Starting a boarding cattery

 

What you need to know

Running a boarding cattery can be both rewarding and fulfilling – if you have the commitment and stamina. Caring for other people's pets is a big responsibility and it takes dedication to cope with the long days and the hard physical work. A cattery represents a large call on your time; however, if it is the life for you then you will gain great satisfaction from establishing and running a high quality cattery.

If you think that running a cattery might be the career for you, seek out as much information as possible. It is worth viewing a selection of catteries as there are different styles and designs. Try and include one of those catteries which have FAB Listing to give you an idea of good construction and management. It can be all too easy to take on or build a poor quality cattery if you have not done your research. Be sure there is sufficient business available in your location and catchment.

If you buy an existing cattery this should give you an established client list. You should also be free of planning permission applications. Buying a home and business together may be a large financial outlay. If considering this route the cattery should at least conform to the CIEH Model Licence Conditions. Local authorities are now enforcing these standards more stringently and may not licence a cattery if they feel it does not comply with these guidelines.

Certain buildings, for example wooden stable blocks, may be converted into cattery accommodation although this option can sometimes prove very expensive. Bear in mind you may need to apply for planning permission 'change of use' and any conversion should follow the same principles of good design.

Many people decide to erect a cattery either on their current property or on the land of a newly purchased house. Before purchasing a new property it is advisable that you check with the local authorities to ensure that they will permit you to build a cattery of the size you desire on the site.

Regulations  

Timber cattery with penthouse sleeping accommodation

All boarding establishments are required to be licensed by the local authority under the Animal Boarding Establishments Act of 1963. The licence, which is granted in the name of the owner, is issued annually. All catteries must have a current licence.

Your local authority may attach conditions to the licence and use the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health (CIEH) Model Licence Conditions & Guidance for Cat Boarding Establishments (2013) as a guide. Alternatively, they may adapt these guidelines to suit their own requirements. However, these guidelines may change when the new Animal Welfare Bill comes into force.

During the year your local authority will usually make one or more visits to inspect your premises and this is normally carried out by an officer from the Environmental Health Department or a veterinary surgeon appointed by the local authority.

The licence fee, which is decided by each individual local authority, can vary enormously. If you are planning to purchase an existing cattery, you should check the terms of the licence, as the licence is issued to the owner personally rather than the business. It is important to find out if there are any reasons why the licence might not be renewed and to obtain permission in writing from the local authority to transfer the licence to your name.

Planning permission   

If you plan to build a new cattery you will need to apply to your local authority for outline and detailed planning permission, which can sometimes be a lengthy process. The local authority will provide the necessary paperwork and advise on how to proceed. Building Regulations may apply to specific types of catteries. You may care to engage the services of a professional architect to draw up plans for you, or do the work yourself. If you decide to employ a specialist cattery builder to construct your cattery, they will usually offer a complete package and make a planning application on your behalf.

If your planning application is turned down by the local authority, it is possible to appeal. Your local authority should provide you with written reasons for the refusal.

A lifestyle rather than a job  

Running a cattery is a way of life. Your clients will place complete trust in you and rely on you for absolute security and excellent care for their cats. Living on site is strongly recommended to ensure the smooth running of the cattery and it should never be left unattended for more than short periods of time when cats are in residence.

The busiest times in the cattery calendar are the times when everyone else is off on holiday! Bank holidays, school holidays and Christmas will obviously be your peak periods and you will find that as your reputation is established, quiet times become increasingly scarce.

If you have young children or other dependents who need care, think carefully about the feasibility of starting a cattery as the necessary early starts and weekend work can also present problems. Taking a holiday and having a social life can also be difficult. It is possible to close down for short periods through the year if these are carefully planned. An alternative would be to employ someone totally reliable, well trained and familiar with your cattery to stand in for you.

Although running a boarding cattery is all about cats, a great deal of time is spent talking to and reassuring owners and maintaining a high quality business image. Ability to communicate clearly and calmly is vital. If you do not like people this is not the job for you!

Taking on a cattery requires a large financial outlay and although it is possible to make a reasonable living you may not necessarily make a fortune! Do work through a business plan and take advice on finance and all that is involved.

Qualifications and training  

No formal qualifications are needed to run a cattery at the present time, although it is a great advantage for any cattery proprietor to have training in cattery management. International Cat Care has information on Cattery Management Courses.

An active occupation 

It is certainly necessary to be fit and active to run a cattery as daily tasks will include cleaning of every occupied unit, preparation and delivery of at least two meals, administration of any medicines, grooming, scrubbing and disinfection of units between boarders, updating of daily records and business paperwork, dealing with arrivals and departures, and general cattery cleaning. There is a great deal of bending, stretching and lifting involved. It is often an outdoor lifestyle – sometimes in bad weather conditions.

Other tasks to be fitted into the work programme will include maintenance of cattery buildings and gardens, along with bulk shopping and overall business management (ie, annual accounts).

If you are nearing retirement age or planning early retirement, do consider how long you intend to run the business. The need for assistance if you become unwell or less active should be considered.

