In 1994, Heidi Ganahl and her husband were looking for quality pet care, and when they failed to find what they were looking for, they wrote a business plan for a doggy daycare.
Six years later — after the loss of her husband and two failed startups — Ganahl and her brother opened the first Camp Bow Wow in Denver.
Camp Bow Wow wasn't the first doggy daycare on the market, but it was still a unique concept. Ganahl designed it for the average consumer and gave it a Colorado feel with a mountain-lodge theme.
Although she hadn't had success with previous startups, this one was her dream and Ganahl was determined to make it work. She even spent her lunch hour at a nearby park handing out dog treats and coupons for a free day at camp.
Yes, camp. At this doggy day care, the guests sleep in individual canine cabins and the employees are called "camp counselors." During the day, dogs splash in bone-shaped pools and play in pens with dogs of similar size and activity levels, and at night, they curl up in their cabins.
"Camp Bow Wow is all about the pets — their health, their happiness and their safety," Ganahl said.
That first doggy daycare did so well that Ganahl opened a second Denver location in 2002, and in 2003, Camp Bow Wow started franchising.
Since then, the brand has expanded to more than 150 franchises in 37 states, plus one in Canada. More than 41 percent of the franchises are owned by women.
Ganahl says the franchises have been a success because they've perfected the business model along the way.
"Many of the best franchisees were originally customers," she said. "People dream of doing something for their career that they're passionate about, so Camp Bow Wow is a natural fit for dog lovers."
In August, Ganahl sold Camp Bow Wow to VCA, a pet health care company that operates more than 600 animal hospitals, but she says the acquisition won't effect Camp Bow Wow's proven strategy.
What's the key to Ganahl’s success? She says it comes down to passion.
A lifetime animal lover with a 12-year-old black Labrador, she started Camp Bow Wow because she wanted to find a place where she'd send her own pets.
For aspiring business owners, she offers this advice: "Find something you are passionate about to start a business around, create a great plan, and find the best people you can to help launch it. Keep your focus on your dream, dream big, and go after it!"
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