In the last decade, the canine economy has grown by leaps and bounds, even if the rest of us haven't fared so well. Doggy daycare, walkers, bakeries, boutiques and even dance classes for your four-legged friends have all helped pump spending in the U.S. pet industry to more than $50 billion per year, according to the American Pet Products Association.
But the latest trend in this sector is one pups might appreciate even more than an organic, gluten-free treat. Agility classes offer a combination of obedience training and playtime: Dogs learn to crawl through tunnels, jump over boxes, run obstacle courses and burn off excess energy in a gym designed just for them.
It's not the type of thing you find on every block. "People would always call my wife, Jaime, a professional dog trainer on the board of the International Boarding & Pet Services Association, looking for dog agility classes nearby," says Mark Van Wye, chief operating officer of Los Angeles-based Zoom Room, the dog agility business and retail outlet the couple opened in 2007.
Since Zoom Room began franchising in 2009, it has opened 12 units in California, Texas, Colorado, North Carolina, Florida and Wisconsin; 30 more openings are slated for the next few years, including six area-development deals.
All the agility and obedience training classes are developed by Jaime, a legendary figure in the dog obedience world who once taught a Labrador to pee in (and flush) a urinal. Her classes run from $25 each, depending on the franchise.
But it's Zoom Room's use of technology that really has tails wagging. The business is simple enough to be run through an iPad. Staff members use the tablets to ring up sales, check in dogs for classes, shoot video to send to customers and much more. "As far as I know, we were the first franchise to integrate the iPad into our business from the start," Van Wye says. "When we go off-site to teach a class, we can do everything we do in the store with the iPad."
Julene Kautzman, whose Zoom Room in Charlotte, N.C., has been open for about a year, says the mobile element has helped her stay responsive and agile. "I can be at home, in the store or on the phone and can look up information on a customer or class on the fly," she says. "Clients can register online--it's funny when you see that people have enrolled in a dog obedience class at 2 in the morning. But without that option, you could have missed that client."
But the thing that Kautzman didn't expect is how good the content element is: "Since we've opened, Zoom Room has rolled out four or more new classes. I would never be able to put the time in to develop those in my first year of a business," she says. "It confirms why you do a franchise vs. going out completely on your own."
Jason Daley lives and writes in Madison, Wisconsin. His work regularly appears in Popular Science, Outside and other magazines.