Starting a hotel for cats

Abi Purser started Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in 2010, and franchised the business soon after. SmallBusiness.co.uk talks to her about starting up.

How did you get the idea?

In June 2010, I needed my cat looking after while I was away. I was surprised at the low quality of the cat boarding industry in terms of how the catteries deal with their clients and the cleanliness of the establishments, and wasn’t comfortable leaving my cat in such places. My husband and I had just bought a new house with some extra space so I decided to start something different to anything out there, and the concept of the cat hotel was born.

What are the aesthetics of a cat hotel?

A lot of catteries are made of timber which is like a sponge. With ours every single element is impervious to the elements, and totally germ-free. Cats get very stressed if they can smell other animals that have been there previously, and the owner can see this when they are collected and they wont come back.

Just because they’re animals doesn’t mean they want to look at a blank wall. It had to match the level of care my cat would receive at home, but in a business.

How did you finance and market it?

I put about £40,000 into this which was raised though a combination of loans from my mum and savings. On the marketing side, we were lucky because my husband has a media agency so we knew who to speak to. We got worldwide press when we opened and also did online marketing on Twitter and Facebook. After initially perceiving it as a bit quirky, people now understand it does work. There’s a lot of press we have turned down because certain publications won’t take it seriously and we don’t want to cheapen the brand.

When did you decide to franchise the model and why?

Within six weeks of opening. In our first year we had to turn down 150 customers over Christmas. We had had a 90 per cent occupancy rate since opening, so I knew I had to do something to increase capacity. I didn’t have the funds to replicate what I had at the time, so I decided to franchise.

I spent some time drilling down into what we did and why we were successful, and found a very good franchise advisor to help create a model we could replicate. We currently have one franchisee who has been running her operation for three months, but more are set to follow in West Sussex, Dulwich and hopefully Glastonbury.

What’s the future plan?

Turnover for each operation won’t go much above £69,000 because of capacity limitations, but there’s a 90 per cent profit margin. I hope to have 200 operations in ten years’ time. Once you’ve got the first five or so up and running, they’ll sell themselves but at the same time we’re starting in a shaky economic climate and raising money is still obviously very tough.

Related Topics

Pets

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