By Stephanie Castellano
January 16th 2009

In spite of the nation’s financial turmoil, the pet industry these days is thriving. With experts projecting an annual growth rate of between 10 percent and 15 percent in pet ownership, and predicting billions of dollars to be spent on care and training, all pet entrepreneurs need is a little doggedness to succeed.

Nikki Tudge is the executive director of the Bay County Humane Society.
Niki Tudge, originally from Cheshire, England, was working for a luxury hotel chain in Hawaii until she decided instead to carve a living out of her passion for animals. She was already working part time doing agility training and canine-behavioral assessments, so her goal became to improve pet-owner relationships using methods she had developed during her years as a certified Pet Dog Trainer. She and her husband bought some property in Washington County near Bonifay and founded the DogSmith, a dog-training and walking franchise that also offers in-home pet care.

Tudge is currently the executive director of the Bay County Humane Society and the vice president and o-founder of the Alaqua Animal Refuge in Freeport. She also operates a Pet Butler franchise, and in 2007 won the Franchisee of the Year Award for developing a system that perfected the merchandise warehouse operation.

850 recently spoke with Tudge about her businesses and how she is one of the lucky few that found both love and money in her lifework.

What do you think makes The DogSmith stand out from other pet training facilities?

Our DogSmith Franchise Owners are trained using methods grounded in scientific learning principles. As a certified people Trainer I have the skills to ensure that all our DogSmith Franchise owners are trained ?effectively and are also certified as “Train the Trainers” – having the skills to teach owners to train their dogs. We are not just good dog? trainers, but effective people trainers. We also have a unique mission, vision, and value system that we focus on every day. Dog Training? and Pet Care is our passion, not just our business, and as such each business? unit gives back hundreds of hours each year to their local animal rescue organizations.

How do you think the pet industry will fare, given the current economic situation?

Pets are part of our families. Pet owners want the? best in terms of pet care service providers. They want to engage the? services of pet care providers that care for their animals’ physical, mental, ?and emotional well-being, be it a dog trainer or an in-home Pet Care?Technician. People work long hours, travel on business, and will continue to ?take weekends away to visit family and friends even in a poor economic ?climate. Pet owners will continue to call on the services of their local ?DogSmith because they trust us to provide affordable pet care.

How did you earn the nomination from Pet Butler for the 2007 Franchisee of the Year Award?

I offered support and coaching for less-experienced business? owners. My business partner and I also invested $70,000 into a fulfillment ?company specifically set up to support the individual franchise business ?units. Through this new company each franchise benefited from bulk? purchasing on operating equipment, marketing supplies and uniforms. This ?immediately reduced the business unit operating costs and instantaneously ?increased their profitability.

When did you decide to back out of hotel management and make pet care and training into a career?

When I was living in Hawaii I finally had time to own a pet, and I really enjoyed training her. I also co-founded the Hawaii Canine Academy with a good friend, and wanted to spend all my time doing this. My husband came home one day and I told him, “I’ve made some life changes.” I had found the perfect property in Washington County, so we moved to Florida four months later and never looked back. I never expected much financial success, but now I’m making more money than I did when I worked in hotels. Many paid professionals these days are leaving their desk jobs for careers they’re more passionate about, and they end up being very successful doing what they love. It frees you of the corporate chains.

To learn more about becoming a DogSmith Dog Training and Pet Care Franchise Owner take The DogSmith Franchise Tour. Watch our short DogSmith webcast here and learn more about this great business opportunity