Britain, it’s often claimed, is a nation of pet lovers. Figures suggest we spend around £4 billion every year looking after our favourite animals, so this love affair with household creatures is, collectively, big business as well. At ground level however, the industry is far more personal and features many ventures that, whilst they may be run for profit, are motivated out of genuine concerns for our furry friends.
Françoise Deavin, who lives and works in South East London, is inspired by that same impulse.
Having spent over 15 years working as a qualified veterinary nurse, Deavin (who’s also qualified as an animal behaviourist) identified certain changes and opportunities in her field of work. She recognised that providing dogs and their owners with alternative solutions to surgery and medication could be a valuable proposition, both for those receiving the new forms of treatment, as well the business offering it. In addition, despite progressing very well in her career, Françoise found her workload dominated by bureaucracy, dealing with various staff management and budgetary issues, instead of working with the customers and animals that gave her the greatest sense of fulfilment.
In late 2006, Deavin and business partner Barry Daniels bit the bullet and established a brand new business. The Pet Health & Therapy Centre opened its doors in November of that year, becoming the first of its kind in their area. The small business provides a wide range of professional services, from nutritional and behavioural advice, to general preventative healthcare, grooming, and homeopathic remedies, not to mention a wide range of quality pet accessories.
By the time the turn of the decade arrived, the centre had already stood firm during the worst global economic crisis in recent history. Deavin’s thoughts had therefore turned to by in which they could undergo business development. However, despite remaining financially healthy, it was clear that a fiscal foot-up would be needed to fulfil their ambitions.
“Initial research via the Internet on how to obtain UK government funding for new small businesses led us to Business Link,” recalls Françoise. “They came to the shop to find out how they could help, and we were then referred to the Thames Innovation Centre, and underwent an interview. After that, we were allocated a mentor who helped us through the process of putting a business plan together.”
The business plan encompassed a full sales breakdown and financial forecasts. There was ample support and advice on hand during this undertaking, which was necessary in order to fully prepare the company for the final hurdle: an interview with the secured business loan panel. Thankfully, the business finance provider, Greater London Enterprise (GLE), in association with the Bexley Enterprise Fund, were able to support the business with a small business financing loan of £26,000.
“The funding allowed us to purchase an underwater treadmill,” reveals Deavin. “That enabled us to offer alternative therapies for animals that were being referred to us from specialist centres, for orthopaedic issues and spinal injuries. A knock-on effect is that it’s permitted us to create extra appointment slots as well, thereby increasing our turnover.”
With a tale of triumph to tell such as this, Deavin naturally has some kind words for those who aided her and the business along the way. “Our Thames Innovation mentor Jim Duffell was a great support,” she enthuses. “If you can enlist a support network that teaches you the skills you lack, it empowers you to drive your business forward.”
The Pet Health Care & Therapy Centre’s owner has some words of wisdom for fellow new business finance seekers, too: “Do your research. It can be a lot of hassle, as you may have the passion for the business, but not necessarily the skills to obtain the finance. I’d recommend researching the Internet, and making enquiries to see if your local borough’s running initiatives that could help.” From a business manager who knows a thing or two about keeping heads above water for a healthy future, it’s counsel worth considering.
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