Franchise Players: A Pet Care Franchisee Changed Her Life at 21
This article was originally published on September 1, 2014.
Franchise Players is Entrepreneur’s Q&A interview column that puts the spotlight on franchisees. This week, we’re profiling young entrepreneurs: franchisees under 30. If you're a franchisee with advice and tips to share, email email@example.com.
Before working at Fetch! Pet Care, Lauren Morenz describes her job as “a small cog in a large machine.” Franchising offered her a chance to change her life. A year after beginning to work with Fetch, Morenz bought 70 percent of the company in 2010. At the time, she was only 21 and had no savings or personal financial help. Here’s how she’s learned to be the boss in the last four years.
Name: Lauren Morenz
Franchise owned (location): Fetch! Pet Care. Our primary territory is Champaign-Urbana, Ill.; we also own the territory of Mahomet-Seymour and Savoy.
How long you have owned the franchise?
After having worked with the company since 2009, I bought 70 percent of the company in August of 2010 from the original owner and now business partner, Kristen Duffy.
Franchising was what was available to me as I wasn’t the original owner. But having bought into a franchise and grown with it, it is easy to see why people choose to franchise.
Pet and home care is an industry that is built on trust. We are going into people’s homes while they are away, and taking care of their furry kids. When we do our new client consultations, we walk away with the client’s keys, credit card information, and the duration of time that they will be away from their home. Obviously, this demands a huge amount of trust between the client and the company. Having a corporate behind our individually owned and operated companies fosters the initial trust for the client.
Beyond giving peace of mind to our first-time clients, franchising also provides us owners with multiple layers of support. We get advice, troubleshooting, and help from our corporate support services. We also have a large network of our fellow franchisees. Being able to relate and help each other through hard issues and growing pains is an invaluable part of franchising. Sometimes just being able to shoot the breeze with someone who is in the same position you are and going through nearly identical situations brings so much comfort and hope in those low moments of ownership. Fetch! Pet Care as a brand really brings us all together.
What were you doing before you became a franchise owner?
Prior to my career with Fetch! Pet Care, I was a small cog in a large machine. I worked a desk job for a publishing house in my area. While I loved my fellow employees, I was drowning in doubt of the career path I had taken. My mom had just passed away after losing her battle with lymphoma and the crushing weight of her loss made me reevaluate where I wanted to be in my life and this short and unpredictable time we have here on the earth. I was quickly looking for an escape plan and I found the perfect fit for me with Fetch! Pet Care. Kristen took a big risk in bringing me, the business novice, on to manage the company in June 2009 while she went to law school. I took a large risk too: I left a steady job with benefits right after my husband and I bought our first home. Together, Kristen and I were able to grow our company that now supports three full-time employees, two part-time employees, and 18 contractors.
Why did you choose this particular franchise?
Our Fetch! Pet Care was already open when I stumbled across it. Kristen had a promising client list that was growing every day. I was ready for change in my life, and I jumped headfirst. Our franchise showed a very promising future, being located in a university city with a demand for the industry with very little competition in the way of in-home pet sitting. In a growing community with an increasing pet population, it was only a matter of getting the word out about our quality and consistent care. I readily shared Kristen’s vision for the company and knew it was only a matter of spreading the word for our continued growth.
How much would you estimate you spent before you were officially open for business?
For me, buying into our company was much less of a risk financially as it was already open and growing. From my young perspective, my buy-in cost was a hefty loan to secure, as I was 21 years old with no savings or personal financial help. My buy-in for 70 percent of Fetch! Pet Care of Champaign-Urbana was $17,000. (The best investment I have ever made!)
This loan amount doesn’t tell the whole story though. The true cost breakdown for a newly opened and growing company must be measured in those incalculable figures: hours of lost sleep, mistakes made, trusts built, and confidence gained; in essence: Time. To put a financial number on the time dedicated to a company is impossible. You eat, you breathe, you live your company day to day and it becomes a part of you -- the good and the bad. There seems to be no amount of time that is too much for you to sacrifice personally to ensure its success.
Where did you get most of your advice/do most of your research?
I was blessed to have a very business savvy partner. Kristen taught me so much initially and continues to do so. When we are thinking of expanding or trying something new and I need to do research, I like to explore the Web and see what other people and companies are doing. I also focus on grass roots marketing in our Twin Cities. This gets our company involved with other pet professionals and we have open discussions on techniques that have worked for them in the past and what hasn’t. Being in good standing with local related companies helps our overall presence in the community. This kind of networking cannot be undervalued. It is truly a resource for advice and progress.
Fetch corporate also has a great intra-network to connect all franchisees. There is a massive collection of blogs, research, documents and advice for all owners to easily access. Help is literally a click away if a franchisee needs it. Not to mention the communication of all of our fellow franchisees. We are encouraged to stay connected and help each other out to further the brand name. It is a very rewarding feeling of community.
What were the most unexpected challenges of opening your franchise?
There are so many surprise challenges when we opened and continued to run our franchise. One thing we deal with from the beginning is finding a way to get our targeted advertising the clients who need our services but aren’t yet looking for us. They have the expendable income for in-home service yet they do not know to look for a professional service to provide the care. That is a tough and often expensive problem to tackle. Another issue has always been finding good, stable, reliable help. We are so fortunate to have our current team. They all love what they do and are in it for the long haul. We are always looking to add to the team as we continue to grow, but it is awfully hard to find good help!
Personally, the most unexpected challenge I have dealt with is learning how to be a boss. To wear many hats and wear them well is hard. You must be a lot of different things to a lot of people and that was a difficult thing for me to learn. I had no management in my education or past experience. To learn how to manage effectively isn’t something that can be taught easily and I really had to just jump in and learn it by attempting to do my best and learning from my mistakes. You get to a point where you lose enough money on a mistake and you better hope you learned your lesson.
What advice do you have for individuals who want to own their own franchise?
My advice is to figure out why you want to be in business. If you have a solid grounding on what you are trying to accomplish, you will have a better, more direct company mission statement that will keep you more engaged with your daily short-term goals while pushing you ever forward to accomplishing your long-term dreams.
What’s next for you and your business?
More, more, more! But specifically, we are currently focused on our playgroup expansion. This is an alternative to doggy day care. We offer two two-hour groups a day. We pick your dog up with up to four other dogs that are prescreened by our playgroup coordinator and assessed on behavior, motivations, and personalities to assemble positive play groups. Once back at the dog yard, a fully fenced-in and puppy-proof area at our facility, the dogs get a guaranteed one-hour of off-leash play. They get to socialize, get all of their potty action taken care of, and release energy! We return your dog to you tired and happy. Most of our clients use this while they are at work so they don’t have to worry about Fido being home alone all day. It is something that the dogs really look forward to!
Since bringing on our playgroup coordinator, we’ve seen a huge growth in this service. We plan to open more groups as demand continues to grow.