Should you take the plunge?  

It is of the utmost importance and benefit to the cats who need boarding in your area that the catteries available to them are well-run and successful. It is, of course, also important to the proprietors and to the owners of the cats, but the well-being of the cats comes top of the priority list! International Cat Care does not want catteries to fail, proprietors to struggle and standards to drop; because along the way it is inevitable that the boarding cats will lose out, or even suffer, as a consequence. We therefore urge that the first stage of planning by anyone thinking of starting up their first boarding cattery is to go through a process of thinking through the concept, the idea, and the scheme to satisfy themselves that they really are doing the right thing for them at the right time.

The thought process   

As with all planning exercises, first write down your assumptions about the issue; in this case whether you really want to do this. This will oblige you to face up to the more difficult matters! Having done so, set about convincing yourself that this is for you. One approach to this is to address three fundamental questions that must (ought to!) be applied to any new business or new product line under consideration.

  • Is it REAL?
  • Can we WIN?
  • Is it WORTHWHILE?

What do these three questions mean in the context of someone, with limited experience of starting and running his/her own small commercial venture, considering becoming a boarding cattery proprietor?

Is it REAL?   

Is your concept of a service one that is realistic, meeting a real demand in your area?

The service: Is it realistic for you to create and run a cattery that offers boarding facilities to cats whose owners live nearby?

The demand: Is there a need locally from cat owners for boarding for their cats?

It is quite likely that the answers to both of these questions are affirmative, provided that the financial investment for setting up the cattery and coping with the negative cash flow during start up are both within your means. If you can satisfy yourself that 'it' can indeed be REAL, then move on to the next question.

Can we WIN?   

This is largely a competitive issue. There are normally two dimensions:

1. In the circumstances in your area, is it possible for any new cattery to succeed?

  • Are there already too many catteries? Does supply already outstrip demand?
  • Is your area so remote that the feline population is too thinly spread to keep another cattery at satisfactory occupancy year-round?

2. If so, can your cattery succeed in the face of whatever competition exists from existing catteries?

  • Why would owners choose you?
  • If they do board with you once, will they (want to) keep coming back?
  • What differentiates your cattery? What are its USPs (Unique Selling Points)?

The answer to questions about winning and local competitiveness are less predictable than those about reality of service and demand. These are questions that you must do your best to answer for yourself. Remember, knowledge is everything! Rely as little as possible on guesswork, presumption and especially wishful thinking. Find out facts from as many different sources as you can. Ask! It is astonishing how readily most people will reveal what you want to know, even when the information ought to be confidential.

Is it WORTHWHILE?   

The two key aspects to this are:

  • Can the enterprise – in this case, your cattery – be profitable?
  • Would running a successful cattery venture satisfy your own personal goals?

Profitability? 

Considerations of profitability can be somewhat different from the normal criteria for most businesses. This is because by no means everyone who runs a successful cattery does so primarily for profit.

Many catteries are well run very successfully as the primary source of income. Very, very few people get seriously rich by doing so! For significant numbers, however, this is more of a (full time) hobby that also generates a modest cash surplus. In some cases the cattery is the secondary source of income in a household where the other partner is gainfully employed as the main contributing breadwinner. Irrespective of your own goals for income, however, catteries cannot be run part time, on the side!

Only you can know into which category you fall. But it does follow from these considerations that are characteristic of boarding cattery enterprises that the answer to the first part of the 'Worthwhile' question depends on what level of surplus is acceptable to your circumstances. From International Cat Care's perspective, in which feline wellbeing is paramount, the answer is immaterial, provided your financial goals are achievable and being achieved.

Personal satisfaction  

Running a cattery is very demanding, irrespective of whether you are seeking a huge profit or a modest surplus, or will be satisfied with just breaking even. There are life-style questions that you must face up to:

  • Are you passionate about cats and their welfare, even when they are spiteful, unwell or smelly with mucky bums?
  • Boarding the cats that you adore means dealing with their owners - some of them will not be so adorable! Can you cope with that?
  • Have you got the support of your nearest and dearest?
  • Will that support continue when the stark reality of the commitment and routine becomes apparent?
  • Are you up for the early mornings, long hours, menial tasks and some disruption to weekends?
  • Do you realise how difficult it will become to get away for a holiday?
  • Are you willing to be seriously out of pocket during the first year or longer, dealing with the stress that often comes with inexperience of managing a negative cash flow?
  • Are you truly reconciled to not becoming rich?

If your answers to some of the above are negative, think again about what you intend to do! But if your answers are 'Yes, yes, I really want to do this' then your next step will be more detailed planning.

Publications  

What you have read so far is mostly taken from Chapter 1 of the FAB Boarding Cattery Manual. It is a unique publication written with over 30 year's experience of working with boarding catteries  and provides invaluable information and advice.

With thanks to the following catteries for the use of their photographs;

Cat's Pyjamas Cambridgeshire, Lynbrook Cattery Lancashire, Amber Ley Cattery Derbyshire, Breighton Cats' Lodge Yorkshire.

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