Are pet hotels a business lead worth chasing up?
Q What is your opinion on the likes of 'cat cafes' and pet hotels that are springing up as new businesses?
A In the early stages of my food retailing career, customers were allowed to smoke in supermarkets and bring their pets into the shop if they so wished. Attitudes and perceptions change and sometimes that change can be resisted, as we view something else to be the norm.
I noticed recently that Ardgillen Castle has a dog café. I guess they recognised that there are lots of dog lovers who frequent their grounds who would love to sit down and have a coffee. Nothing wrong with that - and well done to the enterprising person who spotted the opportunity.
There is no doubt that consumer interest in their business and what they're willing to spend on them has changed dramatically in the last decade. Smart business entrepreneurs are spotting the gap and some retailers, like Tony Cross in Maxi Zoo, spotted that opportunity years ago.
I believe the overall trend in pet pampering will grow. However, there will be some weaker concepts within this that will just be fads. If there are any would-be entrepreneurs out there, I would certainly be encouraging them to look at this area for business opportunities.
Q I am keen to develop a technology idea. While I am getting lots of signals that there is a gap in the market, I need technical help, but only have limited funding.
A There are lots of potential areas of help in the market. Start and make an appointment to see your Local Enterprise Office. They will have business advisors and mentors who will potentially have expertise in the area you are working on and will be able to give you contacts and guidance on how best to progress.
If you are trading as a limited company, you may also be eligible for an Enterprise Ireland Innovation Voucher. These vouchers are worth €5,000 each and you can take them to any state technical facility, eg technical colleges, etc. With your voucher, the facility will then help you move the project on to the next level. That would potentially give you a number of experts with the skill necessary to help develop the product. You could be eligible for up to two vouchers, which would probably move your project on significantly.
It goes without saying in order to start a business, you have to spend some money and it will be important that you understand that you will need to bring some of your own funds to the market. Whether this is a loan or some personal money you are investing, this funding will be necessary. It will also be a sign of your commitment and belief in the project to others deciding whether to support you or not.
It would also be worth your while to look at the HBAN group (Halo Business Angel Business). These are angel investors who are facilitated by Enterprise Ireland and have signalled their willingness to invest in specific sectors. Like any other investor they will look for a share in your business, but certainly seem to be a more receptive and willing group. I wish you well with your business idea and do keep me up to date on your next steps.