National Pet Month: Pawfect pet businesses
National Pet Month was set up to raise money for UK pet charities and promote responsible pet ownership. We caught up with three Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni whose businesses are formed around our furry friends.
According to Mintel, the pet industry is going from strength to strength, with pet services one of the fastest-growing areas, reaching £717 million in 2017, as pet owners are looking for more ways to treat their pets.
One business in this sector is Longcroft Cat Hotel, the UK’s first luxury hotel group for cats, founded in 2010. Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel Group is the vision of founder and cat lover, Abi Purser, who recognised the demand for a higher standard of feline boarding in the UK. It all began with a chat over a coffee between Abi and her mother, which developed into the concept for the first five-star luxury cat hotel. Abi, struggling to find suitable accommodation for her own beloved cat, Norman, and felt that the industry approach to cat boarding was outdated. Cats were too often housed in small cages or kept in veterinary surgeries. Owners struggled to find adequate care for their beloved pets when they went away. After beginning in Abi’s back garden, with space for six feline guests, the business has now expanded to 20 hotels, which Abi runs as a franchise and has won awards including The Guardian’s Most Innovating Home Business. This rapid growth led Abi to apply for Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups.
Abi explains, “Demand for Longcroft’s five-star level of service quickly outstripped the number of rooms available, so we sought support and guidance for the best way to grow the business, how to develop a successful franchise and open more hotels following the same model. The global pet care market has grown 3% on average over the past five years. In the UK specifically, there has been an explosion in the pet care market, and change in culture. There has been a strong trend towards premiumisation, which is reflected in the success and growth of the Longcroft brand.”
The trend for luxury and a premium experience for pets could be for a number of reasons, but Abi believes certain groups are key to this, “Millennials have emerged as a major driver for growth in the UK pet care market, more likely than others to view their cat as a member of their family and willing to spend more on them, i.e. trading up the quality of pet foods, matching owners’ own dietary habits. Tech savvy customers are also better informed and have access to a greater breadth of services and reviews than ever before. They consequently demand a higher quality of experience for their pets as well as greater convenience.”
To keep ahead of the competition and to ensure the cats’ experience and welfare is as high as possible, Longcroft offers a range of features which benefit both the guest and their owner. “Longcroft has rewritten the rules on feline accommodation, our innovative and forward-thinking approach limits the number of feline guests in any of our hotels offering a far higher human to cat ratio. Animal welfare is the number one priority, which gives owners complete confidence their beloved pets will be well cared for.
“Longcroft offers a home-from-home experience and provides one-on-one handling and care from hotel owners for every cat. The five-star, fully licensed accommodation offers each feline their very own climate-controlled bedroom, leading onto a private, safe, garden play area, complete with multi-storey viewing platforms. Each suite provides the highest standards of hygiene and luxury, which includes Longcroft’s bespoke wrought iron cat beds with soft pillows. Hotels put owners’ minds at rest by sending them regular updates and photographs of their feline friends enjoying their kitty retreats. Longcroft offers a tailored service with a host of added extras, including a cat chauffeur service, room service with a choice of dishes from the ‘A La Cat Menu’, kitty pampering experiences and the Milky Whiskers Turn Down Service.”
Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is another Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups alumni who is putting welfare at the heart of their business. Lady Dinah’s Cat Emporium is a cat café, where guests can dine with 14 rescued felines in wonderland-themed tea rooms. To ensure the cats are puur-fectly happy, the Chief Cat Carer monitors best cat care practices and trains all staff.
Founder, Lauren Pears explains, “We employ a committed and caring workforce who love the cats and are driven to safeguard their best interests. Policies are necessary, but the key is having people who will enforce them and who will follow them willingly and with an understanding of why they matter.” The surroundings are also extremely important to make sure the cats are happy and happened to be one of Lauren’s favourite moments in business so far, “We took a week off to build a paper mâché tree in the basement for the cats. It has become a beautiful defining symbol of the café that we are all super proud of, and it was also wonderful to have that time with the team and create something special together. When it’s business as usual we don’t get that kind of time together as we’re always quite busy.”
It’s not just the staff who love interacting with the cats, customers can also see a benefit as Lauren states, “Cats are an icebreaker! I think the gift the café gives people is the ability to be distracted and unselfconscious. Guests tend to chat with each other and are more open and friendly because they’re starting from a shared love of animals. It’s a rare place in London where people are naturally inclined to chat away with strangers!”
Another business catering for the pet market is CT Vets, a mobile service providing visits for pets in their own homes. After working as a vet for more than 20 years, the founder, Martina Emiliani, has met clients who were unable to bring their pets in or who had pets so scared of new environments, that they developed the idea to offer a more comfortable way to see the vet. This brings multiple benefits to both the pet and the owner as Martina confirms, “It suits all types of owners, including those who have mobility issues, and we are the only chance they have to take care of their pets. We spend up to an hour to address all of the owners' concerns and we provide free unlimited follow-up calls by phone or video. Another benefit is that pets are safer, they don't risk meeting infectious animals, they don't have to move if they are in pain/uncomfortable, if they have diseases which deteriorate with stress (cardiopathic for example) it is absolutely contradictory to put them in a carrier or a car and bring them anywhere, and the list goes on… Ultimately, pets and owners are happier and less stressed in the environment of their home.”
Martina started using the Business & IP Centre for different workshops and made the switch between vet and entrepreneur. Once her business was up and running, the Innovating for Growth: Scale-ups programme became vital in helping CT Vets scale up, “I didn't know the impact that this programme would have on my business [when I applied]. Since completing the programme we have reorganised all protocols, hired two new members of staff, changed management system, rebuilt the website, focusing on a better user experience, we have started sending emails for clients, and we are launching live events, alongside other significant changes. All of this in the last six months!”
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