B.C. real estate icon bets big on dog daycare Dogtopia

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Dogtopia | BCBusiness
Image by: Paul Joseph

A burgeoning dog daycare business gets a boost from Peter Thomas

If anybody knows the ins, outs, opportunities and pitfalls of franchising, it’s Peter Thomas. Thomas, 76, brought Century 21 to Canada in the 1970s and turned it into a business that in its peak year sold $9 billion, with more than 8,000 licensed brokers across the country and 400 offices. Now he hopes to apply what he learned in real estate to other businesses—in particular, the booming pet market.

After founding Thomas Franchise Solutions in 2011 to invest in and support franchising businesses, Thomas began looking into the pet business, a $60-billion industry in the U.S. and almost $7 billion in Canada. That’s when he discovered Dogtopia, a Washington, D.C.-based franchise, started by Amy Nichols in 2002, that provides short- and long-term boarding, grooming and retail products for dogs.

HOT DOGS!

Total Canadian retail sales of pet products and services:
2012: $6.3B
2013: $6.58B
(Up 4.4%)
Spent on dogs: 66%

Canadian retail sales of non-medical pet services (grooming, boarding, training):
2012: $900M
2013: $959M
(Up 6.5%)
Spent on dogs: 90%

*SOURCE: Canadian Pet Market Outlook 2014, Packaged Facts, a division of MarketResearch.com

“I thought, boy, this is the perfect, perfect window of opportunity,” he says. “She had created a nice little franchise company with about 20 stores and had developed the systems and the controls necessary to run a franchise, which I had a lot of experience in.”

Dogtopia was his first multimillion-dollar investment through TFS. He not only became a partner and bought 50 per cent of the company on his birthday, September 14, 2012, but also purchased franchise rights to Canada with a group of investors. The first international Dogtopia opened in Coquitlam last November. “The dog business is booming in Vancouver, and Vancouver is a very dog-friendly city,” notes Thomas, who counts more than 80 independent dog daycares in Vancouver. “It means that there’s a huge business out there.”

His goal is to establish 40 Dogtopia locations across Canada within a decade, with stores already in the works for Victoria, Calgary and Winnipeg. The franchise fee is $42,500, but the total investment is closer to $400,000 to $500,000 depending on the location. Finding a building that will allow dogs can be a challenge, according to Chris Aconley, Dogtopia’s regional manager for Western Canada and owner of the Coquitlam store, but “when we talk to the landlord and we say we’ve got Peter Thomas behind us, that helps them accept us as a business. His connections are opening so many doors.”

Franchisees receive training in marketing, branding, customer service and especially dog behaviour. “The spending we as a culture have on our pets is crazy, and we want to be a part of that, but we want to do it in a way that we’re taking care of the dogs properly,” says Aconley. He adds that the company is encouraging local and provincial governments to develop standards for how dogs are cared for. “Any kind of service where you are in the care of someone else’s animal, it’s like being in the care of their child. There should be some rules and regulations around that.”



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