While running a house call pet care business, Chris Raimo and his wife realized the severe lack of resources for the cat enthusiast clients. Everything in the pets’ world was focused on dogs while the cat market was being unreasonably neglected as a second choice. Chris exclaims, “We saw first-hand how a cat enthusiast loves their cat just as much as a dog enthusiast loves their dog. So why did the dog get the presidential suite and the cat, a cage? It didn’t make sense. So, we set out to see how we could cater to this huge and completely untapped market. And boy did we uncover plenty of motivation to do it.”
Recently named The World’s Greatest cat hotel & spa, The Happy Cat Hotel is a perfect solution for those who often struggle to choose between a weekend get-away and staying home to take care of their feline best friends. Even though it’s commonly believed that cats are not very social and would rather be alone than having company, it is a completely untrue and misconceived notion. At Happy Cat, they believe cats are every bit as social as their canine counterparts but they crave it, seek it and share it in very different ways. Going through the tiring process of finding someone reliable who would be happy to host our little companion until we come back is not just inconvenient but also takes a toll on the emotional equilibrium of both the poor kitty and their parents. To change the way we think about cats, and cater to those who love these goofy little cheetahs with services and resources dedicated just to them, Chris & his wife Meg founded Happy Cat, a custom-built cat only boarding oasis, meticulously designed to appease the most finicky of felines.
Chris snickers, “The dog days are over, cats are where it’s at- The Happy Cat Hotel is ‘The Happiest Place on Earth (if you’re a cat)’ but don’t share this one, we don’t need Disney legal sending us a letter.” Happy Cat offers feline exclusive luxury boarding, grooming, and retail services, underpinned by transcendent customer experiences. Their focus is to make every cat feel warm, welcomed, and basically like they own the place. It’s all about enriching their experience with playful time, mouthwatering treats, and a plush old spa day. They also provide feline behavior training and ensure the cats’ safety and care through a built-in system of checks and balances while their creativity and empathy-based approach to client relations leave behind an unparalleled experience for their customers.
“Why did the dog get the presidential suite and the cat, a cage? It didn’t make sense. So, we set out to see how we could cater to this huge and completely untapped market. And boy did we uncover plenty of motivation to do it. ”
Disrupting the Catus Quo
As no one ever thought about the grooming and pampering needs of a cat before, Happy Cat is one of its kind in the feline industry with three different channels of revenue. As the only cat exclusive boarding and grooming service brand, it is all set to make an imprint on a national level. This is why Happy Cat has begun franchising and its first-ever franchise is currently under development. Chris exclaims, “We are moving to gain a foothold across the national landscape by way of franchising. The signals are everywhere and our greatest advantage – after quality, is novelty and speed to market. When competitors come, they’ll be copycats.”
Happy Cat has a pretty economic price model and their target market are all cat enthusiasts. Taking it from them, it is their pleasure to serve people who love to engage with their cats and work diligently to enrich their lives at home. The reason being, these people are generally more open to learning more about their cat’s overall health and do not hesitate from hiring professional services that are specifically dedicated to them. Chris asserts, “Cats are every bit as social as dogs so we’re delivering service that embraces that. What steps have we taken to appeal to them? We’ve remained steadfast in our delivery of a well-balanced, two-part formula. First, untouchable care of the cats generated by programs curated through years of experience and with expert developmental guidance. Second, delivering a customer experience that stands above all else. From website to phone to arrival to stay to departure, all components must reinforce the positive customer experience.”
“Cats are every bit as social as dogs so we’re delivering service that embraces that.”
According to Chris, cat grooming services are leading Happy Cat’s growth as the industry sees substantial growth over the years. He says that there are three major contributing factors behind it:
There are more cats owned in the US than dogs.
Response to demand. If there were an uncharted continent of cats, we’re the only ship sailing to it with provisions.
Both millennial and baby boomer lifestyles tell us cats are where it’s at. Freedom, flexibility, but companionship. Highly valued by the top two consumer demos of the next 10 years.
However, in 2020 a part of this may be due to COVID-19 as people now put extra thought into hygiene and cleanliness of not just themselves but also their pets. Speaking of it, Chris says, “Once the pandemic is reeled in, we’ll continue to see equal growth across all segments of our business model. It’s so novel, it has leagues upon leagues of growth potential with new segments.”
The cat grooming services industry may be in demand but what truly makes Happy Cat so unique is their openness to learning as they go. Without pretending to be a big, complicated machine crafted for early yet potentially misguided exponential growth, Happy Cat works on keeping their systems well refined at store level. As they are franchising for the first time, they are seeking candidates who are eager to learn and align with their cause. Chris shares, “Oftentimes that’s not enough to be awarded a franchise by some other brands. You’ve got to be in pristine financial condition with executive experience to even be considered. We feel differently. We weren’t any of those things when we started this and we believe there’s plenty of people like us who if given the opportunity, can become tremendous franchise owner-operators. Yes, certain benchmarks are needed, but we’re more intrinsically driven than extrinsically driven, we value people, we value their dreams, and we believe fostering the relationships needed to help them realize those dreams is paramount. We’re kind of like the island of misfit toys over here.”
