Camp Bow Wow

Christina Russell Headshot

Camp Bow Wow expands to meet the increasing demands of dog owners.

By Chris Kelsch

It is very easy to see why Camp Bow Wow President Christina Russell came aboard the company in 2014. “What really appealed to me was that it was a ‘smile brand,’” Russell recalls. “There were just a lot of people who had a tremendous amount of passion for what they do.”

The company was founded by Heidi Ganahl in 2000, not long after losing her first husband, Bion. The two had come up with the concept in 1994, when they were looking for a fun, caring boarding center for their two dogs. They soon realized that most kennels followed the traditional “kennel model,” which meant their dogs would be confined to chain-link cages.

Those conditions simply wouldn’t do for Ganahl. Her concept was that if pet owners went on vacation, their pets would also go on vacation, playing and socializing with other dogs. Ganahl Camp Bow Wow Fact Boxopened her first Camp Bow Wow in the Denver area in 2000, and since then Camp Bow Wow has become the largest pet care service provider in the United States, with a 140-unit franchise system that continues to enjoy strong growth.

Pet Passion

While Camp Bow Wow was clearly designed for dogs, it also has the added benefit of alleviating anxiety for pet owners. “Our motto is ‘Happy Healthy Pets, Happy Healthy People,’” Russell says. “While pet owners previously may have felt anxiety or guilt about leaving their pets in cold and indifferent kennels, knowing they are in a safe, happy and fun environment can make things easier on everyone.”

Dogs need three primary things to thrive: socialization, exercise and stimulation. The way Camp Bow Wows are typically set up, dogs play together in packs – usually separated by size and temperament – and are monitored by camp counselors. Dog owners, or “pet parents” as they are referred to by staff members, can see for themselves how much fun their dogs are having by watching high-definition webcams on their smartphones or computers.

Franchise Growth

While the idea of dog lovers playing with dogs all day is probably as fun as it sounds, there are other reasons for Camp Bow Wow owners to be enthusiastic. One of them is a growing market that continues to expand. According to the American Pet Products Association (APPA) and IBIS World Reports, pet care services is a $66 billion industry, and the boarding and grooming industry that Camp Bow Wow occupies is nearly $8 billion and 7 percent year-over-year growth is projected for the next five years.

Just as important is another dominant trend. As millennials age, many are delaying having children and many are opting for pets instead. As they continue to rise in their careers and acquire more income, the market for pet services should expand. “Our growth expectation is really based on our target demographic, people with money and dogs,” Vice President of Franchise Development Renuka Salinger says. “Currently we have 140 plus open camps, but by 2020 we would like to have 300 camps.”

Camp Bow Wow awards franchises based on mutual candidate approval. “Franchises all have their own defined territories and we have the United States and Canada, the two countries we currently franchise in, mapped for what is deemed viable for opening a location,” Salinger explains. “The territory is where the location will locate and a set area where the franchise owner will operate and market their business.  There are 800 territories still available, so there is room for tremendous growth.”

In designing a territory, Salinger and her team work closely with a consulting company called Territory Solutions. Owned by Managing Director Wayne Preuett, Territory Solutions provides territory design services to many different franchisors in multiple industries. “Wayne and his team are very supportive,” Salinger says. “They have been a really great vendor that we have worked with for more than a decade. They have the sophisticated expertise in helping us design territories.”

In designing these territories, Salinger and her team purchase numerous lists, which give them pet ownership data as well as income data. “Territory Solutions helps us cull that data, and they realize the income thresholds in Kansas are going to be different than those in California,” Salinger notes. “This demographic information, along with our known internal analytics and research on who our target customer is and where they need to live in relation to the targeted location area helps us make educated choices as to whether or not a market is viable, and helps us to locate our franchises in the best possible areas.”

Franchise Support

At Camp Bow Wow, the idea is for dog lovers to simultaneously leverage their passion and drive profitability. Although boarding and day care make up a bulk of the revenue, there are also additional revenue streams offered such as in-home pet care as well as dog training.

Vice President of Operations Laurie Windler oversees the franchise support team, and notes that Camp Bow Wow has a collaborative community that franchise owners can leverage to their advantage. “We have regional meetings twice a year and a conference every 18 months,” Windler says. “We also meet with the franchise council monthly, as we need them telling us what works in the field and what may need improvement.”

Franchisees are also given customer data and analytics, thanks to an in-house software program. “We have a great system that tracks everything and it isn’t just revenue related,” Windler says. “That includes how much dogs eat during their stay to how much they socialized and how well they behaved.”

For Russell, the overarching trends in dog ownership and the need for Camp Bow Wow’s services could extend well beyond the United States and Canada, though it’s still the joyful aspects of caring for dogs that really drive the company. “It’s been a really fun ride so far,” Russell says. “If you can’t have fun with doggy boarding and daycare, there is probably something wrong with you.” 

“Smart strategic growth is our goal at Camp Bow Wow,” Russell continues. “And we look forward to continuing to expand our foot print worldwide all while lending a paw to people and pets in need.”


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