Camp Bow Wow, the nation’s largest franchiser of dog day and overnight care centers, is poised for one its largest years of growth.
The $100M-plus pet-care company, which has sold nearly 150 franchises in 42 states and Canada during its 16 years in business, expects to open more than 20 camps this year. That is up from nine franchise openings last year.
It is a move the company has been gearing up for since hiring Jay Mihulka as senior director of real estate in June 2015. Five years from now, Camp Bow Wow plans to open 40 facilities a year, Mihulka said.
“We’re building a real estate and construction team to achieve that, but we also have to sell enough franchises to achieve those kinds of numbers,” Mihulka said. “We have some corporate camps that we own and operate. If we need to sprinkle a few more corporate camps in there, we can do that. We’re working on putting the infrastructure in place.”
With nearly 150 locations throughout the United States, Camp Bow Wow is a dominant player in the nearly $70B U.S. pet industry, of which pet services such as grooming and boarding account for an estimated $6.11B, according to the American Pet Products Association.
Founded in 2001 by Heidi Ganahl, Camp Bow Wow was purchased in 2014 by VCA Inc., a leading animal healthcare company, which was acquired by Mars Inc. in 2017.
The company is opening new camps in Monroe and Silverdale, Washington; South Asheville, North Carolina; Austin, Georgetown, Flower Mound, Plano, Arlington and Sugarland, Texas; Phoenix; Liberty and Kansas City, Missouri; Longmont, Colorado; Fair Oaks, California; Prairieville, Lousiana; Woodlawn, Maryland; and Oak Creek, Wisconsin.
While zoning requirements generally push Camp Bow Wow franchises into industrial areas, Mihulka has been encouraging its franchisees to locate in retail areas if the zoning allows it.
“In most cases, we need special-use permits, which are fairly common,” Mihulka said. “I never recommend variances — that’s a crapshoot and costs a lot of money.”
Mihulka recommends franchisees, who are pre-qualified for financing, work with a broker in their market to find locations. The corporation will help franchisees find a broker and negotiate deals. It also provides franchise owners with a three-year model that allows them to input numbers to determine whether a location will work.
The two biggest challenges Camp Bow Wow faces in finding the right locations for its facilities are zoning and landlord acceptance of the concept. Because Camp Bow Wow’s franchise agreements are for 10 years, the company tries to negotiate 10-year leases.
“I have a PowerPoint presentation geared toward landlords and municipalities to give a history of the company and what we do today — to show them we have a proven operation. It helps sell them,” Mihulka said. “We’re the largest in the industry as a chain, but there are 100,000 boarding and kennel facilities in the United States. We’re not a fly-by-night operation.”
The cost to open a Camp Bow Wow is about $1M, which includes building out the facility, the franchise fee and working capital for the first year.
“It takes a certain amount of time to ramp up and get to break-even and profitability,” Mihulka said. “They’re not cheap to open, but they are profitable.”