning TV show and we looked at all the dog related franchises such as Jims, VIP and Aussie Pouch but eventually came to HydroDog as the right business for me. One of the main reasons for this was that my research showed the clipping and grooming component was the most profitable area.
When did you become a franchisee?
I started in November 2004 in the Middle Park area but I now own the Hoppers Crossing franchise which is nearer home.
Your partner Rebecca is now also a HydroDog franchisee – how did you structure that?
Rebecca took up a separate franchise about 7 months ago in Altona Meadows. Prior to that, she also worked with me for about 12 months, learning the ropes and taking some of my workload. We didn’t want to be partners in the same franchise as we wanted to build a separate asset. Before becoming a franchisee of HydroDog, Rebecca had an office job. She now makes the same money she did working in an office, but only in a day and a half!
Obviously you have clearly defined geographic territories, how does that work if a customer from outside your area insists they want you as their groomer?
Yes we do have set areas, but all of my neighbouring franchisees want to work together and our main priority is to keep the customer happy and we frequently see each other on the road. There is plenty of work, so whilst our franchise agreement appears strict on this, we just work it out amicably amongst ourselves.
What do you pay in fees and do you get value?
I pay a flat fee of $172 and it is paid fortnightly. Yes I definitely get value for money but it annoys me when I hear other franchisees complaining about the fees. They forget that before they joined they had no idea on washing and clipping, or running a business for that matter. I am happy to pay my fees – if I was an independent, I would have to spend more than that just on an advertising program alone.
What about time management?
I have to be meticulous about this and when I make bookings, I allow half an hour leeway and I will always ring if I am going to be late. This is part of building the customer relationship – never letting them down. 80% of my business is repeat business and a typical customer sees me every 4 to 6 weeks.
What qualifications do you need?
A love of animals is a must – I don’t think you could succeed in this business if you didn’t like dogs. I can see myself working with exotic animals in Africa one day or something like that. Other than that, the qualifications I needed were minimal. When I joined, there were only 8 franchisees in Victoria, and I found it very difficult, as the support from the franchisor was not there and the training was terrible. We have a new franchisor now, Martin Rose, and things are much improved for new franchisees. Martin and I have had our differences, but we have worked through them together very successfully. When I started, I had to do what I had to do, just to survive in the early stages. I bought grooming videos and even went to a salon to learn clipping. But now I have a great relationship with my franchisor, and the system of support is much stronger than it was when I joined.
How do you grow your business, where do the new clients come from?
95% of my work is referral from happy customers and to me that is the best marketing you can have. I have customers who travel from as far as Ballarat, just to have me wash and groom their dogs.
What marketing or advertising do you do?
As I am busy with the referral business, I tend to concentrate more on exceptional customer service. I like to engage pet owners in conversation and will make notes about their family. If someone tells me their sons are in England, next visit I will make a point of asking them how their sons are going. I remember my clients now, but at the start I made myself write it all down.
If you had your time over again, would you still choose to be a franchisee?
Yes most definitely. I wanted my own business but needed the support that a franchise brings to me. My personal goal was to get a business where I could double my income. I have achieved that and now want to double it again. Perhaps I should buy Martin out!
Many franchisees are happy with the income the business can give them and aren’t as ambitious as me. I have had franchisees ring me and ask how I make so much money and when I ask them what hours do they work and they reply 9 to 2, I can only shake my head in wonder. What do they expect?
Has your business developed as well as you wanted?
More so. It has grown beyond my expectations and I get good reward for my efforts.
If you were to give a potential franchisee three hot tips, what would they be?
Maintain attention to detail, remember that you get back what you put in, and provide friendly customer service.
If you were the Franchisor, what would you change in the system?
Nothing really major. I would like an opportunity to pay annual fees over 11 months not 12. When I go on holidays and not hence not working, there is no income. Paying fees over 11 months would make paying the bills easier.
I would also like our franchisor to provide us with a floating support person, particularly in the first few weeks of operation so we can learn more quickly how to operate effectively with customers.
When you do get home, do you have animals of your own to look after?
Yes, Rebecca and I have two American Staffordshires and three cats, so washing and grooming them is a busman’s holiday but that’s an animal lover’s duty and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
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