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Women in Business: Q&A with Heidi Ganahl, Founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow

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Heidi Ganahl is the Founder and CEO of Camp Bow Wow, the largest and fastest growing pet care franchise in North America. Through her personal and professional tragedies - from the loss of her young husband, to losing a million dollar insurance settlement - Heidi has faced extraordinary adversity. She responded by turning her life-long passion for dogs into Camp Bow Wow and created The Bow Wow Buddies Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives and health of animals all over the world. Heidi and her first husband Bion conceived the idea of starting a doggy day and overnight care business from their love for dogs and the need for a market alternative to the bleak conditions of the traditional kennel environment. Unfortunately, shortly after Heidi and Bion finished developing the Camp Bow Wow business plan, Bion was killed in a tragic plane crash on his 25th birthday.

In 2003, Heidi started franchising the concept and has now sold over 200 franchises. Today, Camp Bow Wow is one of the largest women owned franchise companies, one of the largest and fastest growing brands in the pet industry, the largest pet care franchise in the world and a $75 million leader in the $53 billion United States pet sector.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
I've learned to be authentic and speak directly to an issue, not dance around it. I've learned to be compassionate and understand there is always more to the story before jumping to conclusions around a situation. I've learned to have fun and enjoy each and every moment of this journey! I've learned that failure is just a step towards greatness, don't fear it, embrace it!

How has your previous employment experience aided your position as the founder of Camp Bow Wow?
Yes, my pharmaceutical sales experience taught me how to connect with clients and how to effectively communicate our brand. My advertising experience has helped tremendously in building our brand!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
Sometimes I don't very well : ) but I try to take each day at a time and put my faith and family first always. I also have learned not to beat myself up if I have to work hard for a few days away from my family, or if I need to spend time with my family and give up on work a bit...

What have the highlights and challenges been during your tenure at Camp Bow Wow?
The highlights have been around two things - helping people find a way to make a living doing something they love, and helping find homes for over 10,000 dogs over the past few years through our foundation!

What advice can you offer individuals who are seeking to establish their own business?
Be wary about hiring your friends and family to work for you. I hired one of my best friends, who 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. I lost a close friend, a lot of money at one point, and a lot of time wasted to the fiasco.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
Financing is tough - not much access to capital right now and being a woman makes it even harder as we don't network as well as men typically to make those connections. Another issue is trying to balance our family life with our work - we are typically the end stop when caring for family so when you run your own business the demands are intense on our time and energy.

What are your thoughts on Sheryl Sandberg's Lean In book and movement?
I think that it's encouraging a very healthy conversation about women and work and supporting women in thinking through how they can live their lives most meaningfully.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
It's very fulfilling - I love working with high school and college aged kids and instilling them a passion and excitement around entrepreneurship and following their passion.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
I admire Nikki Haley, the governor of South Carolina - and Jan Brewer in AZ. They are fearless and making change happen positivity in their states amid lots of drama, gossip and folks trying to hold them back. I actually admire Sarah Palin and her commitment to her values and our country, even if I don't agree with everything she says. I admire Sheryl Sandberg for taking a stand around the challenges of being a woman in the workplace and making the conversation happen out in the open for women.

What are your hopes for the future of Camp Bow Wow?
We will continue to grow the business and offer the best quality pet care possible. My goal is to establish 1,000 Camp Bow Wow doggy daycare camps nationwide. I'm also concentrating a lot of time and energy into the charitable arm of Camp Bow Wow, the Bow Wow Buddies Foundation; a non-profit organization dedicated to improving the lives and health of animals everywhere.