12 min read
What happen when the world goes back to normal? With any luck, a business boom. Entrepreneurs everywhere are hoping for a rush of new business, and making sure they’re prepared to meet customers’ needs after more than a year of digital-only interactions. Four franchise leaders talk us through why they’re expecting a spike, and how they’re getting their teams ready.
Dogtopia Prepares for Pandemic Pups
Courtesy of Dogtopia
“For a dog, the pandemic has been the best thing,” says Neil Gill, president and CEO of Dogtopia. After all, when offices first shuttered and employees shifted to spending their days at home, pups enjoyed spending ample time with their owners. As a result, the dog daycare, boarding, and grooming franchise saw sales plummet by 80 percent in April alone. But in the long run, Gill sees a very different trend: The pandemic may ultimately be a great thing for his industry.
“Most organizations miss the signs of a tipping point, but that’s because a tipping point isn’t one single event — it’s a series of events,” he says. As he sees it, here are the factors combining for a doggy business boom.
First, the pendulum already swung back his way. Within weeks of lockdowns beginning in spring of 2020, some customers started to return to his business, which was deemed essential. (Juggling work and kids and a dog, after all, is no day at the park.)
Then came what Gill calls the “puppy binge.” Adoption rates rose 40 percent during the pandemic, and 76 percent of millennials now own a dog. What will happen to those dogs when the world opens back up? New dog owners will need a place to send their pets — and because Gill anticipates a pent-up desire to spend money (not to mention, for many, padded savings accounts from a year at home), he thinks pet parents will be happy to invest in great solutions. On top of all that, the federal government’s vaccine-rollout plan is helping consumers feel comfortable planning ahead — so he sees rising interest in Dogtopia right now.
All of this means he’s bracing for a business boost. “Our world won’t switch back on as fast as it switched off, but it will be a gradual, steady increase,” Gill says. “And we need to be ready.”
To help his franchisees prepare, he’s created a pandemic-boom list, with six areas of focus and actionable advice for owners.
1. Marketing and brand awareness.
With so many new dog parents out there, now is the time to win their business. “We’re making sure franchisees are planning events, pursuing new local partnerships, really getting back out in their communities, with PPE, and bringing new pups into daycare,” Gill says.
2. Strengthen store leadership.
Last year, Dogtopia created training for three in-store positions: general manager, pet-parent relationships manager, and canine coach. Additionally, it’s tracking customer retention and encouraging franchisees to be proactive. “If you see attrition, reach out to pet parents and ask them why,” Gill says.
“If you have a team that can’t manage being busy, the seams start to split,” Gill says. Individual locations are encouraged to retrain staffers on daily tasks and priorities.
4. Pricing strategies.
The pandemic changed Dogtopia’s business, likely forever. Years ago, boarding made up 50 percent of revenue, with daycare and grooming fees rounding out the other half. But today, daycare is 80 percent of the brand’s business. Franchisees are being encouraged to review their existing pricing models, and the corporate office is creating its own suggested updates.
5. Review cleaning protocols.
Customers will want to know that any business is clean—and as store traffic ticks back up, that will require more attention and more supplies. Franchisees, Gill says, should make sure they have the equipment they need and prepare to adjust orders.
6. Determine additional equipment needs.
Extra dogs means extra work. Anticipating a need for additional washers or dryers will help franchisees stay ahead of the game.
“It’s all fundamental, basic stuff,” Gill says of his prescribed advice. “But if you don’t see the wave coming at you, you can be washed over by it.”
Painting with a Twist Expands its Reach — and Hours
Courtesy of Painting with a Twist
Painting and drinking wine in a small studio with a bunch of strangers isn’t exactly a pandemic-friendly activity — but it was once Painting with a Twist’s entire business model. When the franchise’s 300-plus stores had to temporarily close their doors last year, its franchisees were desperate to maintain a connection with customers, and they worked with the corporate office to quickly launch Twist at Home paint kits and instructional videos. These were a fast hit with longtime customers — and even helped attract a few new enthusiasts.
Now, the franchise thinks, these kits may have served a more long-term purpose as well: They created a lasting new revenue stream.
“When we launched Twist at Home, we received a number of emails expressing excitement, saying things like, ‘I never have time to come to an event,’ or ‘I have really bad social anxiety and don’t feel comfortable in large social settings,’ ” says Katherine LeBlanc, Painting with a Twist’s CMO. “By summer, it was clear that a large percentage of people purchasing Twist at Home kits were people who hadn’t participated in our brand.”
In fact, roughly 30 percent of all Twist at Home purchases have been made by first-time customers.
Throughout the pandemic, 50 percent of all traffic to the Painting with a Twist website was from uninitiated consumers. That unexpected customer acquisition, coupled with pent-up consumer desire to leave the house, now has Painting with a Twist working overtime to make sure its franchisees can capitalize on an increase in post-pandemic business.
“We’re really projecting an increase in in-person events, and we’re stressing to franchisees that they’ve got to build a buffer into their preparedness,” says CEO Joe Lewis. “Reach out to vendors now, and make sure you have the supplies you need now, as well as access to the supplies you may need for an increase in demand.”
The company is also reexamining its offerings, launching new programming like a late-night class from 9 to 10 p.m. “That will suit younger groups, and hopefully prevent crowding in in-demand earlier classes,” says Lewis. “We’re just trying to anticipate the surge and be prepared for it.”
Part of that preparation includes relying on its own community of franchisees to guide the business through recovery and help other owners seize opportunities as the pandemic draws to a close.
