Lousy Weather, Job Layoff Led To Zoom Room Franchise

Sunday, December 16, 2012

What's a dog to do? Or, more accurately, what's to be done with dogs when the weather outside is frightful and the prospect of taking them there is far from delightful? Northwest Columbus resident Brian Berger faced that problem in September 2011 when he took a few days off work to do something fun with Chelsea and Brodie, the English golden retrievers he and wife, Becky, "adore," as she put it.

There was one problem.

"Both days off it was raining and disgusting," Mrs. Berger said.

The couple couldn't know it at the time, but Mrs. Berger was on the verge of a major career change, one that would lead to the introduction of "urban herding" to Columbus.

The Bergers now are owners of a Zoom Room franchise in the Short North.

The company's corporate motto is, "We don't train dogs. We train the people who love them." Part of that training, introduced last week at the Zoom Room Columbus, 685 N. High St., is urban herding, or Treibball, a variation of a sport that originated in Germany. It involves owners encouraging their dogs to herd a ball into a goal.

"The sport uses only positive reinforcement training, the only dog-training method we use at the Zoom Room," the company website states.

"Although the goals used are very similar to soccer goals, don't picture a bunch of dogs in jerseys running around in formation on a field. It's a fun image, but it leaves out the critical element of the human handlers.

"Herders are going to love it," Mrs. Berger said. "It takes what they already want to do and channels it into a fun game, but it works for everybody." The Bergers found the Zoom Room website on a rainy day more than a year ago and were intrigued when they discovered franchises were available.

But they didn't give it much more thought, Mrs. Berger said.

In January, Mrs. Berger was laid off from a pharmaceutical sales position. She was 15 weeks pregnant at the time, and finding another job proved to be difficult.

"I had this big belly and no one wanted to hire me," she said.

The Bergers began to give more serious thought to a Zoom Room franchise.

In late March, Mrs. Berger flew to California, where dog trainer Jaime Van Wye founded the first Zoom Room in Los Angeles in 2007, and received some training in running a franchise.

She gave birth to daughter Hannah in July, and the Zoom Room Columbus opened in November.

Mrs. Berger said it seemed like something fun to do as a career and something that would meet with success.

"It was a good combo of both because we knew the neighborhood we were going to be in was very dog-friendly," Berger said.

"We knew if we were going to do it, we wanted to do it in the Short North," she said.

"What made us think this would work is there is nothing else like it. The business as a whole so far has a 0 percent rate of failure." Along with urban herding, the local Zoom Room offers training in dog agility and obedience, as well as for puppies. Group and private classes are available.

All dogs start off in a basic manners class, Becky Berger said, during which they must show they can sit on command, look to their owner for instructions, focus and walk politely on a leash.

"You have to test out of that before you can move onto any other classes," she said.

The reception in the extremely dog-friendly Short North as well as surrounding neighborhoods has been all the Bergers could have hoped for.

"We are incredibly pleased," Mrs. Berger said.

"I would never change it. I feel like the timing was perfect for us. I'm glad that we did it when we did it.

"It actually worked out perfectly," she said.

"I get to work with dogs and I get to spend my day with my dogs and other people's dogs."

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