Interview: Neil Gill, CEO, Dogtopia  | Global Franchise
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Thursday 26th May, 2022

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Interview: Neil Gill, CEO, Dogtopia 

Insight

Interview: Neil Gill, CEO, Dogtopia 

Private equity has been a real boost to franchise brands, supercharging growth and franchise development. Dogtopia is no stranger to such growth, and coupled with rising interest in dog ownership, the brand can only see things improving

Dogtopia is one of North America’s largest dog care brands, with most locations situated in the U.S., and more dotted across Canada. The brand was born in 2002, and began franchising in 2005. It has grown strongly since, and now has over 160 locations across North America. 

In 2020, Red Barn Partners, a private equity firm, invested in Dogtopia. Earlier in the month, the brand announced the signing of its largest-ever deal – for 60 new locations across the U.S, with more investment from another private equity firm.  

Coupled with the changes in attitude, and massive increase in dog ownership over the last two years, Gill can only see further demand for Dogtopia’s services. Clearly, the brand sees a bright future ahead, as do the many private equity firms that continue to place their confidence in the brand. 

We spoke with Neil Gill, CEO of Dogtopia, to get an understanding how private equity is affecting Dogtopia, how it negotiated the pandemic and future trends that could affect the brand. 

RP: How has the introduction of private equity shaped and propelled your growth strategy? 

NG: We’ve always had a mindset of sustainable, fast, cost-effective and happy. A cost-effective, time-efficient buildout, with sustainable growth plans that delivers double-digit comp growth and a market-compelling return-on-investment (ROI), makes for happy investors and franchisees.

The pet space is one of the fastest-growing sectors in North America! With 11 million new COVID-19 pups, along with heavy tech investment and strong operational and marketing support of our franchisees, the pet space is delivering explosive revenue and sales comps. The strong unit economics, combined with landlords who are eager to have pet services within their retail offerings, has garnered interest from multi-unit developers and experienced private equity groups over the last 12 months.  

Private equity is keen to invest in the pet services sector as we have seen pet services revenue more than double in the last seven years. They are rightly excited by the industry and impressed by the Dogtopia brand, while also being appreciative of the systems, tools, and processes we provide our operators to run an operationally-focused business.  

We are proud of the brand we’ve built and the differentiation we have created within the industry; more than 90 per cent of our revenue comes from the recurring day-care-focused parent. The multi-unit development schedules we define allows us to plan new markets and work together to target key areas, while also working closely to leverage their expertise.  

It has been an efficient process that has accelerated the expansion of our best-in-class services to more communities for years to come.   

RP: Having been in this space for 20 years, do you see demand for your services constantly rising?

NG: We were an early pioneer in the space, and we’re delighted that we’ve been able to reach our 20-year milestone with close to 200 locations across North America. Not only has dog parenthood been rapidly increasing due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but the attitude of the traditional family dog has also shifted.  

While other pet brands are still talking about humanization for the dog, at Dogtopia, we embrace and understand the movement as ‘dogification’ of the human. Millennials are changing their homes, surroundings, and lifestyles to suit their furry starter children. The pandemic really shifted how dog parents view and treat their dogs.  

They want them to live happy, healthy, and fulfilled lives, just like humans do, and as a result, we’re seeing more and more new pet parents understand the health and wellness benefits of frequent day-care from an early age. With sales comps exceeding 40 per cent, there is no doubt parents are now more focused on ensuring their dogs are well socialized, exercised and educated than ever before.

RP: What did you learn during the pandemic years that has served as a life-long learning for the brand? 

NG: We learned that our franchise community has grit and gumption as we worked together to maximize the opportunities the pandemic threw at us. Dogtopians connected with their communities, raised funds through our foundation for PPE for local hospitals, provided free and discounted day-care for medical personnel, and allowed parents to live their lives vicariously through their dogs via our live webcams.

The pandemic brought the dog into the center of a family’s life as we gathered at home and isolated from each other. This central focus helped humans realize that their dogs need constant attention. Ultimately, we learned that the Dogtopia brand, our teams and business are not only recession-resistant, but also pandemic resistant. 

RP: You’re currently in the U.S. and Canada, do you see Dogtopia entering into any new markets in 2022?

NG: We’ll be entering new U.S. markets this year with a focus on being the best and largest health and wellness day-care provider in North America. We’re excited to bring the highest level of love and care to every major neighborhood in North America. 

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