A growing number of pet owners need a helping hand when it comes to looking after their animals. Here’s how you can offer an essential service as a franchisee
Pets are getting more popular. People have been buying pets to keep them company during lockdowns and those who already have pets are valuing them more. It all adds up to an increase in potential business for pet care services franchisees.
Dr Rebekah Fox, a cultural geographer at Warwick University who studies human-animal relations, says: “The Kennel Club has seen a 180 per cent increase in enquiries from potential dog owners, while the RSPCA has seen a 600 per cent increase in visits to its puppy fostering pages and pet insurance providers have noted a 78 per cent increase in people registering new pets in the week prior to UK lockdown.”
According to a survey reported in pet trade publication Pet Business World, nearly half of all British pet owners got at least one new pet during lockdown and 10 per cent of British households without pets intend to get one in the next six months.
So the stage is set for a surge in interest in pet care franchises. If you’re thinking of investing in one, here’s what pet care franchisors look for:
You need more than just a love of animals
A love of animals is essential, but it takes a lot more than that to make a success of a pet care franchise.
It’s not all patting dogs and cuddling cats - you will be running a business, so franchisors look for prospective franchisees with a readiness to take on a whole lot more than just dealing with animals.
Jo White, growth director of animal care franchise We Love Pets, says: “When choosing franchisees, as well as a genuine love of animals we prioritise attitude, which means a positive, resilient mindset and a determination to be a business owner.”
Do you prefer animals to people? If so, a pet care franchise may not be for you. The ability to communicate with people is essential because it’s owners who will be buying your services.
“You have to be able to get on with all types of people and be confident enough to educate owners in the best way to deal with their pets,” Jo says.
Franchisees with home boarding pet franchises, who provide holiday care for dogs in the homes of hosts, sometimes must ask difficult questions and even turn down hosts or dogs.
Lisa Suswain, founder of dog boarding franchise, Wagging Tails, says: “Our franchisees - along with their dogs - assess all our potential carers and their homes. Not everyone will be suitable to become a Wagging Tails carer, so we train all our franchisees to handle these situations.
“They must also be confident in utilising our training, so they need to be passionate about dealing with people, as well as dogs.” Also, some dogs are not suitable for home boarding.
“Franchisees must be able to politely decline dogs that perhaps are not fully house trained, destructive or not suitable for the carers we have available,” Lisa says.
“Our priority is getting the right carers for the dogs, which gives owners peace of mind. If we can’t tick all the boxes, we won’t allow a board to proceed, so our franchisees must be confident in turning away bookings that are not right.”
You don’t need marketing experience to become a pet care franchisee, as franchise head offices typically provide brand-wide marketing and give each franchisee a website advertising their services.
However, franchisors expect you to market your service locally and provide training and assistance to help you.
Pre-pandemic lockdowns - and in the future - marketing could include taking stands at local events such as pet shows, county shows or country fairs, explaining your service on visits to local veterinary centres, pet shops and direct to pet owners while out walking your dog or marketing your service door-to-door.
Lockdown has meant that face-to-face marketing has been curtailed and online marketing has increased through franchisees’ social media accounts.
Eagerness to learn
Pet care franchises value your existing knowledge of animal care, but they also provide pet care and business training and, in some cases, courses leading to qualifications.
For instance, the OSCAR pet food delivery franchise offers franchisees an Ofqual recognised nutrition qualification that allows you to use the designated letters CertCan (QCF Level 3) after your name, while We Love Pets franchisees get free courses leading to City & Guilds level 2 qualifications in pet sitting and dog walking and level 3 in animal nutrition.
The right premises
Most pet franchises can be run from home. However, if you’re delivering pet food and accessories you’ll need enough room to store stock and some franchises require space to build animal accommodation.
Abi Purser, founder of the Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel franchise, says: “As well as a love of cats, our franchisees must own their property and have a suitable space to install the cat hotel.
“Planning permission is required, but with 25 franchisees in different areas we now have plenty of experience in dealing with local authorities and help franchisees with applications.”
All cat hotels must pass a three-hour inspection by the local authority before a licence to operate can be approved.
“We have processes in place to help new franchisees ensure licences are granted,” Abi says.
The hotels offer cats a luxury home from home, including wrought iron designer cat beds in individually decorated bedroom suites, gourmet menus, grooming services, a choice of music and team members whose sole job it is to come in and entertain the feline residents. Abi’s franchisees also handle cat relocation.
As well as managing pets, you will have to manage your business and, in some cases, staff.
Jo White of We Love Pets says: “Our franchisees usually start by doing dog walking and pet sitting themselves, but as the business grows they take on staff to help, so you have to be comfortable managing people.”
