José Morillo Of Camp Bow Wow: Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise

An Interview With Cynthia Corsetti

Know yourself well enough to gain a full understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses. This takes a lot of honest internal conversations with yourself. One you figure out your weaknesses, learn to hire for them to achieve successful franchise operations and not overwhelm yourself thinking you can manage them all.

The world of franchising offers a unique blend of entrepreneurship and established business models. However, navigating the franchise landscape can be daunting, especially for those embarking on this journey for the first time. There are lessons to be learned, pitfalls to avoid, and success stories to be inspired by. As part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing José Morillo.

Camp Bow Wow franchise owner José Morillo, who operates Camps throughout Texas located in Katy (2015), Kemah (2018) and Cypress (2020)

For over a decade, José Morillo served as the CEO of hospitals across the west coast of Florida. As he approached his tenure, he started to contemplate the direction of his next journey and knew he wanted to contribute back to his local community and as a life-long dog lover found a home in franchising through Camp Bow Wow. In 2014, he embarked on his franchise journey and has since opened three Camps throughout Texas in Katy, Kemah, and Cypress. This year, he was honored at the IFA Annual Convention as a 2023 Franchisee of the Year, who recognizes leading franchise owners from IFA member brands whose outstanding performance and contributions help protect, enhance, and promote the franchise business model.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series. Before we dive into our discussion about succession, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

For a decade, I served as the CEO of hospitals across the west coast of Florida. As the later years of my tenure approached, I found myself contemplating the direction of my next journey. It became clear to me that I desired to contribute more directly to my local community. Thus, my wife and I began exploring various franchise opportunities.

During one serendipitous evening while dining out, we stumbled upon a newly opened Camp Bow Wow in our area. We were immediately intrigued by the franchise concept, so we reached out to learn more about the brand. It was also my cherished Chihuahua, Taco, who inspired us to invest in a pet franchise, and years later we now have three additional Chihuahuas, Pepe, Trini and Rico. Upon arranging a meeting, we were given a comprehensive tour of the Camp, and I was immediately captivated by the concept.

Following my initial tour, I delved into researching the franchise concept further. I requested additional information and visited other Camp locations to gain a deeper understanding. Subsequently, in 2014, I embarked on the franchising process by visiting the corporate headquarters, where I had the opportunity to meet the entire leadership team. Every step seemed to align seamlessly with my journey. As fate would have it, the hospital where I was employed changed ownership, leaving me with the financial means to embark on my new venture as a Camp Bow Wow franchise owner.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Of course — happy to share the most interesting stories that have happened to me since I started my career at Camp Bow Wow. The first was that it was most interesting to begin working with high school and college-aged students after working with healthcare industry professionals for most of my career. As a franchise owner, I was the one in charge of guiding and teaching them along the pathway to allow me to run a successful pet care franchise and learn how to effectively communicate with each of them to achieve our business goals.

Another fascinating revelation I’ve come to appreciate is the remarkable love parents have for their dogs, often surpassing that for their own children. At Camp Bow Wow, we’re committed to delivering the utmost care for our pets, recognizing and honoring the deep bond they share with their human companions. Our dedication to excellence ensures that we consistently provide the highest quality service for our pet parents.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Glad to share a favorite “Life Lesson Quote” with you that is important to me as it was given from my dad, who was a Vietnam war veteran. It was given to me during a time I will never forget as I was distressed from trying to get into medical school during my early twenties and I didn’t get accepted during my first year.

I remember my dad letting me do my own thing to recover from this loss and one day he walked into my room and said it’s time to move on and come up with something different. Then one day, he entered my room and uttered a phrase that has since become ingrained in my being: “FIDO” — in military parlance, it stands for “Forget It, Drive On.” This simple yet profound mantra has been a guiding principle throughout my life. In fact, I now wear a bracelet inscribed with these words, serving as a daily reminder of that transformative moment.

We will always have challenges that come our way when we are building a business, but you need to look at the situation, come up with a plan and drive on to achieve your goals. This is the best life lesson that I’ve had from my dad that he has applied throughout my career.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I know for a fact that what makes us stand out is our focus on safety for our dogs at each Camp Bow Wow Camp. I’ve achieved success in this key element due to my hospital industry experience as safety was always the number one focus for our patients. This is what truly attracted me to Camp Bow Wow as it’s all about safety when it comes to our dogs. We want to make sure that our Campers can play in a healthy, safe environment and the franchise concept has achieved this over the last 20 years at more than 200 Camps across 41 states.

Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. What factors did you consider when selecting your franchise, and how did you determine it was the right fit for you?

Factors were an important part of how I selected a franchise. I needed to make sure that when I selected a franchise concept that if it was a brand that people wanted and needed in their lives. When it comes to dogs, people are going to do just about everything to take care of them to their best ability. I knew at this point that entering Camp Bow Wow would be a sustainable business for me to invest in.

