An Australian Franchisor Interview
Franchisors name: Margaret Hennessy
Name of franchise: DOGUE
Tell us about how/when the business was started and the motivation behind establishing the company.
DOGUE was originally conceived in 1998 by Simone Kingston – inspired by her fash-hound Gulliver – she identified a major gap in the Australian market for unique and stylish ways to accessorise Gulliver and his pals, and opened Australia’s first ever dog boutique in Woollahra, Sydney.
Today we have five boutiques in NSW/ACT, an online store, and our own DOGUE collection of pet accessories. Also we have the DOGUE Country Retreat – our boutique hotel for dogs in the Southern Highlands. Each DOGUE Boutique & Spa specialises in offering unique and stylish products, and high quality and personalised grooming and day care services in an intimate environment.
When and why did you decide to go down the franchise route?
DOGUE started franchising July 2014. Franchising is only one way to build the footprint of the business and we certainly are looking at more company owned stores. The networking benefits of multiple outlets and a larger network is clear in terms of enhancing buying power and broadening intelligence. Franchising is a great way to achieve this growth.
While franchising is not as capital intensive as rolling out our own stores, this was not the over-riding reason for pursuing a franchise model….we wanted to bring more passionate owners into the business who cared as much about the brand and customer service as we do. We know being passionate about the brand and being active members of the local community are key drivers of success for our franchisees. Our customers must trust us with their special four-legged companions, and we really believe that the best person to deliver outstanding customer service is the actual owner of the DOGUE Boutique & Spa.
What have been the company’s biggest achievements/successes to date so far?
• Building a really successful pet industry brand in Australia and creating an excellent reputation for dog apparel, walkwear, accessories and grooming in the Australian market.
• Excelling at delivering high quality and personalised customer service.
• Developing a successful business model that offers superior retail, grooming and day care services.
• Launching the DOGUE County Retreat, a boutique Hotel and Day Spa for Dogs in the Southern Highlands. An innovative concept in the dog boarding industry of Australia, offering open, free range and intimate accommodation for dogs.
• Creating a thriving network of franchisees and company owned stores that are a joy for our customers to visit. Meeting our franchisees expectations and being able to see the true passion our franchisees have for the DOGUE brand. Opening our first franchise, DOGUE Gungahlin, ACT in December 2014, just five months after launching the franchise model. Followed by DOGUE Gymea in March 2015, DOGUE Zetland in July 2015 and DOGUE Balmain in September 2015.
• Launching our new website in May 2015 with a really fresh and exciting look that showcases our brand, stores, services and provides a great on line shopping experience.
What challenges have you had to overcome?
The roll out of the franchise model is both tremendously exciting and challenging at the same time. The biggest challenges have been changing the business model, through new systems and processes, and expanding revenue streams.
Helping our current franchisees build vibrant and successful businesses, broadening our geographical reach into new areas, while maintaining momentum in our company-owned store boutique and Country Retreat, are our main focuses at the moment.
Time management is also crucial for senior staff. Making sure we stay focused on becoming the strongest pet industry brand in Australia, and not getting bogged down in day to day admin and “fire-fighting” is essential.
What marketing/promotional tools do you use to grow your franchise?
We aim to maintain and grow the brand through a multi-channel matrix of various outlets where consumers and potential franchisees have the chance to experience DOGUE. We focus on content advertising though franchise sites, feature articles and digital forums such as social media. More recently we have focused on marketing to our consumers through various dog events and our customer databases.
What differentiates DOGUE from the competition?
The DOGUE customer experience is our key defining point of difference. We pride ourselves on the relationships we build with our customers and how we expertly and efficiently discern their needs. We have customers that have been with us for over 10 years and are as much a part of the business as we are.
Our customer relationships are based upon trust…in our products’ and services’ integrity, and our customer’s dogs are always treated as part of our family.
Of course in today’s competitive environment means going beyond outstanding customer service and great products. Beautiful store environment and presentation, combined with competitive pricing and strong value proposition is also key.
In your opinion, what makes a successful DOGUE franchisee?
Our goal is to provide the very best in canine care and services across Australia. To achieve this, we are looking for individuals who are absolutely committed to offering exceptional customer service, highly motivated, feel the magic of “DOGUE” and are truly passionate about dogs and their care.
Experience in business is clearly an advantage, but with the support of DOGUE HQ and our systems and training anyone with a desire to build a business and a passion for customer service and animals should consider putting in an application. We have a very rigorous recruitment process to help us select outstanding franchisees.
What changes have you seen in your industry over recent year? And how have you adapted to them?
The growth in the pet industry is projected to be 4% annually through to 2018 and the number of households owning pets is expected to increase. Customers are not only continuing to pamper their pets but they are starting to look for expert advice on a variety of pet-related issues. We have also seen the rise of the internet and online retail, which is a great opportunity, however it means that our customer service has had to become even more important in driving the in-store experience. Great products backed by enthusiastic and knowledgeable staff will always be a recipe for success and is what we are focusing on at the moment.
What does the future hold for DOGUE?
We are passionate about our brand and want to build it into the most successful pet industry brand in Australia. The future for DOGUE is growing a network that consistently displays exceptional customer service in every facet of the business, developing the DOGUE Franchise network through successful DOGUE Franchisee partnerships and being recognised as a key emerging brand throughout Asia, America and Europe.
What expansion plans have you got nationally and internationally?
We definitely plan to build the network across Australia, and have already moved out of Sydney with our Canberra franchise, based in Gungahlin. We are now focusing on expanding our offering to Victoria. When we talk about how big we want to be in Australia we are probably looking at 40 to 50 stores before expanding internationally.
What advice would you give to someone considering franchising their business?
• Set clear, realistic goals and be sure that your business model is robust.
• Do extensive market research to determine if your model can work outside the comfort zone of your home city.
• Have people on the ground that you can trust, but if not, be prepared for a lot of travel!
• Be prepared to take a calculated risk – there are no certainties in business, but the key determinant of success will be your passion, commitment and the team that you build around you.
If you had to do it all again, what would you do differently?
In the early stages of the business if we could have foreseen the changes to the regulatory regime around licenses and franchises we would not have gone down the path of granting licenses over the use of the brand.
We were probably also a little risk averse at times – when you see a great opportunity make sure you grab it with both hands.
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