How This Colorado Firm Developed Its Approach to Franchising
Plus, how to make the franchise model work for you
One Australian snowboarder turned Colorado business owner has helped transform and grow a number of Colorado-based franchises. His name is Brent Dowling and he is the co-founder of RainTree, a franchise development firm.
Following his stints as a professional snowboarder and a United Nations diplomat for Australia, Dowling got his MBA from Deakin University in Victoria, Australia and then moved to Colorado to start his career as a franchise development manager at Doc Popcorn. It was there that Dowling met his would-be business partner Mike Edwards (who is now the president at RainTree).
After helping grow Doc Popcorn from 10 to 400 units in under four years, Edwards and Dowling decided to go out on their own and transform the franchise model as it has traditionally existed.
Traditionally, Dowling says, if a business is looking to build a franchise model it will work with a franchise broker that will find potential buyers. “The problem with that is that those brands would have to give most of that franchise fee to the franchise broker,” he says.
Dowling and Edwards, however, wanted to find a better way, a more cost-effective way to help businesses grow their franchising efforts. The model they came up with turned into RainTree. While the company still uses franchise brokers, its primary focus is on business development and building other channels of marketing including social media, SEO and inbound marketing to position the brand well.
Wag ‘N’ Wash, a Colorado-based pet food and grooming store, began partnering with Raintree in 2013 and was able to double its unit count, growing by 66% between 2017 and 2019, according to Wag ‘N’ Wash President Rob Flanagan. “Many franchise development firms are only focused on sales, sales, sales, but not on strategic pragmatic growth,” says Flanagan, adding that its conversations with RainTree were more focused on strategy and growth.
In addition to Wag ‘N’ Wash, RainTree has found success with a number of franchise brands in Colorado. This includes Teriyaki Madness, Rush Bowls, Cheba Hut and Footprints Floors. “There’s a lot of franchise brands starting out in Colorado and it’s becoming, in my opinion, a little bit of a franchise hub,” Dowling says. “Folks around the rest of the country really find these Colorado born brands appealing that's what's allowing our business to thrive.”
Finding success in franchising starts with your brand. Dowling says that, minimally, companies must have a “true brand differentiator,” and have to be able to “clearly and quickly articulate how this brand is different.”
From there, there are a number of factors that will lead a company toward success or failure. Most companies that fail at franchising are either under-capitalized or don’t have the proper team on-hand to manage and market the brand, Dowling says. This team would include professionals for sales, SEO, social media, marketing, branding and more.
“You have to be well capitalized and understand that marketing a brand on the international front, it costs a good amount of money,” Dowling says. “Even for the small brands out of Colorado, that want to go national, you really have to start at about $150,000 a year.”
Once you have the capital and the team, then it’s off to the races to find the franchisees that will help share your brand. To start, it’s about understanding who’s likely to be successful, who fits into the culture, into the company’s culture and into the community of the brand. Once a franchise kicks off and has more locations, companies should look at their successful owners and understand what makes them successful, who they are, what their skill sets are, what media they consume and use that “formula” to find new owners.
The final thing, Dowling says, is having the right personnel in place to support franchise owners once they get going. “I think the key there is brands need to make sure that their growth goals and how many franchises they want to own is balanced with how big the franchise team is to support all this franchise folks, because if they don't support them properly, it's likely to really hurt the brand,” he says.