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The Great Franchisee: Steve and Nicky Darwin, Hounds Town USA, Michigan

The husband-and-wife duo originally planned to open a restaurant franchise, but COVID-19 inspired them to find a potentially more durable model.

Steve and Nicky Darwin have always loved dogs, but they’d never considered making a career out of their affection for pets until recently. Last year, the husband-and-wife duo decided to leave their careers in finance and nursing, respectively, and open up a business for themselves. 

At first, the Darwins planned to franchise with a restaurant brand, but when COVID-19 rocked the foodservice segment, they decided to look for a business in a less volatile industry.

Steve said he discovered Hounds Town USA, the 10-plus-unit emerging doggie-daycare franchise out of Long Island, while scrolling through Facebook. That post inspired The Darwins to look into the pet care space. They quickly decided Hounds Town had the best model for them, and “the rest is history.” 

The Darwins signed on to open three units with Hounds Town USA, one of which will open in Ann Arbor, and the other two will be located in Detroit’s western suburbs.

We spoke to the Darwins to learn more about their experience with Hounds Town USA.

1851 Franchise: What did you do before franchising?

Steve Darwin: My background is in corporate finance, and my wife Nicky’s background is in nursing.

1851: How did you initially find out about franchising?

Steve: We’ve always had a general idea about the industry, but we never really considered a pet care franchise. We looked for opportunities for a while, specifically in the restaurant industry, until I came across an advertisement for Hounds Town USA on Facebook. The rest is history.

1851: Why didn’t you initially consider opportunities in the pet industry?

Steve: We were primarily focused on the restaurant industry and were really excited about opportunities there, until COVID-19 hit.

1851: Why did you choose franchising over starting your own business?

Steve: The marketing capabilities that come with a franchisor were a big draw for me. We did think about opening a kennel for a little while, but Hounds Town’s low cost was attractive. The fact that there was a proven system and a fast-track way to get things moving was also appealing.

1851: Why did you choose Hounds Town USA? What excited you most about the potential?

Steve: We researched several brands in the pet industry, but Hounds Town proved to be the best model. We love how fun the brand is and how the core values aligned with our own. Here, it’s all about the dogs, and we really liked that.

1851: What are your dreams with the business? What does the future look like?

Steve: We’re definitely excited about future growth opportunities beyond our three locations.

1851: What value do you see your business providing to Ann Arbor and the surrounding communities?

Steve: One of the greatest things about Hounds Town is that it does not discriminate against breeds. The relationships and partnerships with different municipal and private rescue and shelter groups will also be profound. We’re really excited to be an active part of the community and will be employing a handful of locals as well.

1851: What advice would you have for others looking into buying a franchise?

Steve: We’re still really new, but I’d say to surround yourself with like-minded people to help you achieve your goals. It’s a lot of work and the right people can guide you in the right direction and help make sense of the business’ plans, financials and projections.

1851: What do you do in your personal time?

Steve: I enjoy golfing and spending time with our kids and four dogs.

Nicky: I also enjoy walking our dogs and spending time with the family, as well as spending time gardening in the yard, reading and doing jigsaw puzzles.