Leading doggy day care and boarding franchise, Camp Bow Wow, has its sights locked on growing its presence in the Great White North in 2020. Todd Haavind, VP of franchise sales, talks key territories, growth strategy and how the brand keeps dog owners coming back for more
JF: Why a focus on Canada?
TH: We’ve currently got one location in Canada that has been there for around 10 years – it’s run by a friend of the founder, and by default became the sole licence holder for the whole of Canada. It’s one unit in Nova Scotia, which is an unusual first location. However, this shows that we’ve gone to Canada, done it and have been very well received, but folks maybe didn’t realize the brand was a franchise, so we haven’t really grown in the region yet.
JF: Where in the country are you looking to expand to?
TH: The larger markets like Toronto and Vancouver are higher cost markets, and we’ll probably be looking to partner with someone from a franchise background – perhaps even a multi-unit background – who wants to come in and open five or so units and scale the brand. In the smaller and mid-level markets, we’ll be looking to emulate what we did with our growth in the U.S.
With Toronto especially, we’re finding the real estate is very expensive, so we’re looking for a well-capitalized partner – it will help if they’ve already been involved with franchise concepts in that area and already figured out the ins and outs of franchising in the Greater Toronto Area (GTA). The GTA is an interesting place and requires a different model; it’s like Canada’s New York City, when it comes to franchising.
We’re looking for owners that want to own one or two units, as well as multi-unit owners. We’re probably not looking for a master franchise for the time being, though, as we’re going to be running the operation out of the U.S., and until we have a critical mass, we won’t have a franchisor in the country. We have a successful track record and we believe we can mirror it in Canada. The consumer habits are very similar, and while there are different cultural nuances, we’ve done this for 20 years and we know it’s a viable economic model.
JF: Why should someone invest in a Camp Bow Wow franchise?
TH: We’ve been franchising in the U.S. since 2003. We started in Boulder in Colorado and grew there, and we now have 172 units. We’ve grown thoughtfully and strategically; we haven’t just put flags in the ground and opened a bunch of units. We map out where we want to be and we vet partners thoroughly. First and foremost, we want people who are passionate about dogs. We want well-capitalized people, too – it’s not a small investment, and sits around the $1m mark.
“We have a successful track record and we believe we can mirror it in Canada”
We’ve got a great, strong economic model and grown more internally than externally, meaning that owners will usually open a unit, and grow their portfolio from there. Any time a unit comes up for sale, it’s usually one of our existing franchise owners that put up their hand to buy it. We keep evolving and innovating our model and we’re always listening to franchisees.
JF: 2019 saw a record number of franchises sold with a 16 per cent increase in units purchased. What contributed to this?
TH: We sold 32 new units in 2019. I’ve been in franchising since around 2001 and worked with lots of different brands, but I think with the economy being so strong right now, we get a lot of people wanting to invest in a passion project. Many prospective franchisees may have retired and made their money, and they come and search for us. We don’t seem to have to chase candidates; they find us. It’s a great concept to be involved in if you’re passionate about dogs.
JF: What kind of premises does a franchisee require to run a Camp Bow Wow business?
TH: We look for around 6,000-8,000 square feet of space, so it’s not your usual unit in a retail center. In fact, we don’t want camps in retail centers at all, as for the space we require, the rents will be very high. We prefer to be a few blocks off main and main. We like light industrial commercials, as we want the same demographics of the retail center. We also need a landlord who’s willing to create outdoor space.
Site selection is challenging but we have a real estate team that helps prospective franchisees through that process and it’s included in the franchise fee. When you sign up, you meet the retail estate team straight away and pre-map the markets by looking at the best trade areas and zip codes. Around 50 per cent of households own dogs, so it’s not like we have to go out and find dog owners. It’s more about income, traffic patterns, rent, space – it’s not a perfect science, but we’ve been doing it a long time and we’re good at it. We know how to layout the area [once the site is selected] to get a great return on every square foot to make sure it flows operationally, rather than haphazardly designing a premises.
JF: What sets Camp Bow Wow apart from other doggy day care franchises?
TH: Over the years people have come to know us as a safe place to be – they know that their dogs are going to have a great time and come back clean and happy. Our operational standards are extremely high and safety is our number one priority. We’ve got protocol around how many employees franchisees need to have to account for a certain number of dogs. We have a dog behavioral specialist that teaches our operations team to educate employees to monitor dog behavior, and they can anticipate any situations before they escalate.
There’s also a three-hour process which dogs must pass to be able to stay at Camp Bow Wow. It’s pretty thorough and dogs do get rejected, but it’s all about the welfare of the animals. On average we probably welcome about 70 to 80 dogs per day – some camps have well above that, and we usually say 100 dogs is a good day for camps. 60 per cent of our revenue is from boarding, and we find that dog owners who have used our services enjoyed it so much – sometimes the dog even has a better vacation than the owner! – that they continue to bring the dog back for daycare. We say that if you visit us four times, you’re a lifelong Camp Bow Wow customer.