Doggie disco? Zoom Room says yes
Adorable dogs doing the hurdles are a staple at Zoom Room
Dreams of cuddling puppies and being herded by sheepdogs 40 hours a week is the holy grail for franchisees looking to turn their love of pooches into profits. Once up and running with any number of doggy franchises out there—from pet spas to pooper scoopers—that enthusiasm can fade with the reality of lawsuits, onerous zoning restrictions and 3 a.m. phone calls that are common in the business of canines.
This dystopian view of operating pet franchises was the catalyst for the creation of Zoom Room, a California-based dog agility-training brand created with the intent of removing these common headaches from the equation so franchisees can come closer to realizing their dreams of a profitable puppy-based enterprise.
“You don’t play with dogs all day, you go to the vet and to the lawyer’s office, because you get sued a lot,” said Zoom Room CEO Mark Van Wye. “Dogs get injured, you are dealing with a 15-20,000-square-foot facility, regulations with air intake and drainage rules, and you’ve got a giant staff of 30 people.”
Leading gently away from the pitfalls of kennels, groomers, spas and hotels, Zoom Room is designed to give dog owners something fun to do with their dogs, while mingling with like-minded dog owners and teaching their best friends to master obstacle courses—agility for serious competitors—in a sport that’s grown increasingly popular and has even been featured in ESPN’s Great Outdoor Games.
“We use the word socialization,” Van Wye said of the human element. “It’s a technical word in animal behavior, but we have doggy disco nights and fair trade coffee parties and movie nights—it’s really people having fun with each other in the company of their dogs.”
While agility competitions still haven’t gone as mainstream as the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show, he likens it to yoga’s earliest days, which used to imply an element of oddity before spreading like wildfire.
“In the '70s if you did yoga it meant you had a guru in India—it was very obtuse and esoteric,” he said. “Today we know what happened to yoga. You can be an infant, elderly, you can be in a wheelchair or pregnant, there are yoga classes at every gym.”
CEO Mark Van Wye, above, says his agility-training franchise is meant to bypass typical pet franchise pitfalls.
Zoom Room first began in 2007, with franchising following the next year, but the CEO admits taking his own eyes off the ball with over-stretched infrastructure, an unsustainable growth rate and lackluster franchisee vetting.
During its initial growth spurt, Zoom Room also experienced a handful of unfortunate incidents, including married franchisees splitting up during the grand opening, one unit that was financed with zero-percent-interest credit cards and another young franchisee in Portland, Oregon, who passed away suddenly—when the brand lacked the resources to purchase and operate the unit in a valuable market.
Since then, the company brought on investment partners, bolstered its executive team and significantly upgraded its franchisee vetting, especially in terms of financing and first-year marketing plans.
After relaunching its franchising push in 2017 after a two-year pause, Zoom Room is up to 10 total locations, including two that are owned and operated by the company. Most of its units are concentrated in California, with others in Seattle, Philadelphia, Virginia Beach, Virginia, and Texas.
As owners lead their dogs through tunnels, up and down seesaws and through other brain-building obstacles, Van Wye said each location is also designed to create a fun, relaxing environment for owners to interact without the pressure or disappointment that can come with traditional pet training courses.
Beyond agility, Zoom Room locations also do basic puppy training, traditional obedience classes, flyball dog races, K9 “good citizen” certification, shy dog classes and weekly agility competitions where some owners have been known to tailgate the events with pizza and beer.
Van Wye said individual classes average about $27 per session, but are sold in flexible packs so owners can try new things and not be restricted to pre-scheduled events.
“Agility is not something your dog does, it’s something you do with your dog,” he said. “The dog learns it quickly, but you the handler have to learn to communicate with your dog more subtly through gestures, and people go home and say I took an agility class for fun, but it’s like the best obedience class I’ve ever had.”