How Camp Bow Wow disrupted the kennel model

Pet care franchise became the leader of the pack by transforming the way dogs are cared for when their parents aren’t available

“Disruptor models” completely upend industries by re-imagining and re-inventing products and services in ways that better align with customers’ needs and desires. As Forbes writer Caroline Howard describes it, “Disruptors are innovators, but not all innovators are disruptors.” You need more than a good idea. You also need to have the business acumen to market your idea and to execute your business plans.

Starbucks famously changed the way the world approaches coffee, carving out a niche as a place where people can relax and enjoy conversation over a latté. Uber and Airbnb tapped into the sharing economy by making it easy for people with idle cars or unused rooms to connect with customers who don’t care for taxis or want to stay in a cookie-cutter hotel room. BuzzFeed pioneered a quirky mix of entertainment, news, and visuals that marry viral web traffic and social media, light years ahead of traditionally stodgy media venues.

What business are we really, really in?

We are in the “elimination of guilt and worry” business. Prior to Camp Bow Wow, dog owners would go on cruise ships while their dogs were locked in a crate at the kennel. They had fun at the expense of their dog and felt guilty about it. Even going off to work was tough. It meant leaving dog parents had to worry that the dog was home alone all day or rush back after work because they felt too guilty to enjoy happy hour when the dog needed to be let out.

Now, when they drop off their dogs at Camp Bow Wow, they’re relieved — they know their dog may have more fun than they do. One simple look around, and they know they can trust us. They can experience our level of detail and can feel our passion.

But it takes more than innovation to be a disruptor.

Camp Bow Wow’s operational excellence shows up in our financial results. Year-over-year revenue growth is at 14%,* which is seven times the growth rate of the national economy (2%) and twice the rate of the boarding and grooming industry (7%). That kind of growth stems from the way we streamlined and systematized caring for dogs. What emerged was a unique pet service model that is scalable and in tune with how our pet-obsessed culture thinks.

The hallmarks of Camp Bow Wow’s innovative practices — like live-streaming webcams, a formula for staff-to-dog ratios and constant supervision when dogs are at play — are becoming more and more commonplace. The copycats are welcome. Imitation is the most sincere form of flattery. We remain the disruptor because we understand, in our bones, why each of those innovations are important. We love dogs. We are always looking for ways to make dogs’ lives better, and to help pet parents keep their loved ones cared for and happy.

We know what it’s like to worry when you need to be away from your dog for a day or two. Are they okay? Are they worried or sad? Are they having fun? Do they miss me? We erase that.

* Figure represents the aggregate increase in annual gross revenue for the 146 locations that were open and operating for any length of time during the 12-month period ending December 31, 2017 when compared to the aggregate annual gross revenue for the locations that were open and operating for any length of time during the 12-month period ending December 31, 2016. The financial performance representation contained in Item 19 of our 2018 Franchise Disclosure Document also includes: (1) annual unit-level gross revenue; and (2) select expenses for expense-reporting franchises.  

The Original Vision: In with Camps and out with kennels

The impetus for Camp Bow Wow comes from our founder’s personal experience. Heidi Ganahl didn’t want to leave her dogs in a kennel when she and her husband had to travel. A traditional kennel has dogs locked in cages for most of the day. The dog is let out two or three times a day for bathroom breaks. If they get play time, it can be just as stressful as being caged — either the dog is put into a dog run by itself, or the already-stressed pooch is put with other dogs in an environment that lacks consistent human supervision, which can be dangerous.

“My husband and I traveled a lot and I could not find a place that was good enough for my animals,” she said. “So I came up with this really cool idea.”

Ganahl’s idea was a summer camp for dogs — the kind of place a dog might design for himself if he could. A boarder gets a comfortable Cabin with a cot, a fleece and room for his dog-mates if he’s from a multi-canine home. He gets all-day play, indoors and out, with other dogs his size, age, and temperament, and they’re under constant supervision. At night, in Camp Bow Wow’s temperature-controlled environment, soothing music is piped in to help tired pups get to sleep. She designed a space that was good enough for her dogs — and for millions of others, too, as it turned out. Customers fell in love with the concept as soon as it debuted in 2000. Entrepreneurs fell in love when franchising began in 2003.

