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Lee Dancy: Top 20 Dog Business Questions PART 1


Podcast Barking Mad FranchisePodcast – Click play below to listen

Lee Dancy – Barking Mad Managing Director & Founder


TRANSCRIPT: Lee Dancy (Barking Mad Managing Director) Interview Top Dog Business Part 1

Hi everybody! Thanks for joining this podcast. Thanks for taking the time to do that where ever you are or if you’re walking the dog or you’re out driving a car or whatever you doing. We are just going to run through few questions that we have had from Barking Mad potential franchisees.

We always talking to people and finding out about what they want to do with their lives, new lifestyles and setting up a new businesses so we thought it would really be a good idea, for this (one of our first podcasts)to run through some of the questions, some of the top questions that we get from potential Barking Mad franchisees. (Continued below)

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My name is Richard and I am here with my wife Lee.

Lee: Hello everybody

Richard: we going to tell you a bit about ourselves and then we’ll get straight into some of the questions that we get.

So Lee, why don’t you just tell everybody a bit about yourself and a bit about how it all started:

Lee: Yes, sure. My story really started in 1999 when I got a Dalmation puppy called Bronte. Really really didn’t want to have to put her in a kennel and so I did a lot of research locally to see if I could find an alternative and I struggled.

I was really surprise that in my little dog walking fraternity there were lots of people who, I think used some of their friends, they used kennels but perhaps not as willingly as they would have liked.  But the most shocking thing for me was to discover that people simply didn’t go away if meant leaving their dogs in an environment they weren’t happy with.

So I decided to start at Barking Mad and I began by taking on a lady who lives on the next village to me and she used to look after Bronte whenever I went on a holiday and all of that year in 2000 and just really began matching dogs with recommendations, the years progressed and we started to take on more families. We have more recommendations from customers and really by the end of 2000 we were inundated with customers and I used to find myself busy collecting and delivering at all times of the day.

With the idea really, to sort of to concentrate all of my efforts on the business in the forthcoming year – I created a website and that was really the point at which our business took off in terms of franchising because we still use the website and when it went live we got enquiries from across the country.

Richard: Yep.

Lee: And now we’ve got more than 60 branches operating across the UK!

Richard: Fantastic. Just to explain anyone who hears things in the background, that’s Lotti who is with us through the recording (Spotty Lotti).  You might hear some sort of banging. That just her tail wagging that she tends to do regularly. Just come in a little bit closer to the mic.

So, great, okay! Some of the top questions are; we will just do 10 for now. If we writing this down, we will end up with more than 10 but if we just do the top 10, the one I guess that a lot of people are asking;

Q1: Is it easy? How easy it is finding customers for your dog sitting business?

Lee: Well, it is relatively easy. I think when I started the business at 14 years ago, people didn’t really understand what home from home pet care was. So it was much harder in those days because you had to explain the concept.

These days, dogs are much more part of a family and what was all our customers are looking for really is a completely peace of mind when they go away and they see Barking Mad as the perfect answer. They can go away knowing that their dogs are having a holiday while they enjoying themselves. And also because we provide such a bespoke service, our customers are happy to recommend this to other people – so recommendation plays a huge part in this.

Richard: I was going to say. Yeah. Lots of people heard of this from the referrals.

Lee: Yeah. I think the internet is really helps. It’s so easy now to find local services and we do a lot of in terms of social media and what we do online to make it easy for our customers to find us.

Richard: Yes. We are going to be talking about the Barking Mad dog sitting franchise but actually we also have Barking Mad professional mobile dog grooming and one of the reason we started that, was because a lot of people asked us for referrals; do we know anybody who does a dog grooming? So yes we do get a lot of referrals and strangely, getting customers is not the most difficult thing to do in running your own dog sitting business.

Lee: Not at all.

Richard: Okay.

Q2: Is the business age specific? You know what kind of age ranges do you get when people come to ask about Barking Mad?

Lee: I think a lifestyle change can happen at any point in your life and some of our most successful franchisees are both young and adult. I think our youngest franchisee entered the business when she was 24 and huge list of successful that are still with us today. Our eldest is just retiring at the age of 74.

So there really is not age of limit and with the business you can join us at any point.

