Camp Bow Wow supplements its growth by expanding training
By Alison Huff


We're always excited to talk about franchise training practices and we're especially happy to revisit the subject of Camp Bow Wow a national franchise dedicated to man's best friend. Camp Bow Wow is an establishment that operates well beyond a traditional "kennel" service; it offers a fun daycare for dogs and also provides a safe, comfortable environment for overnight stays.

We spoke with Christina Russell, President and Camp Bow Wow's "Leader of the Pack." The franchise is in the midst of nearly-unprecedented growth, selling 26 units in 2016. "We were one short of record sales last year in terms of the franchises we sold and this year, we anticipate that we will go past that," Christina said.

Camp Bow Wow has seen a great deal of interest from people outside of the pet sector, an unexpected and welcomed enthusiasm that "puts a lot of pressure on us to make sure that all of our training resources and materials are in such a state that we will be ready for the growth," Christina explained. Her goal is to ensure that Camp Bow Wow has every tool and resource available for new franchisees to reach their full potential.

Positive Changes For Paws-itive Growth
Camp Bow Wow's upgrade strategy involved taking a hard look at all of their training resources to discover ways to modernize and bring them to the next level. Laurie Windler, Vice President of Operations and "Top Ops Dog," developed a new series of guides and resources that take onboarding training far deeper than it's ever been.

"We had done some research on retention rates in our camps, and actually sent out a former owner who we retained as a consultant to go out and gather the recon on what was working and what wasn’t," Christina said. What they discovered was that employee retention had less to do with pay and more to do with better onboarding training.

"We saw that across the board in both our corporate camps and our franchise camps," Christina observed. She notes that the trend is largely influenced by their workforce's generation; most Camp Bow Wow employees are millennials, entry-level people taking on their first serious jobs. They're young and still trying to figure out where they want to be. "This generation has less of that feeling of loyalty, so they don’t come into the workforce feeling like they’re going to be somewhere for years. That concept isn’t even relevant to them," she added.

Their expectations certainly aren't a bad thing, she told us, but they do require a different approach, one that makes it imperative for a franchise to give their employees a real reason to stay on longterm. For Camp Bow Wow, that strategy involves a tangible investment in each person, providing them with valuable work skills that will carry through to any other profession.

“That kind of investment makes a difference just in terms of their psychological connection to the camp," Christina explained. Most of Camp Bow Wow's employees are interested in working in the pet sector, so learning about managing play yards, gate management, and canine behavior are transferrable skills they can take anywhere. They're more excited about their roles when they understand the methods as well as the reasoning behind those methods, all the while further ingraining that culture and the love of dogs.

Camp Bow Wow has also developed richer tools for analytics, giving area directors solid internal resources that help business owners gain a better understanding of their numbers. By digging into a franchise's data, business owners can better understand and project how decisions surrounding pricing or staffing changes will affect their bottom line.

Digging Deeper
Prospective franchisees are understanding the importance of training to a greater degree than ever before, and Camp Bow Wow recognizes that the quality of a franchisor's training practices can make or break the franchisee's decision to sign on. They want to know exactly what they're getting into and Christina feels their inquiries are both valid and important.

"As franchisors, we want franchisees that are asking those kinds of questions because it tells us that they’re ready for what is going to be coming at them." Not only does it demonstrate their willingness to accept responsibility for their own business, but it also holds the franchisor accountable for support. "We’re not successful if they’re not successful," Christina said. "We have to provide the training, but they have to take that training very seriously."

Camp Bow Wow relocated their corporate offices next door to their flagship, a move that enables them to offer classroom training in the conference room before heading straight to camp for valuable hands-on experience.

Laurie Windler recently revamped Camp Bow Wow's training materials in a way that actually earned an applause at their regional meeting this past May, releasing an Onboarding Guide and Facilitator Guide for the front-of-house and back-of-house operations.

The Onboarding Guide is essentially the nuts-and-bolts of operations, detailing everything a camp counselor would need to know within the first 30 days of employment. Previously, this type of training would be largely web-based, but the physical handbook now gives the employee a physical tool to learn from. "It makes all the difference," Christina noted. Every camp gets the exact same Onboarding Guide.

The Facilitator Guide is a training manual for leads, those employees who are responsible for training others. While a person may have a firm grasp on the mechanics of a job, they don't necessarily know the best way to train others to do it; the Facilitator Guide empowers leads with effective training approaches. This particular guide is more fluid, because the physical camps are somewhat variable in terms of cabin style, storage, and layout. Facilitator Guides are tailored to individual locations, their environment, and specific market.

Every year, franchisees also attend two regional meetings with field support to receive the latest changes and information, and they have also have 24/7 access to area directors for immediate support and training issues.

Fetching Farther
This fall, Camp Bow Wow will implement a deeper level of dog training, revamping the current video program and hosting live workshops out in the field. The first live workshops are slated to begin around late September or early October, 2017.

"Our goal is to get each one of the camps to come to one of those live meetings and bring the person in their camp who’s responsible for training people on all the dog behavior aspects," Christina explained. "It’s something we can get them to see, touch, feel, interact, and have a little more experience with than just doing it on their own at their camp."

All of these training upgrades will pave the way for Camp Bow Wow's projected future growth. "We’re going to double the size of our system in the US within the next four years," Christina said, predicting 300 units by the end of 2020. In addition to supporting growth within the US, Camp Bow Wow is exploring international markets, an objective that makes effective training packages absolutely critical.

"Right now, any of my team can jump on a plane and be out there to help a camp that’s struggling within a few hours, but once we go international, that dynamic shifts a little bit," Christina told us. Camp Bow Wow is determined to provide the tightest training system possible before selling their franchise as an international concept.

"I think our reputation speaks for itself," Christina said. Analyzing metrics to guide strategy while continually seeking ways to do things better are big factors in Camp Bow Wow's growth. "I think brands that don’t make this kind of investment on the operational and training side end up stagnating because word gets around," she observed. "It’s about smart development with the right people and providing the tools so they can succeed."

Like so many others, Christina has found her home at Camp Bow Wow. Working with the brand since 2014, she noted that it presents a unique value set that really spoke to her. "With this brand, what I love is that they knew who they were in the pet industry and they understood that their core focus is making dogs happy, and that makes pet parents happy."

Camp Bow Wow's motto is "Happy Health Pets, Happy Healthy People," a slogan that resonates with Christina and dog aficionados everywhere. "It’s a fun industry to be in," she said. "If you can’t have fun in the pet space, you can’t have fun."

About Camp Bow Wow
First opened as a single location in Denver, Colorado, Camp Bow Wow began franchising in 2003. As of this writing, Camp Bow Wow has 141 franchises in operation with more in development, projecting to double their current number of units by the end of 2020. Camp Bow Wow ranked #1 in the 2016 and 2017 pet category on the Entrepreneur Franchise 500 list with their low-risk, high-growth franchise. For more information about Camp Bow Wow and its franchising opportunities, costs, and fees, visit their franchise website here.

About Training Series
As part of our own expansion and growth, we’re excited to continue our training series. This series encompasses a wide variety of channel topics designed to help channel partners gain knowledge of successful business practices.

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