In recognition of National Puppy Day, we have decided to highlight one of our Policy Circle Connectors, Heidi Ganahl — the Founder of Camp Bow Wow.
In addition to her busy life as is a businesswoman, entrepreneur and elected member of the University of Colorado Board of Regent, Heidi Ganahl is a Policy Circle Connector.
What is your current role?
Focusing on being a Regent at the University of Colorado and making sure I do what I can to bring an entrepreneurial spirit to that endeavor. One of the key issues I’m focusing on is Free Speech and Diversity of Ideas. So I’ve been working with a student leader to launch the Free To Be Coalition and we’re trying to get great minds around the country who care about this issue to get together to share best practices and make sure we’re doing everything we can to preserve free speech on college campuses.
When did you get your first dog?
I got my first dog for my third or fourth birthday, her name was Daisy and she was a mangy looking mutt that was my best friend until I was 17 years old.
How many dogs do you have now?
I only have one dog right now because we have such a busy life with three kids under the age of eight and a 22-year-old off at school in Portland. So, we have a two-year-old yellow lab, named Henry, who’s also known as Crazy Henry, but he’s such a sweetheart.
So what ultimately was your inspiration for launching Camp Bow Wow?
It really came out of need. My first husband and I could not find a good place to keep our dogs — they were all those horrible old kennels with concrete and chain link fences and we thought, ‘gosh there’s got to be a better idea than this’ and about that same time one of the first doggy day cares in the country opened up next to my dad’s business in Englewood, Colorado. We thought that was the coolest thing since sliced bread. So we built a business plan that kind-of gussied that one up because it was just warehouse with a bunch of dogs running around.
We thought that if we made owners happy about leaving their dogs with us, then we’d probably make the dogs happier as well, and that’s good for everybody.
Tell us more about the growth of Camp Bow Wow.
It became the largest petcare franchise in the industry. When I sold it, it was about an $80 million dollar brand and since then it has become a $100 million dollar brand. There are about 150 franchises nationwide.
How did you handle the expansion?
It was super fun, a lot of hard work. It was growing so fast that we had to put every dollar and every ounce of energy back into the business.
Was Camp Bow Wow your first venture into the business world as an entrepreneur?
Not really. I tried a couple of other little businesses. You’ll laugh, but I came from selling pharmaceuticals out of college. I sold allergy and asthma products and one of the things I noticed was pediatric asthma equipment was really tough to find and for parents to get/have access to, so I created a little company called Achoo Allergy Products.
It was fun but it was really hard to deal with all the insurance companies and get them reimbursed so I kind of lost interest in dealing with the red tape of insurance.
Did that spike your initial interest in public policy?
Actually, it was around the time that I opened my first Camp Bow Wow and the zoning administrator showed up asking for our conditional use permit and I had no idea what that was.
Long story short, they decided that we were warehousing commodities and that the commodities were the dogs. He put all these restrictions on our business and I didn’t get it; he was not even an elected official, just a bureaucrat. It basically destroyed our first business — we had to pay penalties and ultimately move locations.
Was that experience what drove you to run for office?
I started to realize as I grew the business that education was really key to encouraging people to start their own businesses and making sure they had the tools and resources to do that. After selling Camp Bow Wow, sitting on various boards and being involved at my alma mater, the University of Colorado, I was encouraged to run for Regent. I had little idea what a Regent did but thought that if I could make a difference, why not?
How do you see the Policy Circle fitting in with the public policy dialogue?
It couldn’t be any more critical than it is right now. People learn most of what they know about issues off the internet and social media and I think we need some very well sourced conversation about policy issues and getting all sides of the issue.
People need to not be afraid to disagree about things. If we can start with the people in our neighborhoods whom we feel comfortable with I think that’s a great first step that will lead to bigger, more productive conversations out in the community and possibly getting more women to run for office.
How do you think The Policy Circle would have impacted you had you known about it before running for Regent?
It would have been very helpful if I had known more about the issues specifically pertaining to higher education and bigger issues that we talk about in higher education like the economy, job creation, free speech, etc.
As a Policy Circle Connector, what advice would you give to potential Circle Leaders?
Even though politics is crazy, it is so important for our children, our futures, our families. I truly believe that the hand that rocks the cradle rules the world. I think the buck stops with women. We really have to take the lead on creating a more collaborative, productive discussion about policy issues.
What do you have in the works?
I have two projects that are near and dear to my heart right now. One is the Fight Back Foundation — an incubator for other social entrepreneurs who want to solve tough issues that kids are facing in Colorado.
The other project is The She Factor — a book that I’m writing that shares the stories of successful women that want to share their knowledge with young women. Out of that came the idea of creating a digital platform and assessment game that helps young women graduating from college to help them figure out what careers would be a good fit for them, what management style they have, and how to create work-life balance.
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