It didn’t take long for Gretchen Hollifield to go from dog trainer to franchiser.
Hollifield, 38, founded Charlotte-based The Dog Wizard in 2005, and in the last three years, she has expanded her dog-training program to eight other cities: Atlanta, Charleston, Wilmington, Raleigh/Durham, Nashville, Columbia, S.C., Washington D.C., and Harrisburg, Pa.
But for a while, Hollifield struggled financially. She worked three, sometimes four, jobs. But when she chose entrepreneurship, she found success.
Reaching an impasse: After graduating college, Hollifield went to school to become a dog trainer. But she didn’t make enough to live on. So she juggled dog-training gigs, a paper route, restaurant jobs, and occasional work for her father’s land-surveying business. It was years before she decided her workload was unsustainable.
So Hollifield stopped training. She did sales for an office-supply company and worked in a car dealership’s internet-marketing department.
But two years later, “I was more miserable than when I was working three jobs,” Hollifield said. “I knew I could do it better.”
From hobby to career: Hollifield then decided to parlay her passion for dog training into a full-time business: The Dog Wizard.
She paid someone to develop her logo – a dog in wizard garb, holding a bone in place of a wand – and immediately had the logo put on her car. She paid a developer $5,000 for a website. And she adopted a business model different from that of all the dog-training businesses she’d worked for. Instead of paying by the session, customers would get unlimited lessons until the pre-determined goal was reached.
“I just wanted people to get what they paid for and be happy,” said Hollifield.
Success bred expansion: Getting the business off the ground cost Hollifield about $10,000, and she took out a loan to pay for half. Soon after, she got her verdict: “I’ve got the happiest clients I’ve ever had,” she says.
So in 2009, she decided to expand, starting with a limited licensing program. She rented a building in SouthEnd and started The Dog Wizard Academy to train potential franchisees.
For $10,000 (less than the cost of the average dog-training program, Hollifield says), students get four months of six-days-a-week training, housing provided.
They learn to train dogs The Dog Wizard way – and gain the necessary business acumen.
Graduates of The Dog Wizard Academy leave with their own Dog Wizard websites, budgeting skills, marketing strategies and promotional materials.
Her first student, Cranston Blanks, now helps run the Academy. “We only succeed as an academy if they succeed out there,” she said.
‘Keys to Success’ draws on insights from small business people on building a successful enterprise. Contact reporter Caroline McMillan at 704-358-6045 or email@example.com
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