“We’ve introduced a new peer-sharing program called Focus4, a biweekly meeting where our franchisees share their wins and their roadblocks, and create a roundtable discussion that will ultimately help them prepare for reopening,” LeBlanc says. “Florida, for example, will likely open up faster than California. So those California franchisees can learn a lot about what to expect from our Florida franchisees.”
To continue providing the carefree escape that it’s known for, Painting with a Twist will also continue to sell its Twist at Home kits, which now account for about 10 percent of all sales. “Our secret sauce isn’t about helping people paint—that’s something anyone can do on their own time,” LeBlanc says. “Our secret sauce is delivering art in an empowered setting that’s fun. We’re getting in position to deliver that to more people than ever before.”
CycleBar Races to Win Over Peloton Fans
Courtesy of CycleBar Franchising, LLC
In the summer of 2020, the franchise CycleBar was looking to hire a chief marketing officer. When it asked Dawn Weiss if she was interested in the job, she just laughed. “I told the company that I have a Peloton, and I was like, ‘CycleBar is toast!’ ” says Weiss. After all, Peloton’s at-home fitness equipment and streaming classes had soared during the pandemic — and she assumed CycleBar could never compete.
Then she learned that many CycleBar employees also have Peloton bikes — and so do many of its customers. “When I started doing my due diligence, after thinking my interviewers were crazy, I realized that Peloton had indoctrinated people into cycling who hadn’t tried it before,” says Weiss, who ultimately took the CycleBar CMO job. This meant that instead of being seen as competition, Peloton was actually creating new potential CycleBar customers.
When the pandemic ends, CycleBar will be able to fully capitalize on a benefit that Peloton doesn’t offer outside of New York City: in-person classes. Weiss is anticipating a surge of customers — new and old — who are eager to sweat in a group. The majority of CycleBar’s studios were able to stay open throughout the pandemic, albeit at limited capacity. Now, as restrictions continue to lift, the brand can accommodate more riders.
“I marvel at the community Peloton has built remotely, but now the question is, how motivated can you stay working out alone?” Weiss says. “It would be foolish for us to think that we’re going to sell a month of unlimited rides to someone who has invested in a Peloton. We’re not asking them to abandon their bike at home—but they can come in to see us four or eight times a month and see what they get out of a group environment.”
Already, CycleBar’s classes (at 50 percent capacity) are waitlisted nationwide. In a recent marketing case study, CycleBar tested the tagline “Riding Alone Sucks” on a targeted audience of people who work out at home. It found that 81 percent of them would be interested in potentially joining a CycleBar class.
“Competition in our industry is more aggressive than ever, because those who survived the pandemic are strong brands,” Weiss says. “So we’re currently encouraging franchisees to increase the number of classes as we come completely back, because we want to offer more variety. We’re supporting additional online bootcamps to train instructors virtually, which will help our franchisees remain agile and be ready to meet demand when we can.”
That demand stretches beyond consumers, too. CycleBar is currently hosting virtual discovery days on a weekly basis, and is anticipating a surge in new franchisees. “Folks are reevaluating their lives and livelihood,” Weiss says. “CycleBar’s success through the pandemic has set us up for a big increase in franchise sales.”
The Coder School Embraces a New Model and New Products
Courtesy of the Coder School
Before the pandemic, Hansel Lynn had no interest in taking his business virtual. He is the founder and CEO of the Coder School, which teaches coding to kids across 50-plus locations and offers one-on-one, in-person training. “We had discussed offering virtual classes but were worried it would create unnecessary and confusing competition between locations,” he says. But then the pandemic changed that calculation. “When we had to, we realized how easily our offering translated.”
Last spring, as the world shut down, Lynn (pictured, left, with co-owner Wayne Teng) took his communication cues from schools. “The same way education became digital, our best practice was to simply tell parents that all our classes would now be virtual,” he says. “No shift in model or pricing.”
The result has been eye-opening. That change not only sustained the business but also engaged a new audience of customers who he expects will stick with the Coder School long after the pandemic.
Historically, Lynn says, parents don’t commit their kids to after-school activities that are more than 15 minutes away — about five to seven miles from home. “Once we started going virtual, kids who lived 20 miles from our locations were signing up,” he says. “It helped franchisees find a new market.”
As he prepares for a full reopening, Lynn expects that some of those customers will now make the trek to an in-person program after the pandemic, in addition to brand-new students who will join for the first time. To accommodate the influx of new in-person customers, the Coder School is paying close attention to staffing needs and encouraging franchisees to prioritize hiring.
“We’re expecting a gradual return to normal — we don’t think that all of a sudden everyone will rush in one day,” he says. (A hybrid offering of in-person and virtual classes will remain.) “But the best part of our model has always been that it can flex based on demand, which will be more important now than ever. We’re only limited by the amount of staff we have to teach, but our franchisees are already trained to respond: The bigger you get, the more you hire.”
Lynn is also taking advantage of increased momentum and thinking of new ways to expand the Coder School’s offerings and serve a wider variety of clients’ needs, both new and old.
“We’re starting an e-sports league within our schools,” Lynn says. “It will be a regimented program with training, structure, and games, and there will be a Super Bowl at the end.”
He plans to launch the program when in-person instruction is back in full force, and sees it as a way to further boost the brand’s anticipated recovery and appeal to parents and kids who are on the hunt for new activities, even beyond their usual Coder School classes.
“It will be a completely separate revenue driver,” Lynn says. “It will help us come back strong.”