As kennels were leaving the city, one entrepreneur decided to buck the trend, opening a luxury indoor facility - The Pets Hotel. Yvonne Hill reveals the hurdles she had to overcome – and the helpful lessons she took from her first day job.

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Yvonne Hill was working for the Australian Tax Office (ATO) when her future husband proposed. She had no idea then that the present he chose to mark their engagement – a Rottweiler puppy – would lead to a very different vocation.

Today, Yvonne owns The Pets Hotel, a luxury boarding kennel for dogs and cats in the heart of Melbourne. She also owns The Pets Hotel Country Club in Lara, just north of Geelong.

A pool for pets and buying a small business

Hill’s transition began when she and her husband started taking their puppy to obedience classes and dog shows. They decided to breed their own Rottweilers then, when one dog injured its leg, Hill launched the first of her animal-based business ventures.

“We knew water therapy would help so we built a commercial swimming pool for dogs,” she says.

The second was the Lara boarding kennels.

“I’d been going there to groom some of the dogs when the owner decided to retire,” Hill explains. “He offered us the opportunity to buy the business and that went on to become our Country Club.”

“I’m so lucky to be in business doing something I love,” she says. “And now both of my daughters have joined the business… it’s very much a family concern.”

Opportunity in the city

Hill noticed that kennels were moving further and further out of Melbourne as their land was bought up for development.

“It seemed logical that there would be demand for an indoor kennel closer to the city, so we decided to do some research,” she says.

This included visits to successful indoor facilities in the United States and mapping pet ownership across Melbourne, which helped them pinpoint sites with the most potential. Once NAB had agreed to provide finance, Hill embarked on the lengthy process of finding the right position, the right sized block of land and the right building.

“We particularly liked Port Melbourne because it’s on the way to the airport and not very far from the CBD,” she says. “There was also quite a lot of vacant land around there but that proved too expensive. Then we struck lucky when the perfect spot came up in a business park.”

Permit challenges

The local council was enthusiastic – though a neighbouring business was concerned about possible noise.

“We’d anticipated this and spent thousands of dollars on soundproofing,” Hill says.

The biggest challenge proved to be working through the permit process.

“We had to hire a traffic consultant, a sound consultant and an environmental consultant – and it took a while to work out details such as how often we needed to change the air,” she says. “We finally opened our doors in 2008.”

Today, The Pets Hotel offers the ultimate in luxury for birds, rabbits and ferrets as well as cats and dogs. The facilities include private suites with flat-screen TVs, an extensive sound system and a therapy spa. Dogs also enjoy a daily play in the indoor dog park ‘Central Bark’ – and webcams mean the animals’ owners can watch them having fun.

“Boarding is our core business, though some owners use our ‘doggie day care’ option while they’re at work,” Hill says. “We’re currently looking for premises where we can operate exclusively as a day care facility.”

She’s also in the process of refurbishing The Pets Hotel Country Club.

“Some people want their dogs to be in the lap of luxury while others prefer a more traditional kennel with lots of outdoor space,” she says. “It’s great that we can offer both – and we even run a shuttle service between the two.”

Lessons from the ATO

Hill’s advice for anyone starting a new venture and business start-up costs is to be vigilant about setting wages, superannuation and other liabilities aside.

“That’s an important lesson I learned from my time at the tax office,” she says. “I saw so many potentially excellent businesses fold because their owners didn’t manage their money well. I was lucky that I got such a good education by working there for 17 years but, if you don’t have a solid grounding in finance, I’d say good advice is essential.

“However good your research, however desirable your product, the way you manage your finances can make the difference between success and failure.”

Important information

The information provided in this article is intended to be of a general nature only. It has been prepared without taking into account your objectives, financial situation or needs. Before acting on the information in this article, National Australia Bank Limited (ABN 12 004 044 937, AFSL and Australian Credit License 230686) (NAB) recommends you consider whether it is appropriate for your objectives, financial situation and needs. NAB recommends that you seek independent advice before acting on any information in this article.

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