Meet The Women Behind This $100M Doggy Daycare

Meet the Women

Behind This $100M Doggy Daycare

Photo courtesy of Wallpapers Craft

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Dogs. We love them – they make our days better, our return home happier, our walks in the park more eventful. We owe a lot to our waggly-tailed friends – smiles, laughter, one-way conversations.

But where to put them when you’re out of town? To whom would you entrust your poodle or bijon?

The pet industry is worth a whopping $66billion for a reason. People take better care of their pets than themselves for the most part – more time spent at the pet than the doctor, and more money spent in Petco than Whole Foods (check your bank statements, it’s true).

Because of this, it’s only natural that exorbitant amounts of money are spent on animal daycare, and this is how Founder Heidi Ganahl came up with the idea for Camp Bow Wow back in 2000. 17 years down the line, there’s more than 130 Camp bow Wow camps across the country acting as daycares for dogs anytime their owners need a hand. Dogs can spend a day, a week or two at the camp, and the also offer in-home services for those struggling with their work/dog balance.

Behind the large expansion of the brand is an incredible group of women. Below SWAAY chats to them about business, dogs, and how they turned the two into a money-making machine.

Christina Russell, President

You came from Curves to Bow Wow – how was that change?

Exciting, to say the least!  I was with Curves for 15 years, which is where I fell in love with franchising. Curves sold around 2012, and I started thinking it might be time to move on to something new. A recruiter reached out to me about Camp Bow Wow, and I made the leap. It was interesting coming from such a large company to a much smaller brand.

At Curves, I managed operations for over 6,000 franchise owners across the US and Canada, and I had a very experienced team of over 100 area directors, trainers, mentors, and onboarding specialists. Camp Bow Wow was at a little over 120 units, and the Corporate Team was only 22 people, many of who were new to the roles they were in. Developing the Camp Bow Wow team was a big focus, and I’m pleased to say we’ve built an AMAZING team and culture.

Christina Russell

I love our parent company, too. VCA is completely aligned with our values and culture, and they give us the freedom to define the strategy. In three short years, we’ve revved up franchise growth from a sluggish five-year slump to record levels, and we’ve continued our long trend of double-digit year-over-year revenue growth. We’re over 140 open units with another 50 in our pipeline, and we’re expecting to double in size by 2020. I’m really proud of what the team is doing.

 What were the biggest obstacles you had to overcome when you arrived at CBW?

We had a real challenge in franchise relations. While the franchise owners are very successful financially, there was a challenging break-down in communication with the corporate office. That’s not unusual as founders move toward a sale. There’s a tendency to emotionally disconnect, and that leaves owners feeling outside of the decision process.

My primary focus during my first few months was getting out to the field to meet the owners, hear their perspectives, and identify the low-hanging fruit in terms of solutions. We formalized an advisory council, and instituted regional meetings where executives can share ideas with owners and get their perspectives on challenges and opportunities. We’re sincerely committed to a culture of collaboration with our franchisees, and they appreciate that. We’ve seen a huge turnaround in franchisee satisfaction scores, and we’ve had a huge uptick in additional-unit sales. We went from just a handful of multi-unit owners to 25% of our system being multi-unit owned, which says a lot about their confidence in the brand.

What’s the best thing about working for a pet franchise?

People who love dogs are generally fun people. We bring our dogs to work, and we consider them a part of our team. It keeps things light in the office, and I love that. That common love of dogs is a unifying element that’s both personally and professionally relevant, and it’s a foundation of our culture and values. “Must love dogs” is on every job description, from executive to entry-level. It makes for a really fun, positive culture.

What drew you to the pet industry?

 It was scary leaving Curves because I LOVED that brand. I knew I wouldn’t settle for a ho-hum company. I wanted another passion-driven brand that energized me, the customers, and the team. That really narrows down the search!  When the recruiter reached out to me for Camp Bow Wow, I was intrigued. I love dogs and I love franchising, so the motto, “Happy Healthy Pets, Happy Healthy People” truly resonated with me.

Much like Curves, Camp Bow Wow had a super dynamic founder who was selling to a larger company and planning to exit. My first question to the recruiter was, “who’s the buyer?”  At that point in my career, I didn’t want to work for a churn-and-burn equity firm where they go in, focus on fast growth, and then sell again in a few years. I was looking for something I could really invest myself in long-term. It appealed to me that VCA, our parent company, is in the veterinary space. They genuinely wanted to add us to their family, which is refreshing given how much churn you see in the franchise sector. It also appealed to me that the pet industry is on a such a dramatic growth trajectory, which is nice after working in fitness, which is so fad-driven and competitive. Add to that the genuine LOVE that pet-industry people bring to their work. It wasn’t a hard decision. I feel really blessed to have this opportunity.

What’s your favorite thing about your day at CBW?

The people. We have a dynamic, innovative team at the corporate support office, and amazing franchise owners who are always willing to share ideas. We’re passionate about leading the industry forward, and that makes for a very fast-paced, collaborative culture. There’s never a dull moment!

  Why, in your opinion, are pet-related businesses so profitable?

People think of their pets very differently today than they did even a decade ago. You used to hear people say, “He’s just a dog.” That mindset isn’t socially acceptable anymore. People now think of their dogs like their kids. They are members of the family. That trend is growing because millennials are waiting a lot longer to have kids, and many of them get dogs instead. As this generation’s earning power increases, we anticipate they’ll continue to increase spending on their pets. The industry reporting estimates 5 to 7% growth in demand into the next decade.

The other side of that equation is that the barriers to entry for dog boarding and day care are quite high, which means the demand is by far exceeding the supply. Opening a boarding facility isn’t easy. Real estate and zoning can be tough, facility design is complex, and operationally we deal with some pretty significant challenges. I think that’s one reason why our franchise has been so successful. We provide the guidance that makes it a lot easier for our owners to get into the business with proven model.