The benefits of buying a pet care franchise
Becoming a franchisee is easier than starting up a pet care business alone, partly because you must comply with the regulations around pet businesses.
Franchisors will help you to get:
- A licence from your local authority if you run a cattery or kennels, board cats and dogs in your own premises or run a business that arranges cat or dog boarding. Operating unlicenced can mean an unlimited fine or up to six months imprisonment.
- A DBS check if you hold keys to customers’ homes, so you can go in to feed the animals.
- Insurance, including public liability insurance, in case your business results in harm to a person or property, and employers’ liability insurance for staff.
- Planning permission if you’re building housing for pets.
Franchises also provide training, access to courses that can lead to qualifications, marketing materials and promotional assistance, access to expertise (many offer a hotline to a qualified vet), access to a network of fellow franchisees, business software, supplies (in the case of pet food delivery franchises), a uniform, vehicle livery and a name that is already well known.
Latest (2019) figures for pet ownership from the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association:
Dogs: 9 million
Cats: 7.5 million
Indoor fish tanks: 2.7 million
Outdoor fish ponds: 1.3 million
Indoor birds: 500,000
Guinea pigs: 400,000
Domestic fowl: 400,000
Also, 27 per cent of households own more than one dog and 39 per cent own more than one cat.
“We looked after a chicken called Betty, who went around neighbours’ houses begging for food. She also liked company and used to go inside and sit on the sofa and was fond of getting into cars. One day the postman got to the end of the road and found he had a chicken stowaway. Fortunately, Betty was famous locally, so he knew where to return her.”
“One of our franchisees looked after a Shetland pony while the owner was away, which included taking it for a walk around the village alongside the owner’s Jack Russell terrier. People stopped and petted both the pony and the dog.”
“We always ask cat owners for a bio of their cat before it arrives. One owner said: ‘Think Jack Dee with whiskers.’ When the cat arrived it was true - it looked just like Jack Dee!”
Kelly Brighton: We Love Pets
“It’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done”
Kelly Brighton, We Love Pets’ Romford, Essex franchisee, says: “I’ve boarded lizards, bearded dragons, chinchillas, cats, dogs, small furry animals and horses.
“The most notable was living in a house with chickens, rabbits, five dogs, two cats, 11 lizards and a tarantula. Spiders are the only things I’m not keen on - but I love everything else.”
Kelly and her four employees organise pet boarding with host families and pet visits, including ensuring that cats get the mental stimulation they need.
“When we go to feed and clear litter trays, we also take our own sets of cat toys, so they get some new things to play with,” she says. “We also play hide and seek with them by hiding cat treats around their homes, in increasingly hard-to-find places, which stimulates their curiosity and gives them something to do.”
One of Kelly’s specialities is horse care, gained through earlier work at an equestrian centre.
“We feed and water them, give them supplements or any medication, ensure they’re wearing the right rugs, turn them out into their fields, muck out and re-straw their stables and in the evening tuck them up for the night,” she says.
Kelly is now studying equine psychology alongside running her franchise.
“This is a 24/7 business, 365 days a year and as well as pet care you have to do admin, accounts and always maintain the highest customer service and pet welfare standards,” she says. “But it’s the most rewarding work I’ve ever done.”
Daisy Carrarini: Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel
“We’ve received all sorts of requests, including providing Evian water fountains”
Daisy Carrarini left a career in luxury retail to open a six-suite Longcroft Luxury Cat Hotel in her Orpington garden, which she runs around caring for her family and cat Terry.
Daisy used a Longcroft hotel to look after Terry when the family went on holiday and moved house - and decided to open her own.
She says: “We opened in June 2019 and it has been very fulfilling. It can be hard work - you have to be very organised, but also flexible and understanding about the human needs of customers, as well as always maintaining consistent, high-quality care for your feline guests.
“We’ve received all sorts of requests, including providing Evian water fountains, pussy cat FaceTime calls and Persian kitties being hand-fed tuna with a fork.”
Having been a Longcroft customer, Daisy knows the importance of meeting the needs of cats and owners, especially first-timers: “Some people need reassurance, some need quick information and others just a ‘cat chat’. Every customer is different and we take time to meet their individual needs.”
Daisy also handles cat emigration: “I recently looked after a gorgeous kitten for a few months while her owners settled in their new home in Australia. As well as helping to coordinate the logistics of the move, such as vet appointments and an airport chauffeur, I played messages to kitty so she didn’t forget her owners’ voices.
“One of the most rewarding things is the lovely feedback I receive from owners and the knowledge that they’re happy and confident to use our hotel again.”
Linda Whitney writes about franchising for the Daily Mail, What Franchise and many other publications