This Franchisor Leans on His Experience In the Military to Lead His Team

As the director of operations for Dogtopia, Air Force Vet Jeff Farnell knows it's all about people.
This Franchisor Leans on His Experience In the Military to Lead His Team
Image credit: Courtesy of Dogtopia
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This story appears in the October 2019 issue of Entrepreneur. Subscribe »

Jeff Farnell loves to lead. It’s a skill he learned and cultivated as a young man in the Air Force, but he didn’t realize just how much he loved to build teams and motivate people until he exited the military, got a job in satellite communications -- and hated every minute of it. To refresh his nascent career, he pivoted to the restaurant industry and eventually landed in franchising, where a strong, communicative team is necessary for success. Now, as the director of operations for Dogtopia -- a dog daycare, boarding, and spa franchise -- he oversees more than 100 locations throughout North America and helps create a sense of community among the far-flung franchisees, enabling each to be a leader in their own towns and cities. 

Related: Filling Sandbags in the Military Inspired Me to Become an Entrepreneur

You’ve worked in the franchise industry for almost 15 years. How did you end up in this space? 

I was in the Air Force for four years, and during that time I got to lead and create teams, and I loved it. When I got out, I started working in the career field in which I had trained, which was satellite communications. And I did not like it at all! I had become just an employee, and I really missed the leadership aspect. So I quit that job and started managing my friend’s restaurant, which eventually led to me working at [franchise] Souper Salad. And I was back into what I like. 

So you were able to tap into what you learned in the military?

I’ll tell ya, I learned so much about developing people and leadership and the importance of creating teams that really valued each individual. Being organized and disciplined and focused -- those are key aspects I brought with me to the civilian life. 

What are some ways you work to develop franchisees as a part of a larger team? 

You have to understand their business thoroughly and be an advocate -- someone they could trust in a position of authority. It’s my job to make sure they’re successful with their life investment. That’s something I take very seriously. 

Related: How to Find Your Passion (If Your Passion Isn't Your Product!)

In addition to the services Dogtopia offers its customers, the Dogtopia Foundation supports a number of charitable initiatives that have really become part of the brand’s DNA. Why? 

The foundation is part of what we call our “noble cause.” We support literacy programs and promote the hiring of people on the autism spectrum, and all the stores participate in fund-raising efforts, the money from which supports organizations like America’s VetDogs, which provides service dogs to military vets. The franchisees all get involved, doing events in their communities to raise awareness and get the word out. And our franchisees are always coming to us with ideas for new causes we can support and ways to get involved. 

How does Dogtopia create that sense of community within its network of franchisees? 

We have a newsletter called Grow, Dogtopia, Grow, and it goes out once a week to communicate milestones for the company. We also go out on road shows with the CEO, we hold a big conference once a year as well as regular webinars, and our operations managers communicate with each franchisee to discuss P&L each month. At the corporate office, we really understand that we’re all partners. We are the brand, but it is the franchisees’ business. We’re not going to stand back and say, “You’re on your own.” Not a chance.  

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