Developments amidst COVID-19
Although the boarding segment of Happy Cat has been significantly affected due to implemented travel restrictions amidst the pandemic following the social distancing norms, it has managed to stay afloat thanks to its emergency readiness plan and multiple channels of revenue. Chris explains, “This model allows the owner to be the operator. A single person can run the show. It’s a lot of work but can be done in the worst situations. Oh, and we finished the construction and launch of our second facility. July 1 grand open! That’s what we think of COVID. We must be safe and vigilant but we cannot allow it to stop us.” Even though COVID-19 has limited the travel, it has only postponed it to the next year. Hence, Happy Cat is all set to rebound as soon as the world has recovered and the lockdown is lifted. For now, their goal is to evolve the existing model into something that works in every scenario except a pandemic considering the seriousness of the circumstances during this time and create channels to bridge the gaps that may arise if such a situation were to occur again. Chris says, “That’s where our creativity has come into play. We’ve taken this downtime and used it to pull everything on our back burner, to the front. It’s just making our brand stronger.”
Ever since the lockdown was announced, Happy Cat has taken their hotel gift shops online. For people who are stuck at home with their kittens, they have launched a Spa Club membership program that allows people to get their cats cleaned and groomed more frequently. Also, Happy Cat has started Kitty Day Care for people who are going to work and don’t want their cats to be alone at home. Their Happy Cat @ Home is a recent addition as well. It is a home renovation service that transforms any available space into a pristine oasis of feline enrichment. To stay in touch with fellow cat lovers and keep them up updated on the recent developments at Happy Cat, they have also launched a podcast titled ‘The Happy Cat Franchise Cast’. Chris shares, “It’s a week-by-week chronicle of the meetings between us and our first real-life franchisee as we traverse the up and down journey of building and launching their franchise location. And those are just the ideas we accelerated. We doubled down hard on what we were already doing. Boarding for home renovations and real estate transitions, grooming services, and of course education via social media.”
Apart from this Happy Cat has been working on developing new roles for their close-knit team members with new benefits. Moreover, to help folks, who were deeply affected by COVID-19, Happy Cat has provided special concessions and exemptions to help them stay motivated while they get back on their feet.
Franchising with Happy Cat
As the only brand focused on cat care services in an unprecedented way, Happy Cat is primed for ascension. When it comes to hiring, it looks for people who are intrinsically motivated and are ready to learn and grow. For Chris, it’s simply EQ over IQ. He says, “I know that word empathy is getting a bit exhausted in the corporate world of late but that’s a good thing. It means more people are focused on it and there’s never been anything wrong with a world full of empathy.” As a CEO, he values everyone’s buy-in and motivates them to keep striving to get better with each passing day. As for their customers, their main concern remains how happy they are. Chris shares, “We survey our customers post-reservation but more importantly are the face to face conversations we have at the conclusion of their cat’s stay. That’s where we can see them light up with joy over the decision they made to come to us. From there, we’re constantly asking each other, “So and so just checked out. How happy were they?” Because happy or not is not an option. HOW happy is what matters – and it better be the happiest.”
Now that Happy Cat has started franchising, they are excited to build new relationships and are looking for people who are accessible, teachable, collaborative, patient, and those who appreciate the value of relationships just like them. Chris affirms, “We’re in a role that is responsible for the care of people’s animals. It’s an extraordinarily personal experience built on trust, so an emotional connection to the benefits of the service is key. As much as it can be a profitable business, it is also a passion play. This cannot just be an absentee “business investment” at this early stage.” With a cost-effective business model and affordable investment, Happy Cat offers a brilliant business opportunity to those who would like to explore this industry’s magnificent untapped potential.
Promising ceaseless Learning and Growth
As initial support, Happy Cat offers continued marketing strategies, system improvements, education to implement their systems and teach about feline behavior, handling, grooming, and customer service. Their goal is to see their franchise owners as proud multi-unit operators. Chris exclaims, “Let’s not forget, we’re very young so we have lots of room to grow internally as much as externally, and everything that we develop or improve upon moving forward will be shared. All that being said, I think the emotional and tactical support we will continue to offer throughout our 10 + year relationship with them is going to be more important than anything.”
In the future, Happy Cat Franchise aspires to be a household name that serves the entire cat enthusiast market with education and resources. “Hotels, grooming, products, and education. We can really capture all corners of the cat market as one element of the business informs on all others,” says Chris. “One-stop-shop. All things cat.”