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Breaking the Mold Dog collars in the vending machines? A personal trainer on a computer chip? Why didn't we think of that?

By Tracy Stapp Herold

Breaking the Mold

Yes, these are tough times, but you wouldn't know it by looking at these new franchisors. Although their businesses are very different--from party planning to pet supplies, home health care to personal training--each got off to a roaring start by taking a similar route. They began in a hot category (in fact, these are some of the hottest identified in our 2009 Franchise 500 issue), and then got really creative and started something no one else had before.

Hey, Master, Go Fetch!
Who:Hey Buddy! Pet Supply Vending Company
Where:15950 N.Dallas Parkway, Tower II, #400
Dallas, TX 75248
How much:Franchise fees range from $4,200 to $8,200; total cost $6,800 to $69,800
What makes it different: Vending machines for man's best friend

Here's proof that people will always pamper their pets: The American Pet Products Association estimates that Americans will spend $45.4 billion on their pets in 2009--up $2.2 billion from last year. But the recession has made it more difficult to get funding, and traditional businesses like pet shops, kennels and grooming centers can cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to get up and running.

Enter Carlotta Lennox and her Hey Buddy! Pet Supply Vending Co. Lennox's vending machines are the first to cater to pets instead of humans. The idea came to her in 1998, when she found herself in need of pet supplies while out and about with her dog but nowhere near a pet store. Over the next 10 years, Lennox pursued the idea of making it as easy for pet owners to buy water, treats, toys, brushes and even spare collars and leashes as it is to buy
a soda.

Hey Buddy! lowers the cost barrier to owning a pet-related franchise significantly: The total investment can be less than $10,000. The vending machines also don't require the same full-time attention that most other businesses do. As Lennox puts it, "While you're sleeping at night, your machine is still making money." Franchisees can even keep their full-time jobs and run their Hey Buddy! businesses part time, checking the machines on the weekend.

In fact, that's what Lennox does with her own machines in the Dallas area now that her full-time job is franchising. For her, it's all about "just being happy and knowing that I offer something that can make someone happy"--whether that something is a squeaky toy or a chance to own a business.

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