There was something that stuck with me for a while after I visited the Barking Mad headquarters recently.
It was a framed piece of paper, with the soft outlines of very faint scribbles. Those pencilled scribbles were in fact the very start of Barking Mad, and they’re proudly displayed in the boardroom in a frame that states “Out of small seeds…”
As the owner of a young business (I recently celebrated Bloomin’ Creative’s first anniversary as a PR agency set-up), this was particularly poignant because Barking Mad’s story of success and growth is one I’ve admired from afar as a fellow Kirkby Lonsdale business.
That’s why I was delighted when owner and marketing head Richard Dancy invited me in for a chat, and I was keen to find out how PR has helped them become a market leader in their industry – providing alternative pet care to traditional kennels.
Richard said: “We’re well-known regionally because press-wise, we’ve always had strong media coverage in local titles such as Cumbria Life, The Westmorland Gazette and the Lancaster Guardian as we’re a local business. Nationally, we’ve also been featured in The Sunday Times magazine, the Mail On Sunday, and we’ve been on TV – on the Working Lunch programme, as well as on Newsnight and on Chris Evans’ radio show.
“The feature in the Sunday Times was about how dogs can be envious of partners and new relationships – it was a little outside the box but a good example of a creative angle for PR and the story was picked up by a number of other newspapers and magazines.”
Richard added: “Now we encourage our franchisees to make the most of PR and we support them with the press side of things, offering guidance and training when it comes to marketing and writing monthly press releases. Our franchisees are very involved with the local community, it’s something we’ve always prided ourselves on and it’s something we have against our competitors, which are very much online-focused without the personal touch that we can offer. We’re also currently looking at working with bloggers and businesses in complementary industries.”
A Dalmatian called Bronte was the inspiration behind Barking Mad. Sadly Bronte passed away three years ago but is honoured at the offices with a large canvas on the wall of the boardroom. Richard’s wife, Lee Dancy, came up with the concept after looking into pet care for Bronte ahead of a family holiday. She was surprised by the lack of alternatives to traditional kennels and realised there was a gap in the market.
Barking Mad was therefore launched in Kirkby Lonsdale in May 2000. Having experienced enormous success within the year, they then looked to expand nationally through franchising. Now, Barking Mad has experienced exceptional growth, with a number of award wins under their belt.
Richard explains they put their success down to the strength of the Barking Mad brand, the simplicity of the business model and their determination to become synonymous with professional pet care.
He said: “In terms of our marketing strategy, we have always been aware of our three distinct audiences – potential hosts, customers and franchisees, and everything we do will be in line with these target audiences.
“Because we are dog lovers ourselves, we know what our audience wants and we’re always developing new ideas for them. For example, we set up a dog bereavement group which went on to have over 1,000 members because we understand how difficult it can be when a dog passes away, having experienced it first-hand ourselves.
“We are family-oriented and our brand is very much local. We’re friendly and approachable, we’re not corporate. That has always been key in our branding and our marketing of the business.”
Barking Mad now has 75 franchises across the UK, with the Kirkby Lonsdale office as the hub. They made the decision to rebrand with a new logo earlier this year. Richard said: “We carried out market research 18 months ago and felt the previous logo didn’t quite cut it. The logo didn’t communicate the fact that we are number one in our field.
“We wanted the rebrand to focus on home and holiday, and we wanted it to be clever, simple and contemporary. Our strapline is ‘Happy dog, happy holiday, happy you’ which fits perfectly. The most important part is that the dog is happy because the business was borne purely out of our passion for dogs.”
Further opportunity presented itself when Barking Mad was acquired by Franchise Brands in November last year. Richard said: “One of the things they said to us was whether we’d ever thought about TV, I think we asked them if they were joking when they said it. The advert felt a little surreal. There were 30+ cameras there, and hair and make-up people – it didn’t feel real. When the ad was shown for the first time, we had a party at the office and we all celebrated with Champagne.”
Barking Mad’s TV advert had a break over the summer, when it was shown in May and June, but will be returning to our screens in September and October.
As Lee and Richard discovered themselves, an idea and a business concept can certainly grow “out of small seeds” – and I’m certainly looking forward to seeing how those seeds grow further at Barking Mad.