Richard: And it is not mainly men or mainly women or couples. We have a mix of all types.

Lee: Yes, we do. We have sister and sister working together, mother and daughter and we have sole operators, all of whom take on of somebody to help them working in the business. Sometimes we have one person start a business with their partner joining them at appointed time in the future when the business demands it or the partner decides on a career change. So joining the business in one capacity doesn’t mean to say that you have to continue in the same frame.  You can change and set up the business to suit you.

Richard: Great. Okay. Another question that we had is:

Q3: How does is actually work? Do I look after the dog myself / how does it work?

Lee: How does it work? That’s really interesting question. There’s a lot of people do feel that their traditional root to becoming self-employed and being a dog sitter if you like, is that you will take on the full responsibility to take care after all of the dogs. Whilst in principal it sounds great, you end up looking after an awful lot of dogs at the same time in your own home and that’s neither good for you, your neighbours or indeed the dogs.

The way which Barking Mad works is that we organise for each dog to go and stay with a host family. And that family is specifically chosen based upon the requirement of the dogs. So the role is really for our franchise business owner, to get to know the host families really well and understand the type of dogs they are capable of, and enjoy, looking after. And then they specifically match the right dog with the right host family. So both the dog and the host and the customer, indeed the business owners can; once they’ve made the match, know that the service is going to work.

Richard: So the key is having a portfolio of host families that are available across the territory and able to look after different type of dogs. Because some dogs would want to be walked two or three times a day and might be very active like our Dalmatian Lotti  Or you might have a small elderly dog that just needs a little wander and doesn’t need to go anywhere. And also some dogs are allowed upstairs or on a sofa or wherever.

Lotti is not allowed upstairs here. She does trying to get on a sofa now, again.

So, okay! Great!

Q4. One question we get a lot especially kind of this time of year is, is it seasonal?

Lee: Well, the operational side of the business is seasonal in a sense that you are clearly going to be at your busiest during the peak holiday at period of that which is school half terms and obviously things like the Christmas and New Year play a big part in the business.

That’s the only part of it, that’s the operational side. Because our services so popular with our customers and often they would prefer their dogs to go to the same one or two hosts that have been selected for them and what happens is they book early, well in advance so operationally you will be busy in the middle of summer but very often customers are booking in January and February for the year ahead.

So an example of that – it might be that turnover in February is exactly the same as the turnover of July and that is because our customers pay 50 % at time of booking and then they pay the balance before we collect their dog.

So it means that the whole year from a financial perspective, it averages out really well. But operationally, you are clearly going to be much busy delivering and collecting dogs during peak holiday periods.

Richard: And talking about social media – I know that people tend to use us a few times a year on average and they are able to keep in contact with us on things like Facebook or Twitter or whatever throughout the year and this time of the year (November), we are reminding people that they might want to book for the New Year or they might want to book for half term or Easter or whenever it falls which means that we are always in contact with our customers no matter if it is coming up to a holiday time or not.

Lee: Yes, I think it’s probably worth mentioning that they don’t just use us when they need to go on holiday, many of our customers uses us on a regular basis because they travel with their work and other people use Barking Mad when going to hospital. In fact we get many referrals from GPs because if; particularly an elderly patient is due to going to the hospital for an operation and so forth, one of the big worries for them is what now do we do with their dogs. So we have a particular marketing strategy we implement when we discussing our services with local doctors.

Richard: And we have one service. Where I really like to get a good photo; is when people are getting married – it’s all really stressful and you have got lots to think about and your dog is part of the family and lots of people want to have; would love the idea of having their dogs at the wedding or for the wedding photos but actually you are going on a holiday and have got lots of people coming and going. You can’t really have the dog unless you have a member of the family whose really good and able to look after it. So the service that we do offer is bringing the dog to the wedding at an appropriate time, ready for the photos and all dressed up nice.

Lee: And have a brilliant photo.

Richard: Yeah yeah. If you look in our website or Facebook you’ll see them and yes that’s just another service.

So the dog can come along just while they are on holiday, to see you for the photos and say hello to everybody and then off they go again.

So, great! Okay.

Question No 5: How long has Barking Mad been going and why we should we use Barking Mad and why we can’t just set up our own business?

