DAY OF THE DOG

A dog-training franchise collars new ground in overseas markets. Now noses are pointed at China. By Jane Searle

Name: Bark Busters Home Dog Training Revenue: $20.2 million
Growth: 79.79%
Founders: Danny and Sylvia Wilson
Tip: Hire franchisees who are passionate about the business. "Encourage unsuitable franchisees to sell - spending time on them will drain resources and slow growth."

BARK BUSTERS FOUNDERS DANNY AND SYLVIA Wilson hope expansion into China will give their dog-training business even more bite. Bark Busters had turnover of $20.2 million in 2005-06 and is aiming to more than double its 350 franchises in coming years.

Danny Wilson says Bark Busters uses unique training methods based on how dogs communicate with each other. Bark Busters uses the master franchise model for expansion, and the Wilsons prefer to hire bilingual master franchisees that hold dual citizenship in Australia and in the countries where they operate.

Their best market is the United States, where the couple earns $40,000 a month - 35 per cent of their global revenue - from 230 Bark Busters franchises.

The business continues to expand in Europe, where it operates in the United Kingdom and Spain, and is about to start in Denmark and Germany. The Wilsons see China as their next big opportunity. "We think China is a huge emerging market," Danny Wilson says. "Pet ownership has been going through the roof because of the one-child policy. Dogs have not been a revered animal, but now it's becoming the in-thing for the middle class, a status symbol."

The Wilsons regard Taiwan as a testing ground for China. They established a franchise there in mid-2005, run by an Australian-raised Taiwanese brother and sister team aged in their mid 20s. "We have given them a normal franchise to see how it goes, and will give them a couple of years before giving them a master franchise," Wilson says. "They spoke the language with Aussie accents so their mum put them through elocution lessons to speak with a Chinese accent because there is still a distrust of Westerners."

Unlike many businesses, Wilson says Bark Busters prefers franchisees who do not have previous experience: "Most of our franchisees don't have a dog-training background, and we prefer it, so they don't have to get out of bad habits. We want people who are passionate about dogs and have good general business sense."

Business growth has not been without its hiccups. One franchisee in the UK started marketing a dog collar under the Bark Busters name - a product that had not been approved by the company. Wilson says they decided not to cancel the franchise after persuading the franchisee to market the accessory without using the company name.

Elsewhere, regulations have slowed growth. "In Japan, the legal system is painfully slow and many people don't really understand the franchising concept," Wilson says. "But we have got staff ready to sign our third franchise [in Japan]."

The biggest challenge facing Bark Busters in the past and coming years has been macro-economic - in the form of higher petrol prices that have squeezed the company from both ends. Customers are spending less on discretionary services such as dog training, and petrol prices add to franchisee costs when they travel to clients' homes.

In the coming year, Wilson forecasts $35 million in revenue for the business, which they founded in 1989. He says there are few half-measures when starting out in franchising. "Don't be afraid to put your house up for collateral - you can always get another house. Your fear of losing everything can stop you succeeding in business."

Sylvia and Danny Wilson: "We want people who are passionate about dogs and have good business sense".