Home Business Heroes, in association
Home businesses generate £284bn of the UK's GDP making
them the true heroes of our economy. So to continue Smarta and Viking's celebration of
these brave entrepreneurs, we tracked down Abi Purser, founder of
The Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel.
Name: Abi Purser
How would you sum up your business?
The Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel offers five-star luxury
accommodation for cat owners who really care about their cats. Just
like any five-star hotel, we provide our guests with every
luxury - from wrought iron designer cat beds with soft pillows and
individually decorated bedroom suites to gourmet food served on
bone china. Everything is designed around the well-being of our
guests and the peace of mind of cat owners who can rest assured
that their pets will be looked after in a loving, safe and, above
all, hygienic environment while they are away. After turning down
150 clients in our first Christmas, we knew we had to expand. We
have successfully franchised the business model and our second
hotel opened in April this year.
When did you launch?
I opened the first hotel here at home in June 2010 and we've
been nominated for six national awards since then.
What were you doing before?
I ran a team of saddle fitters for 12 years. Our clients
included Olympic team members, so I guess that's where the
attention to detail comes in. I am passionate about high
standards when it comes to animal care and love working with
animals, so this was a great career while it lasted. But after I
had my second son it was very difficult to keep up a demanding
full-time job away from home.
How did you get the idea?
I discovered first-hand that the standard of many boarding
catteries in the UK was at best middling and at worst poor when I
was looking for somewhere for our own much loved family cat,
Norman, to stay. We wanted more than a cattery and to know
that our pet would be loved and looked after just like he was at
home while we were away. We couldn't find that level of service
anywhere we looked. On top of this I found that there are only
2,000 registered boarding catteries for a staggering 11 million cat
owners in the UK.
How did you fund it?
My mum believed that I would make a success of the business and
lent me the money. Of course, it meant I was under a lot of
pressure to make it work.
How did you market it?
What has really surprised us is how little traditional marketing
we've had to do. We made massive use of both internet marketing and
social media to get the word out there in the beginning,
joining Twitter, setting up a Facebook page and our own YouTube
channel. This made a huge difference to website traffic and
interest. Our website was always designed to attract the right sort
of traffic and, so far, we've had to spend very little on
We were incredibly lucky to be featured in almost all of the
national papers, TV and radio just a month after opening. I was
very careful to trademark everything and protect what I had created
beforehand. Things were a little crazy for the first six months
with film crews invading my kitchen.
How did you build a list of clients?
I made a huge effort to engage in social media. My husband Matt
runs his own web agency so we carefully planned a strategy and then
the rest came through word of mouth.
We are really lucky to secure around 95% of new business from
our existing clients and are fully booked at Longcroft Welwyn six
months in advance most of the year. Our new hotel in St Albans is
now following the same pattern. I firmly believe that if you do a
good job then your clients will market for you. So the process of
building a client list has been totally organic.
Where's your office?
My office, and the luxury cat hotel, are both based at our home
in Welwyn Garden City.
Do you have set working hours?
Our guests have a routine, that's really important. They have
meals at regular times, (although not all of them at the same
time!), and we make sure we keep to the routine they are used to at
home. But the nature of the business and family commitments means I
certainly don't have a nine to five set working routine. What is so
brilliant is that I can be totally flexible, which is exactly the
reason I set up the hotel in the first place.
How do you make sure you're focused and never get distracted at
I'm afraid that I'm always being distracted, with a teenage
daughter, two small sons, a husband running his business from home,
plus guests arriving and being collected, it is inevitable.
However, I do have times when the boys are at the nursery and can
concentrate on paperwork, or I work in the evenings to catch
Where do you keep all of the cats?
In a custom-built hotel, with six individual, luxury suites at
the bottom of our garden. We invested in the highest quality
building materials to ensure our guests are snug and warm in the
winter and cool and calm in the summer. Most importantly, the
building has been constructed to ensure that hygiene standards are
second to none. Each suite has two rooms, one for sleeping
in, the other for playing and lazing around, which most cats are
experts at. We have top of the range cat toys and furniture
to keep them entertained and there are bird boxes outside the
hotel, so that the cats are kept alert by listening to them and
watching them flying around.
What's the worst thing about working from home?
There is no downside to working from home - honestly, I love
What's the best?
One of the great things about working from home is that I can
always be here for my clients. I also earn substantially more than
I was earning working from 8am - 8pm in my previous job. I love
being able to take care of my boys while they are so young. It's a
Would you ever go back to working in an office not at
That's an easy one. Never!
For more information on The Longcroft Luxury Cat
Home Business Heroes, in association