Your Business: Bright idea when it's raining cats and dogs

By Gill South

Rob and Carole Ellis started their boarding pet-care enterprise in a former electrical warehouse in Mt Wellington. Photo / Richard Robinson
Rob and Carole Ellis started their boarding pet-care enterprise in a former electrical warehouse in Mt Wellington. Photo / Richard Robinson

Turning your hobby into a business can be a risk, but it can lead to great success because you are following your passion.

British couple Carole and Rob Ellis, both Old English Sheepdog enthusiasts, left their well paid day jobs more than five years ago to run a boarding kennel in Ramarama.

It had a few challenges.

"I remember standing in the pouring rain in our wet weather gear, saying 'there must be a better way to look after animals; this isn't working'," says Carole.

Another downside was, because of noise limits, animals could only be dropped off at certain times.

"It's difficult if you live in Mt Eden with your spoodle and have to get to Ramarama by 5.15pm," says Rob.

The couple joined the American Boarding Kennel Association and travelled to a trade show for the boarding pet care industry in Florida to see how to run a boarding kennel inside a large building.

Investing their life savings of $500,000, they imported two 12m containers with glass and stainless steel rooms to house dogs and cats.

The couple installed them in a former electrical warehouse in Mt Wellington and launched luxury pet hotel and day spa, Pets in the City, in 2008.

"This all indoor, US-style offering is just taking off. In 20 years that's all there will be," says Rob.

The New Zealand pet-hospitality industry is worth $1.58 billion, the company says.

It has been hard work. "Carole and I lived onsite for 14 months in a nice caravan. We needed to be there all the time," says Rob.

The hotel is often booked out, particularly over peak holiday periods. It employs 14 full and part-time staff.

Like any other hotel, there is room service, flat screen TVs, cookies on the pillow when the pets arrive, and pamper baths.

There are 60 rooms, and there are internal play parks. The cats have their own separate "condos", known as The Mews.

They have a dining area, a living space, their own fish tank and a radio on at all times. The day rate is $18.50.

The couple pride themselves on their standards of cleanliness.

"Our product is the dogs and cats going home. We want them to be sweet smelling, healthy and having had a lot of fun," says Carole.

"If the dog gets sick then we take it to their own personal vet," adds Rob.

The pet hotel has a special needs area for animals with health problems.

Customers come from all walks of life.

"A lot of people go to Europe in the winter, or people have jobs where they travel," says Carole.

Others just don't want to leave their pets at home, they feel guilty.

The dog day-stay rate is $36, 7am-6pm. For those staying the night, a premium room costs $42.50, which includes a flat screen TV. An executive suite costs $48.50.

This is a large room with queen size bed, cookies on the pillow, flat screen TV, toys, and a bath and blowdry before they go home.

"These rooms are booked out every weekend," says Rob.

"It is guilt-free pet care," adds Carole.

Since opening, the business has achieved 20 to 30 per cent growth, year on year, and the annual turnover is now $1 million.

The Ellises are finalising plans to franchise the Pets in the City brand.

"We are full most weekends with 70 dogs and 20 cats. Most weeks we are turning people away.

"We needed to do something," says Rob.

PETS IN THE CITY

* Luxury pet hotel in Mt Wellington.
* Offers room service, flat screen TVs, cookies on the pillow when the pets arrive, and pamper baths.
* The cats have their own separate "condos", known as The Mews, which include a fish tank and a radio.
* Rates start at $18.50 a day for cats and $35.50 for dogs.

- NZ Herald

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