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Top Dog & Founder, Heidi Ganahl

Heidi shares her story of perseverance and passion with hopeful business leaders and entrepreneurs nationwide.
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Meet-the-Founder_2.jpgFROM TRIAL TO TRIUMPH 

I've always had a dog in my life. My parents gave me my first, a terrier mix, Daisy, when I was 3. I grew up in Monument, Colorado always with a pup at my side. I was also surrounded by a wonderful family who all encouraged me to try whatever I wanted in life.

After getting a bachelor’s degree in business administration in 1988, I went into pharmaceutical sales, but it wasn’t my passion. In 1990, I met my first husband, Bion, and we both had entrepreneurial mindsets. Someone started a doggy day-care place next door to where he worked (way before anyone knew what dog day care was). We had two big dogs (Winnie, a chow-retriever mix and Mick, a boxer-collie mix) and decided to expand on that idea and create a boarding facility that would offer doggy day care, grooming, and training but focus on FUN!

We put together a business plan in 1994 and started looking for space. For Bion’s 25th birthday, my family and I arranged a surprise flight in a 1943 Stearman biplane with a friend who flew in air shows. They were doing a flyby when the plane dove into the ground, 75 yards from my parents, and both men died. It put us all through a terrible time, and I dropped the business plan idea, which we had named Camp Bow Wow.

Five years later, my younger brother, Patrick, said, "You seem really lost. Why don't you start Camp Bow Wow, and I'll help you with it?" So in 2000, I used the last of my savings to start the business I was really passionate about.

We found an old Veterans of Foreign Wars hall and launched one of the first few dog day cares in Colorado. At first the biggest challenge was convincing customers that dogs could play together safely and have fun. We talked to people walking their dogs, put on charity events for animal causes, left door hanger ads, and visited veterinarians to promote the business.

I started a second location in 2002, and a client suggested I go to the International Franchising Association conference. I met great people there who mentored me, and we became the first pet-care facility to start franchising, in 2003. It was a crazy ride, but we grew it to an $80 million brand with over 100 Camps!

In 2014, I met the founders of VCA and we hit it off. We talked about how we could work together, and it resulted in VCA buying Camp Bow Wow. It's been a wonderful transition, and I'm proud Camp Bow Wow is part of the VCA family!

It took me a while to figure out what I wanted to do when I grew up, but I truly found my passion in this business. I love this brand and I’m proud we give dogs a happy, healthy place to hang out. Like dogs, I try to focus on the now and live in the moment. I hope my journey will inspire all of you to kick away the fears that are holding you back and finally make the leap you have been dreaming of, perhaps a Camp Bow Wow franchise! You get one life to live, just one, so follow your passion and play ball!

INSPIRING OTHERS 

I gain strength by telling my own story of struggle. Although I understand my specific tribulations are not relevant to many entrepreneurs, I hope my words of perseverance spark inspiration, and my perspective on business fuels the hunger of hopeful business owners and leaders everywhere.

Charles Darwin said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. From my experiences, change is what it’s all about. Life was not meant to be stagnant or easy—it was meant to be challenging and full of experiences to learn from. The paths you choose make you the person you are—so grab change with a feeling of zest and excitement! Fear of change will paralyze you, while welcoming change will allow you to evolve and keep life interesting!

I hope the story of my journey will inspire all of you would-be entrepreneurs and leaders to kick away the fears that are holding you back and finally make the leap you have been dreaming of. Tragedy, loss, misfortune and overwhelming responsibility have led to my tenacity and perseverance. These are traits I have cultivated to overcome the fear that stalls so many from achieving both personal strength and greatness as a leader and entrepreneur. You get one life to live, just one. If you’re lucky enough, you have supportive friends and family to inspire, and keep you stable. But know that everything you need in life already exists within yourself.

It’s been a long, tough road for me. There is a saying that goes, glass that’s been shattered reflects the light in a beautiful way that it cannot if the glass remains intact. I’ve had my dreams shattered many times, but it’s been the “getting through it” that has created my resilience and my faith in myself.

WHERE CAMP BOW WOW IS TODAY

The Camp Bow Wow brand continues to grow at a fast clip with over 130 open Camps and a wonderful charity, the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation. My vision is ultimately to have 1,000 units. In August 2014, I sold the company to VCA Inc. to further this vision and to really be a player in pet care. I didn't have the capital to get to 1,000 and didn't want to sell the business to any old private equity. I'd rather play with a great name in the pet industry that I trust. I still love waking up every day and taking on the next business challenge. I was recently honored to receive recognition by Fortune Magazine as one of the 10 Most Promising Women Entrepreneurs.

I’ve also been able to realize my dream of creating a nonprofit organization, The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, which provides urgent medical care funds to dogs who are either homeless or whose parents can't afford to pay their veterinary bills. Dogs are amazing creatures and add endless joy to our lives, but unfortunately, pets are often denied urgent medical care simply because their parents can't afford the treatment costs. The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation provides a lifeline to ease this burden and potentially prevent the heartbreaking loss of a furry loved one. Since October 2015, we've raised nearly $210,000 and helped over 110 sick and injured dogs in need. 

WHAT IS HEIDI UP TO NOW?

I currently reside in the Boulder, Colorado area with my husband Jason, children Tori, Hollie, Jack and Jenna and lovable lab, Henry. I enjoy hiking, traveling and working on various charitable causes including my elected position as a University of Colorado Regent. I speak to groups around the country to inspire and share my story (more info at HeidiGanahl.com), and I hold board positions with various non-profits focused on entrepreneurship and education. I also launched a charity dedicated to empowering folks in Colorado to change the world for the better for our kids – The Fight Back Foundation. My devotion to the importance of job creation, children's issues, education and animal welfare keeps me busy!

I hope the story of my journey will inspire all of you would-be entrepreneurs and leaders to kick away the fears that are holding you back and finally make the leap you have been dreaming of.