Lee: First of all, I started Barking Mad as a core business in 2000 in a little village called Tunstall and I had been operating this businesss for about a year when we decided that we would build our website and our website attracted lots of interest and that interest led to inquiries from people who quite keen to set the business in their local areas.

So we worked very closely with a franchise consultant over the next 18 months to turn what essentially was a small cottage business into; a cottage industry and start our business into what we now see as the franchise business model. We launched it with the British Franchise Association (Bfa) at their Exhibition in October 2002.  That’s the point where we really expanded and started having branches across the UK.

I suppose the biggest reason why business partners and our franchisees don’t want to do it on their own is because it’s a huge step from being employed to becoming completely self-employed. There is no business track record, there is no present business model and it although it seems great and the idea of setting upon your own is; it looks like it’s going to be more cost effective, the reality is that it probably isn’t. By the time you invest a lot of effort in creating your own website, understanding your business system and how you going to implement that, creating a brochure and leaflets and fliers. You’ve done all those things but you as an individual, that’s going to be pretty expensive.

With Barking Mad,

  1. Because all of those things are already done for you and
  2. Because our network is so big now, our bulk purchasing power is so enormous so we have things printed in 60, 70 and 80,000. And you are looking at pence for leaflets.

Whereas years ago you might pay £1.25 now it is much cheaper.  Also the support you get and that I think that, when you work on your own can be really lonely. Although it sounds great not to answer to anybody and when you’re thinking about leaving work, you’re thinking about leaving all that sort of hassle behind. I think there is a happy medium to having a bit of support and to know you on the right track, to ask help if it’s not quite going your way. When you work solely on your own, there is nobody to ask.

Richard: That is right. We just have a round of team meetings and we have what it is called an Advisory Group where the country is set in to different regions and all of our franchisees in those regions get together and discuss the issues and topics of the day.

And then they have, we have a head office meeting and then they go back to their region and discuss it and we also have, we have a lot of touch points throughout the year. We are having sales meeting at the moment in November. It really does make you feel part of the team and you can chat to people and share experiences and so on.

Also a point that I just going to make about coming up with the brand and the website and any ideas – we work with partners internationally where we actually sell the idea and the concept and the intellectual property of Barking Mad to companies who wants to set up abroad. They come up with their own brand and their own name and so on and we just had one recently in Saudi Arabia, believe it or not and it’s really hard work to come up with a name, come up with a strap line and a logo that looks right and colours and everything and all that time you would be messing around doing that and wasting time whereas we come up with that – we are memorable and we are number one on Google. All those things take a long, long time to establish. I think that is when you are buying franchise, you’re basically buying everything set up and ready to go and not taking all that time and making the mistakes that we’ve already make over the years.

Lee: I think you are buying yourself 18 months, the time it will take you from an initial concept, having any idea to launch and it’s going to take about 18 months to do your own business, to get it where you want it to be.

When you buy a Barking Mad franchise or indeed if you buy into the intellectual property rights you can move straight away.  There is no delay.

Richard: So, great, okay. That was question no.5. Question no.6 that you touched on little bit is: What support will I receive? Especially things like phone calls and system set-up-business practices.

Lee: You receive lots and lots of support with Barking Mad. We’ve got really big team now at our head office.

We fine-tuned our business model so our operations manual is up to date and it makes operating the business really easy. It is for all our franchisees and is available on our intranet system and our FIDO system. We purchased, a package which enables our franchisees to access all the information and all the documents they need to be able to run in and operate their business.

So that’s kind of the first thing. I can’t remember what…

Richard: It was about the Contact Centre.

Lee: Oh yes. All the support that we have to help our franchisees; So yes as well as having a support team, we also have a Customer Support team as well so if you are asking about you running your business, the more successful you are the more time you’ll be spending out and about and that means you potentially missing calls from customers and host families.

So the Customer Contact Centre came about because we work a lot on getting our message out there to potential customers and hosts. They are very important and they make a contact with us but people don’t want to wait and they don’t want to leave messages on answer machines. So the Customer Contact Centre came about and our network really couldn’t manage without it. It’s an absolutely fantastic resource and it just like using an individual business operator having a full time member of staff working for you Monday to Friday, 9 to 5 for an absolute fraction of the price. I think the cost is far less than it would cost to employ somebody for a day.

