Hi my name’s Lisa Suswain and I set up Wagging Tails in 2007. I’d actually retired from my career as a professional ballet dancer and had a successful career in customer service both for a major bank and in estate agency before the idea for Wagging Tails took off. I’d grown up with dogs, my parents breed and show Cocker Spaniels so dogs have always been a huge part of my life. I realised how fortunate I was to get paid to do my hobby and turn my dancing into a career, something that was missing when I went into office jobs. I was always looking after my parent’s dogs and friend’s dogs when they went away so they wouldn’t have to use kennels and I was encouraged by those around me to turn this into a “proper” business.
I was utterly shocked that within two months of launching I was fully booked for the next six months. Lots of repeat boards and word of mouth about the Wagging Tails service, which was so different to kennels or the dog boarding services that already existed, meant I soon needed to expand. I started by taking on dog lovers to form a team of carers. I still have some of the original carers I took on eight years ago boarding dogs! All of my carers are very experienced past dog owners, some still have a dog of their own, they are at home during the day so no dog will be left unattended in a strange house; and they are vetted, licensed by their council (legal requirement) and fully insured. Above all they are all dog mad like me!
This worked for about a year but I had owners travelling down from Scotland to the South Coast to give their dog a holiday. I knew there were companies operating in their areas but owners told me they all had compromises, such as not being allowed to meet the people looking after your dog, mixing different family’s dogs together, not being licensed and thus operating illegally and even charging extra for bank holidays. Owners were happy to travel if it meant they had complete peace of mind which they only found at Wagging Tails but ideally they’d have liked us to be a little closer!
In 2010 I worked with the British Franchise Association to turn my business into a franchise. The first franchisee launched in December 2010 in Oxfordshire and has seen considerable success since, not least winning Franchisee of the Year in 2013 at the EWIF (Encouraging Women into Franchising) Awards. Over the coming year I was fortunate enough to fall pregnant via IVF and welcomed our beautiful daughter into the world whilst also taking on three further franchisees, one of which took over my original territory. Now with a young baby and an expanding business I knew I needed help – I couldn’t manage all of this by myself. My husband’s skills compliment mine and he joined Wagging Tails in September 2012 and we’ve not looked back. Now with 16 franchises from Scotland to Devon and more due to launch soon it’s now getting to the next stage where we need to take the next leap and develop our head office team further.
For dog owners it means we can now offer the same service that I set up eight years ago but with local franchisees operating their own businesses and with their own team of local carers. So less travel for UK owners, but the same great customer service and 100% peace of mind. I say UK owners as we have owners from Spain who drive through France to the UK to board their dogs with us while they go off on a beach holiday – I guess we’ll just have to look into a Spanish version of Wagging Tails to solve that one!
So who are our franchisees? Well they are of course all dog mad but you may be surprised by the variety of different backgrounds they come from. We have a former Vet, Financial Services, HR Manager, Teachers, Nurse, Business Consultant, Publican, Military and stay at home Mothers who have all made the transition and joined our team. They all have their own skills and we can train them and support them in the areas where they need help. Our priority is helping our franchisees grow their business to in turn be able to offer a first class service to dogs and their owners.
Daily life for us and our franchisees is very varied. We’re all dog owners so there is of course the daily dog walks – or as my husband and I call them our “outside board meetings” as we can never fully shut off! Our franchisees are always interviewing, vetting and taking on more carers as demand is ever increasing and they are talking to owners and arranging lots of dog holidays. We and they attend shows throughout the year and I can’t tell you how many fun dog shows for dog with the waggiest tail we’ve sponsored! It’s quite a simple concept but one with no compromises and an unrivalled commitment to the welfare of the dogs. It really is a business for dog lovers run by dog lovers, no gimmicks, no compromises and I think that is why we have been so successful. To date we have had two franchisee’s win the EWIF Franchisee of the Year, I won the EWIF Franchisor of the Year in 2014, a huge surprise and honour, we’ve also won Franchise Marketing Awards for our Marking Material and website, a Mumpreneur award for our website, The Theo Paphitis #SBS Award – the first and only dog boarding company to do so and many runner up awards including Best Pet Service Business of the Year 2014 in the Pet Industry Awards.
We also pride ourselves on our charity work and have always raised money for a dog related charity each year. We found the partnership between ourselves and Hearing Dogs in 2014 so successful that we have chosen to support them again in 2015. Our owners can opt to donate £1 whenever they book their dog’s holiday with us, we also take part in various different fundraising events and we’ve even produced a stunning calendar with 100% of the proceeds donated to Hearing Dogs. The calendar features photos of Wagging Tails dogs on holiday, something else we pride ourselves on – we don’t use stock photos – we’ve no need when we have so many happy dogs who holiday with us and so many delighted owners who allow us to share their dogs photos and send us testimonials – it’s very satisfying. In 2014 we raised just short of £2000, something we hope to smash in 2015! Our fundraising has meant we could sponsor Hearing Dog puppy Aslan through his training and this year we’ll be sponsoring another puppy too.
Throughout 2015 we hope to continue to grow the franchise to meet the demand from dog owners, work to educate dog owners what to look for when choosing a dog boarding company – it’s worrying how many are operating illegally and owners just aren’t aware what they should be looking for, continue to develop our relationship with Hearing Dogs and make Wagging Tails a truly household name!
If you are as dog mad as we are or know someone who is then we’d love to hear from you, be it an owner, potential carer or potential franchisee.
01725 518153 / 0844 800 8480