What’s your favorite breed of dog?

My favorite breed is a shelter dog. There are so many great dogs out there looking for forever homes. My dog, Penny, was a red healer mix that had been through several different homes. We fostered her, and fell in love with her, and she was such an awesome dog. We had her for 14 years, and I lost her a couple of years ago. I was pregnant at the time and we decided to wait to get a new dog until our daughter is a little older. Our team fosters a lot of dogs, and I’m watching for that perfect puppy companion to grow up with my toddler.

Renuka Salinger, Vice President of Development

What’s the best thing about working for a pet franchise?

Working with pets and people who are passionate about pets!  It is awesome that I get to work for a company where we all share the same mission. We are all about Happy Healthy Pets and Happy Healthy People!

What drew you to the pet industry?

I actually kind of fell into it. I started part time at a Camp our founder owned more than ten years ago when I was right out of college.  What drew me to Camp Bow Wow was my own love of animals and the idea that it is a fun place to work.

Renuka Salinger
What’s your favorite thing about your day at CBW?

My work is in franchise sales and I thrive on the opportunity to show off our brand and team and help candidates decide if this is a right fit for them.

Why, in your opinion, are pet-related businesses so profitable?

Pet ownership and spending on pets has increased dramatically in the last decade and it is not showing signs of slowing down anytime soon. Although the industry is not recession proof, it has proven to be recession resistant and that is something that not all industries have as a benefit.  Pet parents love their pets like a family member and they are not going to all of a sudden quit caring about their pet’s needs.

What’s your favorite breed of dog?

That is a hard question, I really like almost all breeds.  I would say my favorites are shepherd mixes, northern breeds and French bulldogs!

Julie Turner, Vice President of Marketing

How is marketing a pet-brand different than a human brand?

It’s very similar to marketing a child care brand. While we aren’t able to market to our end user, the dog, we can easily target the pet parent. Much of our marketing is to inform the pet parent of the benefits of Camp Bow Wow and how we provide the best care for their pup. The great thing in our business is that once a dog comes to Camp, they quickly become our greatest marketer. We call it our “pull factor.” After a few days of Day Camp, dogs will literally pull their pet parent through the front door because they are so excited to play with their friends. Pet parents love Camp because they pick up a happy and tired pup.

What has been your main strategy to promote brand awareness since 2014?

My main strategy since starting with Camp Bow Wow in late 2014 has been focused on building and enhancing our digital marketing capabilities. Initially, my focus was to build a solid foundation for the basics – improved website, SEO, mobile app, superior email platform, and reputation management. From there, we have been evaluating and adding new digital capabilities to our toolbox. Today, there are so many avenues digitally to reach customers, and it is constantly evolving as new technologies emerge so you always need to be open to try new things. The great part of digital marketing is it has superior targeting capabilities, easy to track analytics, and has proven to be very cost effective.

Julie Turner
What’s the best thing about working for a pet franchise?

Everyone that works at Camp Bow Wow loves dogs, and obviously all of our franchise owners do as well. It’s a unique environment where everyone is united and working towards a common purpose – making dogs happy by delivering the best care in a safe and fun environment.

 What drew you to the pet industry?

I wanted to work in an industry that I’m passionate about – and I’m passionate about dogs.

What’s your favorite thing about your day at CBW?

We have a wonderful team at Camp Bow Wow Houndquarters, and amazing franchise owners that we work with every day, but my favorite thing is the dogs. On any given day we have 10-15 dogs in the office, and I always make it a point to give some love to each one. If you’re having a particularly stressful day, a 5 minute snuggle session with a pup can turn your day right around.

 Why, in your opinion, are pet-related businesses so profitable?

There have been a few generational trends that I think help fuel the pet industry. There has been a shift in dogs being treated more like family member and less as just a pet. In addition, young professionals are delaying having children, but many of them get a dog which is often treated more like a child.  These pet parents the only want the best for their furry child and are willing to pay a premium to receive the best care and ensure their dog is happy and healthy. This mentality that their dog is their child, combined with a higher household income of working professionals with no human children, helps fuel the growth we are seeing in the pet industry as owners are looking for the best quality products and services for their pup.

 What’s your favorite breed of dog?

This is a hard question because I love all dogs!  If I must choose, I would say Goldendoodle. However, that is an incredibly biased answer because my current pup, Izzy, is a Goldendoodle. My husband and I don’t have any children, so Izzy is our incredibly spoiled fur baby.

Kim Morris, General Counsel

What’s the best thing about working for a pet franchise?

Seeing dogs in the office every day! Dogs have a way of making everything more fun, and having them in the office serves as a constant reminder that they are the reason we’re all here.

Kim Morris
What drew you to the pet industry?

I wasn’t necessarily looking to work in the pet industry when I started looking for a job, but when I saw this opportunity, I knew it was the perfect fit. I have always been a dog lover, and this is such a unique niche that no two days are the same.

What’s your favorite thing about your day at CBW?

Well, no two days are the same! This is a fast-paced environment; the industry is booming and we’re constantly looking to the future to see where we can innovate and improve. I love that this job keeps me on my toes.

Why, in your opinion, are pet-related businesses so profitable?

Pets are family. We all feel better leaving our pets at a place where they’re safe and they can have fun while we’re away. As our lives get busier and busier, the need for this industry will continue to rise.

What’s your favorite breed of dog?

Labrador Retriever! Although my pup is a lab-border collie mix, so maybe I should say mutts.

Amy Corcoran

The Associate Editor of SWAAY: Amy is an Irish writer, avid foodie and feminist with an insatiable appetite for novels and empowering women’s writing. She has enjoyed calling Dublin, Paris and now New York her home.

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