Feature Story

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Heidi Ganahl

CEO and Founder of Camp Bow Wow

Heidi Ganahl has a true story of tragedy to triumph. After losing her husband at the age of 27 and investing his insurance settlement in two failed start-ups, Heidi found herself broke and widowed by the age of 30. Following her passion, she began a doggy day care center in Denver in 2000. Since then, Camp Bow Wow has grown into a $50 million a year business and has sold 275 franchises. Heidi has been featured on Business Week Online and CNN Money and in Parenting, Entrepreneur and More Magazine, and Camp Bow Wow has been named one of the fastest growing women-owned businesses in the country.

Q: You are a true inspiration for women everywhere, showing that following your passion can yield great success. Tell us a little about how you found your inspiration for Camp Bow Wow and where you got the idea to turn it into a business.

Heidi Ganahl: The idea rose from the need to find great pet care for my two beloved furry friends back in 1994. My husband and I could not find anything suitable, and wrote the business plan for what would become Camp Bow Wow 5 years later. After finishing the business plan, my husband, Bion, suddenly died in a small plane crash, leaving me with a large settlement that eventually was lost due to bad investments, loans to friends, and two failed start ups. Five years later, my brother helped me pick the pieces back up and launch Camp Bow Wow (CBW). I started CBW because I was so passionate about providing great care for our animal companions, and making the experience fun and safe for the animals and their parents.

Q: Losing your husband is a horrible tragedy. How did you overcome that to achieve the level of success you have today?

Heidi Ganahl: It changed the way I looked at life. Life is short – anything can happen. My dogs helped me through that time of my life and I knew my late husband would want me to follow through on our business plan and make it happen. I felt like my dogs were saying, “Come on – you still have life to live! Let’s get up and play ball.” I didn’t want Bion’s death to be for nothing. Camp Bow Wow was where my heart was and I was determined to make it successful.

I stayed focused on our vision and used all the entrepreneurial spirit we had together, along with my experience and training in marketing and sales, to grow the business larger than I ever imagined!

Q: If you’ve had major mishaps or made mistakes in your career, it’s easy to become discouraged. What advice can you offer to women in these situations?

Heidi Ganahl: Be wary about hiring your friends and family to work for you. One of my best friends worked for me and ended up making personal charges on the company credit card and withdrawals from my bank account. In the end, I filed charges and won back the money, but it taught me a lesson that hiring someone just because you have a relationship is not a great idea. Although many of my family members have been great assets to the company, it creates a very difficult dynamic to manage.

Heidi Ganahl: Don’t settle for hiring people who look qualified. I hired a professor from my Master’s program to help build the Camp Bow Wow business and it turned out to be a disaster. This person fired several of Camp Bow Wow’s vendors that were key players in the franchise industry. I trusted him because he was a well-respected professor and was at one time my superior, but that is not enough. As an emerging entrepreneur, it is important to carefully check all employees’ backgrounds and qualifications. It is also helpful to set up a pay-per-performance compensation plan or start them out as a consultant and make them prove themselves. A business is only as strong as the people who run it.

Always trust your instincts and your own vision rather than believing that someone else knows better – no matter how well respected or experienced they are!

Q: At Career Woman Inc. we value the importance of mentorship in career development. Describe your most important mentor and how they helped you achieve success.

Heidi Ganahl: My mentors were my mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles…I grew up in a very entrepreneurial and adventurous family that instilled in me the idea I could do anything I desired! They have always encouraged me and set an example for me in living a life of abundance and enjoying every moment to the fullest!