For a dog owner, there are”few things more stressful than leaving your precious pup behind when you go on holiday. While most kennels provide a degree of one-on-one time, knowing that while you’re enjoying sun, sea and surf your canine companion might be sat”on their own for hours on end makes it hard to really relax. Fortunately, Wagging Tails,”a dog-boarding franchise with a difference, knows that”happy dogs make happy owners.
Wagging Tails co-founder and managing director Lisa Suswain is certainly no stranger to the spotlight. “I was a professional ballet dancer; I’m ex-Royal Ballet,” she explains. After an injury forced her to retire, she worked in a handful of customer-service positions for institutions such as NatWest, but she was eager to take on something a little more fulfilling. “I realised how lucky I’d been when I was dancing to be doing something I enjoyed, rather than having to go out to work just to earn a living,” she explains.”
And she didn’t have to look far to find her calling; when asked by Jim Suswain, her future husband and co-founder, what she enjoyed doing, the answer was inevitable. “My parents breed and show cocker spaniels, so dogs have been part of my entire life,” Suswain explains. Whenever Suswain’s parents went away, she and Jim would board their dogs; they had also begun to offer the same favour to friends and look after their dogs in a friendly, homely environment. And while they were aware of other dog-boarding services, there seemed to be few that truly put the dog’s happiness and comfort first.”“It was spotting that gap in the market and thinking, ‘Here’s my opportunity to do something I really love,'” she says.
Despite this, at the time, the Suswains didn’t have designs on a huge national business. “It was very much never intended to be this big,” Suswain says. “It was only ever meant to be something for me to do.””But after a few ads went up in Post Office windows, word began to spread and suddenly demand rocketed. To ensure dogs are happy in their holiday homes, Wagging Tails will only board one family’s dogs in each home at a time and this meant it wasn’t long before Suswain had to take on additional help. “Within a couple of months, I was taking on a team of carers,” she says. “They were all people like myself; very experienced past owners who just love dogs’ company.”
“I built it from a dog lover’s point of view,””she explains. “‘As a dog owner, what do I”want for my own peace of mind?'” It was through this understanding of dogs and their owners that she came up with a key part of”the Wagging Tails offering, one that ensures dogs, owners and carers are all happy with where the dog has been placed. “Owners and dogs get to go for what we call a ‘sniffing out’ meeting,” she explains.”
The opportunity for owners and their dogs to check out their potential holiday home comes with myriad benefits; not only does it put the owner’s mind at rest that their dog will be staying in a happy home but it is also of huge benefit to the dog itself. “They’re very clever; their sense of smell is extraordinary,” says Suswain. “And that’s why we call it a sniffing out meeting – the dog can have a good sniff around its holiday home.” Getting time to ensure its home is up to snuff means that when it returns the dog is entering a familiar environment. “Because of that, we’ve never had an issue of a”dog not settling.”
Unsurprisingly, in light of this, Wagging Tails proves immensely popular with owners and dogs alike. Regular customers become champions of the franchise. It has vets and dog trainers not just recommending the service professionally but becoming loyal customers themselves. The franchise was also the subject of a recent spread in Dogs Monthly, the UK’s biggest dog magazine, because everyone the publication spoke to about dog boarding pointed it toward Wagging Tails as the one to watch. “It’s great because that’s not us talking about it; we’ve got owners, pet professionals, journalists talking about it,” she says. “That’s really the best recognition: when you’ve got other people shouting about you.”
Good management skills are an essential part of running a Wagging Tails franchise, particularly when you take into account the fact that a franchisee might be managing up”to 50 carers and several hundred dogs. But”the most important thing for Suswain is”that franchisees understand what owner’s concerns are. “We insist all of our franchisees are actually dog owners,” she says. “A lot”of them actually found out about us by looking for an alternative to kennels. Being dog owners themselves gives them that additional empathy and understanding of what a dog owner is looking for.”
In return, the franchise offers those passionate about canine care”a full package of support, including lots of editorial and marketing resources. Guiding franchisees through the process and providing”them with up-to-date resources is a key part of ensuring they can continue to reach and serve pet owners. “I do hear horror stories about franchisees who are told, ‘Here’s everything, now get on with it,'” says Suswain. “We don’t do that.” The efficacy of this approach has been demonstrated by the fact that last year Wagging Tails won a Franchise Marketing Award for Best Franchisee Marketing Support.
And this isn’t the only gong that the franchise has collected. “We won Franchisor of the Year at this year’s NatWest EWIF Awards and one of our franchisees won Franchisee of the Year as well; it was a good day,” Suswain laughs. The accolades are still coming in thick and fast: one of Wagging Tails’ franchisees is currently up for a Pet Industry Federation award for Best Pet Service, while a male franchisee is up for a Mum and Working Award for Most Inspiring Business Parent. “All of our franchisees come from a variety of different backgrounds but with the support and the structure of Wagging Tails they can all be very successful, be it in franchise awards, local awards or pet industry awards,” says Suswain.
But Wagging Tails isn’t letting awards season distract from its mission of making sure dogs have a homely environment in which to stay when their owners are away. “At the moment, we’ve got dog owners who are literally travelling hundreds of miles,” says Suswain. The franchise’s aim for the next couple of years is to ensure there is Wagging Tails within easy reach of their home. “The idea is to continue to grow so that all dogs can get the opportunity of having a Wagging Tails holiday and owners get that peace of mind that they really do deserve,” she concludes.”