Richard: As we’re saying it’s not like it coming through a call centre where you can sort of hear 100 of people chatting in the background, it’s our own Alistair and Lisa or one of the other team picking up the phones. We are all dog owners, we all understand. We all have the empathy with our customers and we’re able to understand exactly what the customer wants and get back to them straight away.

Lee: Yes, exactly. I think you know there a flash point in your business when you need an additional support obviously in the early days. You get lots and lots of supports from the development manager because everything’s new. You’re going out marketing your new business, you’re telling people who you are and what you do. You need to know how to do that and what the most effective marketing strategy would be and now we’ve been operating the business for such a long time and we pretty much fine-tuned that.

But there are other points in your business when you will need much, much more: When you’re taking on a member of staff, when you’re looking to kind of adapt your business model to fit around a set of circumstances that are individual to you. It is much easier to have a support team to help you through to all of those things rather than have trying to deal with them on your own.

Richard: Yes, true. As we are saying that last year, Barking Mad won Franchisor of the Year Award 2013 for the support that we offer to our franchisees and that was a fantastic award that we won.  That’s a pretty good accolade.

Yeah. Actually one of our franchisees, Tina Young has gone on to win the main franchisee award this year with the British Franchise Association. So that’s great!

Lee: Yes, I think the competition is really hard for those awards. In our category in 2013, we were up against two including Belvoir Lettings and Tina this year was short listed against Subway, Domino’s Pizza and various of international brands and for us to have won those two awards which cannot be underestimated really. So pretty big achievement!

Richard: Some of the franchisees actually have a bigger turnover than our entire franchise network. McDonalds, Subway or whatever, they have multi-million pound turnovers.

Okay, Lotti just joining us for this section. Okay, that runs in nicely to, we mention the British Franchise Association few times.

One question, I lost count now. I think it’s Number 7 is who are the BFA and what is a BFA and how do they operate, how did they select the full members? Do you want me to answer that one?

Lee: [laughs] No, no, no. I want to answer that. Yes, I think the British Franchise Association is a great body because when you are looking to make a significant investment into a franchise, you want to know that you have got some kind of back up that somebody else has checked out this franchise business to make sure they are who they say they are and that there is somebody checking up on them to make sure when you invested your money, you are going to receive the level of support that you have been promised. We are ‘full’ members of British Franchise Association.

One of the very first things that I did when I became a franchisor was to take out membership and they have been really supportive of both myself and the network. They were a great source of information for me and of course they keep us up to date on the new legislation; but equally their focus is very much in making sure that the franchising industry has a great reputation and such they want franchisors to be appointing the right sort of people into our franchise businesses and to support them well through the duration of their lifetime and with their particular franchisor.

Richard: I think you can find their code of ethics on the website. I think it’s or something like that. You will find it on Google.

It’s also worth saying that when you very first start as a franchisor, e.g. we recently launched the Barking Mad mobile dog grooming franchise. What they want to do is have a look at, your trading history, you have to have a pilot franchise to make sure that everything is above board and they talk to our franchisees on a regular basis, they look at our accounts and they really go into quite a lot of detail about each individual business and how they are operate.

Lee: If you are a franchisor, there is no reason not to be a member of British Franchise Association. So if you looking into franchising generally, my advice would be to avoid those people who are not associated with the BFA.

Richard: Okay, great but I have lost count but I think we’ve got a couple more questions.

So, how about; Okay we do an easy one. Question 8 – What car do I need?

Lee: Well, car for the business can be a vehicle of pretty much at your choice, providing that it’s big enough to accommodate two dogs and all of their belongings. It has to be silver grey in colour and because of our corporate brand image and it has to be less than five years old.

Richard: Okay, yes they look really great in particular some of the new models that have come out.

Lee: Skoda actually have got some fantastic cars that our network is using and coming with super warranty and I think they don’t have the reputation now perhaps they once had. They offer really good value for money for good solid vehicles.

Richard: Yeah. A lot of people lease now as well, actually.

Lee: Yes.

