BY ELLYCE ROTHROCK
Dogtopia, the dog day care business founded in 2002 by Amy Nichols, has entered the franchise fast lane.
Nichols and Dogtopia parted
ways, and she has moved on to
other business endeavors, but the
pet industry always will remain
near and dear, she said.
“We had different opinions on
the overall strategy for Dogtopia,
and I wish nothing but the best
for the company,” Nichols said.
“Dogtopia was an awesome busi-
ness with fantastic customers,
In October 2012, Dogtopia
partnered with global private eq-
uity and franchise marketing firm
Thomas Franchise Solutions. Pe-
ter Thomas, chairman of Thomas
Franchise Solutions, announced
the purchase of Dogtopia in June
2015 and appointed new presi-
dent and CEO Neil Gill, who has
more than 30 years’ experience in
retail and franchising with such
brands as Gloria Jean’s Coffee
and Pizza Hut.
Gill officially took over the
business in August of 2015 and
has been working to breathe new
life into the brand.
Dogtopia features a new look
and feel for its branding and in-store experience, including a new
logo and website, and new interior décor for all future locations,
according to the company.
Gill’s initiatives to date include employing an environmental biologist, implementing
dog-safe cleaning products and
programs, requiring a dedicated,
CPR-trained health and safety officer to be on staff at all locations,
and creating an 11-step facility
tour to foster complete transparency among pet owners.
Gill also made several new
hires, including vice president
of franchise development Alex
Samios, who has 25 years’ ex-
perience in franchising. The
company partnered with global
commercial real estate company
Cushman & Wakefield to support
the brand’s real estate expansion
plans, which will help the fran-
chise achieve its plan to open
more than 400 locations by 2021.
More than 40 stores were sold
and under development in Q1,
and Dogtopia is on track to open
more than 100 stores this year, ac-
cording to the company.
Dogtopia recently sold all
territories in the brand’s home
state of Arizona by inking a 12-
unit area developer deal with lo-
cal entrepreneurs Joe and Kelly
Sacari. Dogtopia also signed a
six-unit deal in Edmonton, Al-
berta, Canada, and is working
on several international deals
outside of North America.
Beyond the recent signed
franchise agreements, Dogtopia’s
plans for expansion include Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas,
Denver, Houston, Los Angeles,
New York City, San Antonio, San
Francisco and Seattle.
Pet Product News: What led Peter Thomas
to want to purchase Dogtopia?
Neil Gill: The opportunity within
the dog day care sector globally
is enormous. There aren’t many
times in life when you get to experience lightning striking twice
with a great business opportunity. In the 1980s, Peter Thomas
first noticed that there was no
large real estate firm that truly
owned the Canadian real estate
sector, so he took Century 21 into
Canada and developed the brand
from coast to coast. He sees this
same opportunity globally in the
pet industry with dog day care.
The market is wide open, fragmented and owned by 15,000
independent business owners.
With multilevel revenue channels and a recession-resistant
business model, we absolutely
believe that Dogtopia will be an
PPN: What was your impression of Dogtopia once you had your arms around
the organization? What key areas were
successful; which ones needed a rethink?
NG: The business was run by great
people who clearly loved dogs—
they had developed leading-edge
safety protocols and training programs. In addition, the business
was grown by incredibly engaged, entrepreneurial and passionate franchisees. I’ve been in
franchising for over 30 years, and
I’ve never worked with such an
engaged group. Our franchisees
are very sincere, incredibly focused and very much love what
they do. They truly are amazing—they’re honest and transparent. If they don’t agree with
something, they tell you.
What also became apparent was there were no strategic
growth mechanisms in place,
and a lot of the support team
didn’t have the experience or vision to push the company to the
next level. We had to reposition
the team and bring franchise-ex-perienced talent onboard. With
our commitment to safety, we
ramped up safety protocols and
hired an in-house environmental
biologist. We partnered with a
doctor in veterinary science and
started conducting webinars for
our franchisees to take safety to
the next level.
We are now in the process of
evolving the culture to be very
pet parent-centric by designing
an emotionally intelligent service
Extensive rebranding and new initiatives
are all designed to “create the most
exciting day ever for dogs,” according to
Dogtopia’s new president and CEO.
Neil Gill, Dogtopia president and CEO, and Franklin