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Welcome to Your Neighborhood Pet Store

Paul and Cara Allen set out to create a pet retail environment where “everyone knows your name”—and your pets’ names, too.


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Paul and Cara Allen had been frequenting the same pet supply retailer week after week and had yet to be greeted by name or to experience a satisfactory level of service.

“It was cold; no one knew us or our dogs,” Paul said. “As an animal lover and rescuer, Cara wanted to open a store that would deliver the personal service she found lacking.”

Cara’s marketing background, combined with Paul’s own expertise in the franchise world, would merge perfectly for the new endeavor.

“We got it right from the outset,” Paul said. “The design, the color scheme—it all just worked.”

While the store was still under construction, someone asked if the new boutique was a franchise and, if so, whether it was for sale.

“We looked at each other and decided we were,” Paul said.

Woof Gang Bakery began welcoming customers in November 2007 in Abocoa, Fla., and four months later, the company’s first franchise opened. A second location opened in July 2008, and the Allens have not looked back since. Today, 75-plus franchise locations, along with three corporate stores in 11 states, are greeting customers and their pets by name.

 

Cheers to Woof Gang Bakery

“People want to be part of a neighborhood,” Paul said. “It’s that ‘Cheers’ idea, a place where everyone knows your name. We want Woof Gang Bakery to be like that, and I think that’s what we’ve done right.”

Woof Gang Bakery’s distinctive cocoa brown and pink awning beckons neighbors inside, where that same color scheme creates a warm, boutiquelike ambience. A crystal chandelier presides as centerpiece over an enticing, treat-laden dining table. Wooden shelving displays a broad selection of premium dog and cat foods and a diverse array of treats.

But customer service is the essence of Woof Gang Bakery.

“We have the look of a high-end retail store, but deep down, we are a neighborhood pet store selling food for the same price as the national chains,” Paul said. “We know each customer by name, and we know the names and birthdays of their dogs. That’s what makes us unique.”

In late 2009, grooming was introduced to all locations.

The introduction of grooming proved the perfect fusion of service and product, Paul said.

Going forward, 50 percent of the footprint in new locations will be dedicated to grooming, where initially 10 to 20 percent of floor space had been allocated.

“Grooming has made us what we are today,” Paul said. “Unless it’s a boutique in an airport or mall, there will be grooming. “

More services are to come—the concept of a Woof Gang Wellness Center, which will integrate food, grooming and day care, along with the services of a holistic veterinarian to provide anesthesia-free teeth cleaning, annual exams and vaccinations, is in the early planning stages.

Additionally, Woof Gang At Home, a full housewares store featuring pet-related items from beds to cutlery and everything in between, is scheduled to open in Savannah, Ga., in late 2016.

Three corporate stores in the Savannah market also opened recently, with five more planned in Georgia in the near future. Additionally, a support center along the same lines as the Orlando facility now is in the design stages.

“The support center will assist future Georgia franchisees on a day-to-day basis,” Paul said. “You will find us doing this more and more in new markets.”

 

New Business and the Big-Box One-Two

When considering a potential franchisee, Paul looks first for an ideal fit with the company culture. Candidates often are current Woof Gang Bakery customers.

“We want someone involved in the community, perhaps heavily involved in rescue,” Paul said. “We might get 10 or 12 applications for the same space. It’s important to take our time to find the best possible match.”

After the accepted applicant is flown to Orlando for a “discovery day,” the search for the perfect space begins. Paul visits the targeted market area to ascertain the proximity of big-box pet retailers.

 “We want to be close to those national brands, to use their dollars to build our brand,” Paul said. “If a big box is doing $2 million a year and we can find a way of getting 20 percent of that business, we have a really nice base for a store.”

The main distinction between a Woof Gang Bakery and a big-box pet retailer is that personal touch of a small, neighborhood pet store, Paul said.

“Long gone are the days when people would drive out to the big-box retailers to take their dogs to be groomed when we can put ourselves in a plaza just two minutes from their homes and give them the exact same price for food and grooming,” Paul said.

A construction division and a 5,000-square-foot warehouse in the Orlando area allows the interior structures to be built off-site, flat packed and shipped out to a new location.

“We are able to build a store in about 10 days,” Paul said. 

Franchisees receive ongoing and extensive support.

“We train them, and the office supports them with everything from our register system to social media,” Paul said.  “We have an operations department, a vendor relations department ... each person in the corporate office is here to support the franchise owner.”

Inventory support includes a wide range of approved vendors. Franchisees use individual accounts and order their own product; however, because of corporate master accounts, national pricing prevails.

“We make it as easy as we can,” Paul said. “Franchisees have the freedom to still be a mom-and-pop store, but under the banner of Woof Gang Bakery.”

 

Community in Common

“We have homed pets in the thousands,” Paul said. “We also do a national adoption day, where we’ll get matching T-shirts for everyone, but our best results are seen from the adoption days held on a weekly or monthly basis at individual stores.”

Woof Gang Bakery also has donated treats to the Humane Society in Savannah for fundraising purposes. In 2015, it donated 43,000 pounds of pet food and $54,000 to rescues and shelters.

“We will definitely be up from those numbers for 2016,” he said. “The bigger we get, the more we can give to our communities.”

This article originally appeared in the November 2016 issue of Pet Product News.

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