The 1M/1M Deal Radar: Camp Bow Wow

Dog Shades

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What do the Champagne houses Veuve Clicquot, Pommery, and Bollinger; the printer of the Declaration of Independence; and the German steel conglomerate ThyssenKrupp AG have in common? At one time, all were run by widows who took over the business after their husband died.It’s a path that many women have followed across the centuries, back through the Industrial Revolution, medieval Europe, the Roman and Sumerian empires, and perhaps even further. Today’s Deal Radar is the story of one woman entrepreneur, Heidi Ganahl, who found herself in a somewhat different situation: Her husband was killed in a small plane crash just as they were getting started on a business together. Ganahl went on to carry out their idea and found Camp Bow Wow, a dog boarding service, and Home Buddies, its in-home pet care component.

Ganahl, Camp Bow Wow’s CEO, got the idea for the company when she and her husband, Bion, could not find great day care for their dogs. Heidi and Bion had finished their business plan and were looking for their first location for Camp Bow Wow when Bion was killed. After her husband died, Ganahl lost most of her life insurance settlement in bad investments. Five years later, in 2000, her brother helped her pick up the pieces and start the business she and her husband had planned.

Camp Bow Wow is a dog boarding, dog daycare, in-home pet care, and, most recently, dog training business with locations across the country. Camp Bow Wow began using a franchise business model in 2003 and since then has sold more than 200 franchises in 39 states, plus one in Canada. The company says that more than 41% of these are women-owned. Although part of dog boarding is by nature a bricks-and-mortar business, Camp Bow Wow has relied greatly on the Internet and Web technology to establish and grow the business and find new franchisees.

The company says it advertises mainly on the Internet and directs a lot of its resources toward social media, SEO, and driving potential customers to the site. Further, it allows owners to stay connected to their pets while the dogs are at camp: Web cams stream video from Camp Bow Wow locations so that owners can watch their dogs. For Home Buddies, owners can buy or rent wireless/LAN IP cameras that plug into a modem or router. The cameras can be accessed by any computer connected to the Internet, or on the iPhone. They have audio capability and use infrared technology, so they work in the dark.

According to Camp Bow Wow, the pet industry will do about $52 billion in revenue this year, with the pet services segment reaching approximately $4 billion and growing approximately 10% from 2009 to 2010. Doggy day care was new on the scene in 2000, and the only competition for Camp Bow Wow was from a few mum-and-pops in the Boulder, Colorado area, where the company is based.

The idea of “doggy day care” and boarding with a play theme, as opposed to a traditional kennel, has fast gained in popularity. According to research firm IBISWorld, there were about 50,000 pet day care establishments in the United States in 2010. The Humane Society estimates that 39% of U.S. households own at least one dog. Camp Bow Wow’s target segment is “DINKS with dogs” – double income, no kids, with a dog. Such couples are usually young professionals with household income of $75,000 or higher who don’t have kids yet or couples who are over 50, empty-nesters, love to travel, but have dogs to care for. At present, Camp Bow Wow has about 300,000 clients.

The market is very fragmented, but there are some larger players. Dogtopia is another franchised day care model and is present in 13 states. PETCO has Fetch!, a dog care service that focuses on in-home care. PetsMart has PetsHotels and Doggie Day Camp in about 25 states and Ontario.

At Camp Bow Wow, an average day at doggy day camp is about $25, while an average overnight stay (which includes day camp) is about $38. This includes one staff member for every 15 dogs, food and water, and treats. Dogs stay mostly in an open area so that they can play with other dogs.

Ganahl has funded her business herself, with the exception of a few small loans from family or friends at various steps along the way. She started with $83,000, which was what was left of the life insurance, and “used credit cards, home equity, bartering . . . you name it. It’s been very difficult, but I’m glad I went that route. I’ve gone pretty far with VCs and angels attempting to raise money, but they always wanted way to much control for too little investment,” she says. System sales in 2010 were about $50 million, an increase of 17% over the year.

As mentioned above, Camp Bow Wow is venturing into new areas such as dog training and continuing to grow through traditional franchise sales as well. The goal is $100 million in system sales by 2013 and 250 camps across North America within five years. Ganahl has no exit planned and just wants to continue building the brand and its attached charity foundation.

In the 1M/1M Deal Radar series, we celebrate entrepreneurs who have reached at least $1 million in annual revenue. It is part of the One Million by One Million (1M/1M) global initiative.

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