Army Colonel Applies Military Leadership Experience to Doggy Daycare Business
It’s been nearly 11 years since Army Colonel Frank Wetegrove and his wife Tamara decided to embark on a new adventure. In 2007, they opened their first Camp Bow Wow location in San Antonio with the dream of being their own boss and providing a much-needed service in the community to dogs like theirs who needed quality care.
It was a big change for Wetegrove who has been either active duty or a reservist in the Army since 1985. But, he and Tamara were looking to own their own business, build a legacy for their five children and do something as meaningful as serving in the military. They were both excited to find Camp Bow Wow, now the largest pet care franchise in the U.S., at a time when doggy daycare and boarding was a pretty new concept, particularly in San Antonio. They loved how unique it was at the time and could offer a service that many canine owners desperately needed.
Wetegrove credits his military experience for both inspiring him and enabling him to pursue business ownership. He has had a broad and varied career in the military and as a “civilian.” He has served as both enlisted and as an officer in the Army. He’s done everything from transportation, supply and logistics to military intelligence - even serving as a commander of five separate and distinct units. He’s also a graduate of two of the most distinguished military schools, the U.S. Army War College and Joint and Combined Warfighting School. Currently, he is still an active Army Reservist, serving as a Senior Intelligence Officer in the 311th Signal Command in Hawaii. He travels to Hawaii several times a year to complete his duty requirements.
He joined the military, as many do, to pay for college. Since college, he has worked as an insurance agent, a network engineer, a middle school teacher, a sales engineer, an Air Force government servant and even in the family’s produce business as an onion farmer. He spent the bulk of his civilian career as a government contractor in IT and in the intelligence community. He even worked at the Pentagon at one point, upgrading their network infrastructure.
Up until 2015, Camp Bow Wow wasn’t his primary focus. Tamara ran their three Camps. But, when they added a fourth location that year, that’s when Frank decided to focus 100 percent on their Camp Bow Wow businesses. Today, the Wetegrove’s own three Camps in the San Antonio area and one in Austin with plans to open one more in each city over the next two years. They are considered Camp Bow Wow’s largest franchisee.
Search for a franchise business opportunityWhen they began their search for a business opportunity, they never imagined themselves in the doggy daycare and boarding business nor did they think they’d ever be this successful.
“We evaluated a variety of franchise brands and looked at everything from fast food to oil changes and car washes,” said Wetegrove. “We knew we wanted to do our own thing and select something we could initially run as a side business, but then slow down. In the end, we also decided we wanted to select a franchise that was meaningful to us.”
While they were evaluating different concepts, Tamara was on AOL one day and stumbled upon a story about an entrepreneur who started a franchise involving day care for dogs. She immediately called Frank, who was working for the Army in Washington, D.C. They had a great love for dogs and no one in the area offered a service like this. As consumers, they often traveled and didn’t have a reliable place to leave their dog.
The decision was made. They decided to open a Camp Bow Wow in San Antonio.
“There really weren’t any competitors at that time – Camp Bow Wow was a pioneer in the space,” said Wetegrove. “Heidi Ganahl (the founder) was impressive and we were pleased that it started as a small, family business. We also liked what other owners had to say – they were all very passionate about their business and had a love for animals.”
As many veterans do, they liked the idea of a franchise. It offered many advantages over starting your own business from scratch.
“We wanted to minimize the risk and exposure, as well as the chance of failure,” said Wetegrove. “A franchise offers that. They’ve spent an enormous amount of time and effort figuring out the formula. All we have to do is come in and focus on executing the formula and delivering great service to our customers.”
So, what started as a “side business” has steadily grown beyond their initial expectations. Now, they really do have a family business to pass down to their children and provide an alternative to “working for the man,” so to speak.
“We never imagined we would continue to grow like we’ve done. You get motivated to expand – maybe even a little over-confident. But, it’s changed my life,” added Wetegrove. “Having four locations compounds the complexity of running a business, but it also gives you the resources to do more. Having managers you can rely upon to help shoulder the burden makes a huge difference, as well.”
Translating military skills into business
Having commanded several military units has definitely given Wetegrove a leg up in the business world. Running four locations is not unlike leading a military organization with its tiered management structure. Wetegrove likens having Camp Managers to having Platoon Leaders in the Army. His Area Director is not unlike a second in command, who communicates with his Camp Managers. He says it’s very similar to how the Chain of Command works in the military and streamlines communication.
He also says that franchises are similar to the military in that they have very clear policies and manuals to follow. He has even adapted other management tools the Army uses to create a productive work environment. The military conducts regular professional counseling and annual reviews, which he uses in his business.
“Providing feedback to employees and helping them set goals is something I’m committed to doing. It not only holds them accountable, but it sets up clear expectations and provides a very clear path to success,” he added. “I think this is greatly appreciated and employees don’t think of me as being too rigid, but instead someone who is fair and provides structure, as well as invests in mentoring all employees.”
Wetegrove encourages other veterans to consider Camp Bow Wow. He advises them to go visit a location and take their dogs to see how they experience it. He also says to talk to franchisees and learn what they can from them. In addition, he says to look at reviews of Camps and check out the competitors in the same way to determine the value.
“Do your homework. Look at the opportunities. You may pay a little more for a franchise, but you are getting a turnkey solution,” he said. “If we hadn’t been with Camp Bow Wow, we wouldn’t be where we are today. It allowed us to scale more quickly and things are already vetted, so that you can be successful. We can focus on delivering a superior Camp experience and not all the other administrative stuff.”
According to Wetegrove, the military, whether you are a Colonel or a Sergeant, gives you the breadth of leadership experience you just can’t get anywhere else. In the military, you are asked daily to lead a mission, to manage an initiative or to mentor a soldier. You are put in a role to react to situations at all levels.
“All of this can be applied to running a business,” he added. “If you find something you can enjoy doing, the military experience will help you succeed.”