Multi-unit owner Jordan Murray of Pittsburgh describes himself as “your average, casual dog owner” while wife and franchise co-owner Barbara is the more dog-obsessed of the two. They’d been shopping for franchise opportunities in the early 2000s when they came across Camp Bow Wow.

“We had two dogs at the time and had been leaving them with her parents, who were getting into their 70s. We never trusted a typical kennel,” he said. When the Murrays saw how Camp Bow Wow treated dogs — like the beloved family members they are rather than just animals — they were impressed. Not only did they love the sustainability and earnings potential, they knew they’d found the right solution for their dogs.

“They had webcams and all-day play. We finally felt we’d found a place where we’d feel comfortable leaving our dogs.”

There are ‘pet owners’ and ‘pet parents.’ Guess who spends more?

There are basically two types of relationships people have with dogs. Dog owners treat dogs like dogs. That’s not a bad thing because they are dogs. But “dog parents” treat their dogs like family and share a deep bond with their pets. More Americans are falling into the latter camp, and that emotional bond has helped power Camp Bow Wow’s growth.

Dog parents are high-margin and high-frequency customers and stark raving brand champions. They are fiercely loyal to those who treat their “fur kids” well.

Passionate dog parents loathe the traditional kennel model because dogs spend so much of the day trapped in cages. Before they discover Camp Bow Wow, many dog parents are forced to make a harsh decision while they work — crating their dogs to keep them safe and prevent damage when they cannot be home. Camp Bow Wow’s devotion to playtime, and our comfy Cabins for dogs give our 2-legged customers peace of mind that their dogs will have fun whether they are Campers for a day or a week.

Camp Bow Wow was forward-thinking enough to create the place they know they can entrust their babies to, and smart enough to monetize it. Not only can pet parents board their fur kids with us, they can also leave them for the day or just an afternoon.

Customers’ peace of mind provides an important revenue stream for our franchise owners. Pet parents don’t wait until they’re going out of town to send their dogs to Camp Bow Wow. They will drop their dogs off while they are at work, or if they plan to spend the day shopping with friends. Our franchise owners and their staff get to know our frequent Day Campers like members of their own families. Hi, Chessie! Welcome back, Wolfgang! Hey, Rocky! The dogs’ joy is palpable, and it’s a key reason we enjoy a lot of repeat business even during slower boarding seasons.

Damien D’Emic, Camp Bow Wow’s Vice President of R&D & Analytics, says pet parents quickly learn they can use Camp Bow Wow as a routine option in their daily lives, turning their dog over to us while they attend to other obligations. Boarding tends to be driven by vacations, which cluster around summer and the holidays, leading to peaks and valleys in that revenue stream. Day Camp is a stable revenue stream, and the dogs that are frequent visitors help build a cohesive pack culture that helps all dogs have a good time.

Customers trust Camp Bow Wow because we provide all the assurances of a nationally-recognized brand that’s the largest pet care franchise in the country. When owners go on vacation, their dogs should have at least as much fun as their people. They need to be surrounded by trained, knowledgeable staffers and they need to be housed in a clean environment where their safety can be assured. They need socialization, exercise and great food (preferably from home so their diet isn’t disrupted). They need love and affection, too. They’re guaranteed all of this from our highly-engaged staffers.

We’ve had a big impact on the kennel industry, and our passion and curiosity about what’s best for dogs and their humans drives us to keep pushing, keep innovating. The pet services outlook is strong. Disposable income will continue to grow, and pet parents — as opposed to the more traditional pet owners — are on the rise as well. Camp Bow Wow plans to seize these opportunities. If you want to know more about how you can be a part of that, please click the button below.