Meet The Women Behind This $100M Doggy Daycare


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.


A Modern Day Witch Hunt: How Caster Semenya's Gender Became A Hot Topic In The Media

Gender divisions in sports have primarily served to keep women out of what has always been believed to be a male domain. The idea of women participating alongside men has been regarded with contempt under the belief that women were made physically inferior.

Within their own division, women have reached new heights, received accolades for outstanding physical performance and endurance, and have proven themselves to be as capable of athletic excellence as men. In spite of women's collective fight to be recognized as equals to their male counterparts, female athletes must now prove their womanhood in order to compete alongside their own gender.

That has been the reality for Caster Semenya, a South African Olympic champion, who has been at the center of the latest gender discrimination debate across the world. After crushing her competition in the women's 800-meter dash in 2016, Semenya was subjected to scrutiny from her peers based upon her physical appearance, calling her gender into question. Despite setting a new national record for South Africa and attaining the title of fifth fastest woman in Olympic history, Semenya's success was quickly brushed aside as she became a spectacle for all the wrong reasons.

Semenya's gender became a hot topic among reporters as the Olympic champion was subjected to sex testing by the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF). According to Ruth Padawer from the New York Times, Semenya was forced to undergo relentless examination by gender experts to determine whether or not she was woman enough to compete as one. While the IAAF has never released the results of their testing, that did not stop the media from making irreverent speculations about the athlete's gender.

Moments after winning the Berlin World Athletics Championship in 2009, Semenya was faced with immediate backlash from fellow runners. Elisa Cusma who suffered a whopping defeat after finishing in sixth place, felt as though Semenya was too masculine to compete in a women's race. Cusma stated, "These kind of people should not run with us. For me, she is not a woman. She's a man." While her statement proved insensitive enough, her perspective was acknowledged and appeared to be a mutually belief among the other white female competitors.

Fast forward to 2018, the IAAF issued new Eligibility Regulations for Female Classification (Athlete with Differences of Sexual Development) that apply to events from 400m to the mile, including 400m hurdles races, 800m, and 1500m. The regulations created by the IAAF state that an athlete must be recognized at law as either female or intersex, she must reduce her testosterone level to below 5 nmol/L continuously for the duration of six months, and she must maintain her testosterone levels to remain below 5 nmol/L during and after competing so long as she wishes to be eligible to compete in any future events. It is believed that these new rules have been put into effect to specifically target Semenya given her history of being the most recent athlete to face this sort of discrimination.

With these regulations put into effect, in combination with the lack of information about whether or not Semenya is biologically a female of male, society has seemed to come to the conclusion that Semenya is intersex, meaning she was born with any variation of characteristics, chromosomes, gonads, sex hormones, or genitals. After her initial testing, there had been alleged leaks to media outlets such as Australia's Daily Telegraph newspaper which stated that Semenya's results proved that her testosterone levels were too high. This information, while not credible, has been widely accepted as fact. Whether or not Semenya is intersex, society appears to be missing the point that no one is entitled to this information. Running off their newfound acceptance that the Olympic champion is intersex, it calls into question whether her elevated levels of testosterone makes her a man.

The IAAF published a study concluding that higher levels of testosterone do, in fact, contribute to the level of performance in track and field. However, higher testosterone levels have never been the sole determining factor for sex or gender. There are conditions that affect women, such as PCOS, in which the ovaries produce extra amounts of testosterone. However, those women never have their womanhood called into question, nor should they—and neither should Semenya.

Every aspect of the issue surrounding Semenya's body has been deplorable, to say the least. However, there has not been enough recognition as to how invasive and degrading sex testing actually is. For any woman, at any age, to have her body forcibly examined and studied like a science project by "experts" is humiliating and unethical. Under no circumstances have Semenya's health or well-being been considered upon discovering that her body allegedly produces an excessive amount of testosterone. For the sake of an organization, for the comfort of white female athletes who felt as though Semenya's gender was an unfair advantage against them, Semenya and other women like her, must undergo hormone treatment to reduce their performance to that of which women are expected to perform at. Yet some women within the athletic community are unphased by this direct attempt to further prove women as inferior athletes.

As difficult as this global invasion of privacy has been for the athlete, the humiliation and sense of violation is felt by her people in South Africa. Writer and activist, Kari, reported that Semenya has had the country's undying support since her first global appearance in 2009. Even after the IAAF released their new regulations, South Africans have refuted their accusations. Kari stated, "The Minister of Sports and Recreation and the Africa National Congress, South Africa's ruling party labeled the decision as anti-sport, racist, and homophobic." It is no secret that the build and appearance of Black women have always been met with racist and sexist commentary. Because Black women have never managed to fit into the European standard of beauty catered to and in favor of white women, the accusations of Semenya appearing too masculine were unsurprising.

Despite the countless injustices Semenya has faced over the years, she remains as determined as ever to return to track and field and compete amongst women as the woman she is. Her fight against the IAAF's regulations continues as the Olympic champion has been receiving and outpour of support in wake of the Association's decision. Semenya is determined to run again, win again, and set new and inclusive standards for women's sports.