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Run, Jump, Beg, Shimmy

At Zoom Room Dog Agility Training, every mutt learns a trick or two. And so do their owners.

This story appears in the July 2010 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Maybe you've seen them on TV: Dogs jumping over hurdles, weaving around poles and running through tunnels at lightning speed, all at their owners' commands. And maybe you've looked over at your dog and thought, 'We could never do that."

Jaime and Mark Van Wye beg to differ. At Zoom Room Dog Agility Training, they teach people and dogs of all ages, sizes and backgrounds to blaze through doggy obstacle courses. The idea isn't necessarily to get the dogs into national competitions--though, indeed, some do--but to make obedience training fun instead of a chore.

Jaime, a professional dog trainer, and Mark, a marketing expert, opened their first Zoom Room in 2006 in Culver City, Calif. After just a year, they had more than 500 canine clients. 'It becomes a big part of people's lives," Jaime says. 'We've actually had to invent new classes because people keep asking, 'What's next?'" So far, there are sessions on dog acting, scent tracking, therapy dog training and a four-legged version of pilates, 'pup-lates," for core-strengthening. Of course.

As they prepared for the September opening of their second location in Hollywood, after having sold the first to a franchisee last year, they sat down with Entrepreneur and their dog, Clyde, a shaggy komondor who makes up in enthusiasm what he lacks in agility.

This is such a unique business. Why franchise?
Jaime:The model franchises really well. It's very dependent upon the owners' relationships with their clients, and I know pet owners are crazy about their dogs.

Mark:People are looking for affordable stuff they can do with their family--including the dog--so we actually saw a bump in business during the recession.

How much do you charge?
We don't set prices for our franchisees. At the Culver City location, group classes are $25 per session and private training is $75 an hour.

How do you market the business?
M:We've been pursuing story-centered national coverage. For example, we just sponsored America's Best Dog Trick Contest online, and we got great press from that. We also got invited to host a dog park for the MTV Movie Awards in June.

Do you have to be a dog trainer to own a Zoom Room?
M:It's almost better not to have dog-training experience. If someone comes to us and we know they're smart, ambitious and get the concept, we can teach them. Jaime has developed an online curriculum for our franchisees that's like a grad-school course in animal behavior.

J:It takes eight to 12 weeks, and we require that they volunteer in an animal shelter as well. After that, we bring them out here for hands-on training.

So what do you look for in franchisees?
M:Really good communication skills. This really isn't a dog business, it's a people business. And the clients--the two-legged ones--are the ones paying the bills at the end of the day, so it's all about giving them an amazing experience.

Fess up. Can any dog do agility?
M:Absolutely. We've had a 14-year-old beagle, a 3-pound Chihuahua and even two deaf dogs take our classes. It's a wonderful medium for fostering communication skills and building confidence, which is really what we're about.

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