Richard: They don’t own the car. Lots of our franchisees have to be less or five years old so you can take a lease for four or five years or even for just three years and get a brand new car and know exactly what your payments are.

So that works really well. So have at look again, have a look on our website, have a look on our Facebook page and you can see the photos and we actually have our hero dog Max, Barking Mad Max who lives up in the North East and he is, he actually in all our vans and he’s on all our cars and it’s really eye-catching for people. And lots of time people ring in as they’ve heard about us or they’ve seen us driving around and they are calling in as a result.

Okay, last two questions then I’ll ask you them together.

People asked us: Question 9: Do you think I’m right to run my own business. Can I really run my own business? and 2nd question: Question 10: Is it flexible or is it full time? Is it part-time? What hours will I work? So can I do it? And what are the hours?

Lee: Well at the initial meeting those are 2 of the key questions that we are both asking one another. It’s time to get to know each and to make sure that we can work well together.  We will always tell somebody we don’t think they are going to be right to be self-employed, with our business or any business as it’s not right for everybody. And our job really is to be a responsible franchisor is to point out all of the aspects of the business and not just the fantastic things.

So you are able to go away, make informed decisions about whether Barking Mad is right for you and the second part of that is it full time? It is full time, but it’s completely flexible.  Barking Mad is not a part time business. Our franchisees work full time. They work flexible hours to fit in with their own personal circumstances. Some of our franchisees have got young families or they’ve got older relatives that they need to look after but the opportunity is most definitely full time and you will go on to have employees in your business. The number of employees will depend upon everybody’s personal circumstances and your role within the business will change over the years.

Richard: Great. It is worth saying that you, although it is full time, you can take a holiday.

Lee: Yes, everybody asks whether or not they can go on holiday. I think now we have our Customer Contact Centre. It’s great so while you are on your holidays sunning yourself in Barbados the Customer Contact Centre is working really hard on your behalf, dealing with all new customer inquiries from host families and just even general inquiries which come through to the office.

Those inquiries are then passed on via email to your employee or if you are very new to the business and you have yet taken on an employee then those inquiries came through to you and our franchisees normally log in once a day and pick up the inquiries and they’ll deal directly with the customers via email while they are on holiday.

Richard: You can do this where ever you are nowadays can’t you?

Lee: Yes, when franchisees are thousands of miles away their bookings will just keep dropping in which is fantastic!

Richard: Yes, I think it’s really a good point and because if you speak to anybody who is not part of us and say they’ve set up their own business, the first 3, 4 years and maybe even more, I mean, you met people who say ‘I haven’t been on holiday for 10 years!’

Lee: Yeah, I think when I met you I hadn’t been on holiday!

Richard: Well, now you can. You do have to work hard. It is flexible but you can take a break and we recommend you do it at the right time.

Lee:  I think now I’m a parent. It’s nice to be able to go to school activities, sports day and have all of that goodness. Other lifestyles mean you can get caught in-between trying to be responsible to your work and also wanting to do things that going to make your kids happy which is being there and watching them win the egg and spoon race and you don’t get to go to those things again and to have been to the school nativity is great. I’ve been to pretty much every sport day. I can be there for our little girl at times when I would need to be without feeling guilty and not harm my business as a result.

Okay, I think we leave it there for now. Thank you very much. Hopefully this is all recorded properly and you can hear it.

Do let us you know what it’s and what were your thoughts are, if you get any questions, you can find us at it’s or just google Barking Mad and you’ll find us. Our Facebook page is  and our twitter is

The next stage if you are interested then go to our website and request more info

Give us a call on 01524 276476 and really the process is once you see the info and you think that might be something that you’d like to do – after a few initial questions, if we think that it’s looking okay,  we will invite you up to the lovely sunny Cumbria and spend some time discussing in more detail how the Barking Mad franchise really does work and all the details of your own situation and if it looks like it’s going to work then we will send you an offer letter and invite you to join the Barking Mad team!

It is worth saying that we don’t accept everybody because it is not right for everybody but we do make sure that the people that we take home are going to be successful workers because at the end of the day it makes our business more successful.

Okay, thank you very much. Will hopefully you can listen and we’re going to do more podcast and please listening to those and hope to see you soon and Bye!

Lee: Bye!


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