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
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.
I opened the first hotel here at home in June 2010 and we've been nominated for six national awards since then.
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.
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.
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.
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 marketing.
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.
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.
My office, and the luxury cat hotel, are both based at our home in Welwyn Garden City.
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.
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 up.
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.
There is no downside to working from home - honestly, I love it!
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 win-win situation.
That's an easy one. Never!
For more information on The Longcroft Luxury Cat
Home Business Heroes, in association