Small Business Spotlight: Woof Gang Bakery

Michael Morales, at the front desk of the Apex Woof Gang Bakery, and his wife own four Triangle locations of the specialty retailer.

Instead of working for someone else, Michael and Elise Morales bought their first Woof Gang Bakery franchise soon after graduating from N.C. State. The specialty retailer of pet food, pet supplies and professional pet grooming was a perfect fit for the two dog-lovers.

The couple followed the 2012 launch of their Cary store, with the 2013 opening of their second location, in Raleigh. Those two stores have become two of the best performing stores in the Woof Gang Bakery system, each achieving annual gross sales of $1 million or more. This achievement was celebrated last year at the national Franchise Awards conference. They also own two other stores, in Apex and in Raleigh.

Decorated treats tempt clients who bring their dogs in for grooming.

Like many small business owners, Michael Morales says the stay-at-home order hit his shops hard. Customers who couldn’t pop into his neighborhood stores, often chose to get their pet supplies from national mail-order companies. With a reminder that stores like his “support a local family and staff who put money right back into their local economy,” Morales talks about his business and why it’s vital to shop small.

Why did you and your wife want to work for yourselves?

Working for ourselves wasn’t the reason we wanted to open Woof Gang. We saw a need in our community for a pet supply store and for grooming services. Our beagle, Maverick, had a long list of health issues that we found could be solved by a healthy, holistic diet. We wanted to share what we had learned with our community. We knew there were others who were going through similar problems with their own furry family members.

Mac, a bluetick coonhound owned by Michael Morales, eyes a counter of treats.

Why do pet owners come to Woof Gang rather than a larger retailer?

We pride ourselves on our customer service. We want to get to know you, your pet and their needs. We curate a special shopping experience and only choose the best products to offer our customers. We won’t sell it if it isn’t something we’d offer to our own pups, Mac and Maverick.

When did you realize, “OK, I’ve got this”?

Does anyone really have it all figured out? Each day is something new, and we take it one step at a time. We always put our staff and customers first, so if they’re happy and well taken care of, everything else falls into place.

Morales prepares to make deliveries of pet food to clients in the area. Woof Gang is the leading retailer of specialty pet food, including raw frozen meals and dehydrated dog and cat food.

What’s been most challenging about the business?

Finding the right staff. Since we have such high standards of customer service, we don’t hire just anyone. We want to find the right person who will fit into our culture and commit to getting to know our customers. Sometimes this means delaying growth at times when we would really benefit from growth.

What’s been most rewarding, about being an entrepreneur?

The most rewarding part of being an entrepreneur is creating a place where people want to come to work. At the end of the holiday season, we always get together our staff and families from all four stores for a big dinner to celebrate another successful year. It is really special to see all the people we support together in one room and watch it grow each year.

Woof Gang groomer Dom Mossa brushes Mac and gets a kiss in return. The shop offers pet grooming, a private self-wash station and a variety of spa products.

How has your business changed during the stay-at-home order?

We have tried to do what’s best for our staff and customers despite what it may do to the business. We have shut down our stores to through traffic in order to keep everyone safe. We have pivoted to our free pet food delivery program, which we established June 2017, in order to still reach our customers.

We only saw 10% of our monthly sales in April. The stay-at-home order has really hurt us, especially without seeing assistance from the banks. In the end, we did what was right for our staff and customers. We will not put profit above people and their pets. Our customers and staff always come first.

We had our first baby, Elle, on Jan. 28, before the coronavirus hit, and we are lucky to have her joy at home. There is nothing like her smile to melt some of the worries out of your mind.

Cary-Stone Creek Village
305 Ledgestone Way, Cary
(919) 297-2275

Apex-Haddon Hall
774 W Williams St., Apex

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