Another key factor was if I was going to join a franchise brand that had strong support from the franchisor and leadership team. I needed to know that they would provide support during the onboarding process and throughout my entire journey of growth with the brand. Despite my evolving knowledge of the industry, I recognized the invaluable support of a corporate leadership team as paramount. In this regard, Camp Bow Wow has exceeded my expectations, providing exceptional guidance every step of the way.

Can you share a significant challenge you faced while establishing your franchise?

How did you overcome this obstacle, and what did this experience teach you about running a successful franchise? An important challenge I encountered while establishing my franchise was effectively working and communicating with an age group that I wasn’t accustomed to interacting with daily. Recognizing this as a personal weakness, I understood the urgency in overcoming this obstacle immediately.

To address this challenge, I made the strategic decision to hire a Director of Operations, who initially started off as a manager at one of my Camps, who happened to be my daughter-in-law, who is closer in age to deal with human resources issues. I quickly realized the importance of having her directly manage these situations to ensure the smooth operation of my Camp Bow Wow franchise. This approach was a game- changer for me, demonstrating the value of bringing in key individuals to collaborate in running the business alongside me.

Looking back to when you first started your franchise, what was one aspect that completely took you by surprise? This could be related to the franchising process, customer interactions, or day-to-day management that you hadn’t anticipated.

From a franchise standpoint, one of the biggest surprises coming in as a former CEO of a hospital was that I couldn’t do things the way I thought they should be done. In the grand scheme of things, it turns out it was for the best and since Camp Bow Wow knew exactly what they were doing in order to launch my Camp and operate it effectively

Another thing that took me by surprise was the passion that parents have for their dogs. I had to learn to be very respectful of their passion and put myself into the shoes of any dog owner related decisions that we made at Camp and any ways we needed to educate our customers to ensure they knew their pets were in a safe place while they were away.

In hindsight, what advice would you give to potential franchisees about selecting a franchise that aligns with their personal and professional goals?

It’s important to look at what you are strong on — as a hospital CEO — I was good at numbers and managing large groups of people. I was also good at looking at profit and loss statements to make sure the businesses were run efficiently.

For those considering selecting a franchise, my advice is to assess your strengths and utilize them in your chosen franchise. Embrace the skills you’ve honed over the years and integrate them into your business strategy. Don’t shy away from applying your unique style and expertise to your new venture.

How do you balance adhering to the established systems of your franchise with the need to innovate and adapt to your local market? Can you provide an example of a successful adaptation or innovation you implemented in your franchise?

It’s important not to be afraid to offer recommendations to your franchisor and to always stay in good communication with them. When things are happening at your Camp Bow Wow Camp, they always need to know what is going on. As a perfect example, I started to see enrichment services offered by our competitors and it was one service we did not offer. As a member of our Franchise Advisory Council, I was able to speak up to get enrichment services launched as an opportunity to grow Camp Bow Wow offering new services for dogs.

What are your “Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Opening a Franchise”?

  1. Be sure to decide ahead of time what your ultimate goal is with this new business. Are you buying yourself another job, or do you want to be a business owner? It’s important to know ahead of time what your game plan will be. For example, I knew ahead of time that I wasn’t looking to do the day-to-day management of a Camp Bow Wow franchise, which is why I had my daughter- in-law join me as my Director of Operations. She joined me through the initial training to ensure she was well-educated on the Camp Bow Wow franchise before we opened our Camp.
  2. Know how vital it is to determine your expected profit margins ahead of time. Be sure to have a clear picture of creating your pro forma and what your future is going to look like to understand your profit margins allowing you to shift necessary funds to shift it over into a separate bank account. This allows you to start building your cash reserves to help run your overall business operations.
  3. Know yourself well enough to gain a full understanding of your personal strengths and weaknesses. This takes a lot of honest internal conversations with yourself. One you figure out your weaknesses, learn to hire for them to achieve successful franchise operations and not overwhelm yourself thinking you can manage them all.
  4. Try to find similarities to where you are and what it is you want to do. For example, being in the hospital business you would think it has nothing to do with dogs, but I quickly discovered that it has everything to do. In a hospital, I have patients in rooms who must be fed, medicated and provided with treatments at certain times — all who need a clean environment. The exact same scenario takes place in the pet care industry, where I need to have a safe, clean environment for dogs, who also need to be fed, medicated and receive exercise throughout their visits. When I took in that these were the similarities it was gold, and I was able to create processes to operate efficiently.
  5. The stress of making a decision to move on my own was unnecessary. There’s an old saying that goes, ‘He who suffers more before it is necessary suffers more than necessary.’ This rang true for me when I decided to open a Camp Bow Wow franchise. I realized there was no need to stress myself when I knew I was making the right decision.

Thank you for the time you spent sharing these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

About the Interviewer: Cynthia Corsetti is an esteemed executive coach with over two decades in corporate leadership and 11 years in executive coaching. Author of the upcoming book, “Dark Drivers,” she guides high-performing professionals and Fortune 500 firms to recognize and manage underlying influences affecting their leadership. Beyond individual coaching, Cynthia offers a 6-month executive transition program and partners with organizations to nurture the next wave of leadership excellence.