Barking Mad - Lancashire Business Profile

PUBLISHED: 11:32 20 December 2010 | UPDATED: 14:45 20 February 2013



WHEN Lee Southern bought a dog she didn't realise it would change her life forever. For<br/>Bronte, a dalmation puppy, was the inspiration behind the formation of Barking Mad, a million pound business.

WHEN Lee Southern bought a dog she didn't realise it would change her life forever. For Bronte, a dalmation puppy, was the inspiration behind the formation of a million pound business.

Barking Mad is a home-from-home care service for dogs while their owners are on holiday. Instead of going into kennels, your dog is taken to a host family, with its own basket and toys to enjoy a holiday of its own.

'When they go to stay with a host family they are the absolute focus of that family,' explains Lee from her office in Barbon, near Kirkby Lonsdale, 'sometimes even more so than at home. It's one-to-one care, something you don't get in most kennels.

It's that personal contact that makes the difference and, if you match their routine properly, then most dogs settle quickly, especially because they have their own things around them.

'We meet all the dogs at home and find out about their likes and dislikes, any medical requirements or health issues and match them to a family that is suitable. For example, if a dog likes to watch Coronation Street we place it where it will be allowed to continue doing so.

'When they return the customer is given a pet postcard - information on what they've been doing - and a photograph of their dog on holiday.'

Barking Mad has really taken off, not just for dog owners in North Lancashire but all over the country. Since launching the business in May 2000, Lee has developed it into a franchise with more than 4,000 customers and a 1.3 million turnover.

She has more than 50 franchises in the UK, from Scotland to Somerset and even one in Cyprus, thanks to a previous customer who moved there. Lee is hoping to develop the business in the rest of Europe and even to Australia and New Zealand.

'I couldn't face putting Bronte into kennels while I went to visit family in America,' Lee says. 'I thought there would be other options but I soon found people either used kennels, relied on family and friends or just didn't go away.

'I looked at options like house sitting, but it was expensive and I didn't like the thought of someone living in my home.'

From there, the service developed as a part-time business. 'I ran it locally for a short time while I was working as a sales and marketing consultant but I soon realised I should focus all my efforts on Barking Mad.

'I created a website which began to generate inquiries from across the country and I realised that it was not just something that concerned pet owners nationwide.

'The only way I could expand the business was through franchising and at 15-17 a day (plus registration and delivery fees) it's only a few pounds more than some kennels so money really isn't a factor,' she says.

Two years later Lee launched Barking Mad as a franchise opportunity and the Barbon head office provides all the necessary training and support.

'Franchisees and host families have to be dog lovers because there's a lot of trust involved when you leave your dog with someone else,' she explains. 'It's quite easy to find host families. Most are retired people who love dogs but don't want the full-time responsibility or commitment
of dog ownership. Barking Mad gives them the best of both worlds.

'Barking Mad has changed the life of everyone involved - the team at head office, customers, franchisees, host families, the dog and me. I even met my partner through the business - he works for a pet food franchise.'

For more information see www.barking

There are Barking Mad franchises on the Fylde coast, in Lancaster, Preston, Southport and the South Lakes.

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