Pet Paradise Supports Guide Dogs
9 March 2016 at 10:30 am
The profits from a $6 million, five-star pet hotel in Adelaide will be used to enhance the quality of life for people living with disability, writes Ellie Cooper in this week’s Spotlight on Social Enterprise.
Guide Dogs SA/NT has partnered with Adelaide Airport to create the charity’s first social enterprise.
Beau’s Personalised Pet Stay, named in honour of Australia’s first guide dog, will provide luxury and affordable accommodation for cats and dogs while their owners are away.
CEO of Guide Dogs SA/NT Kate Thiele said the social enterprise would leverage the strength of the charity’s brand in the specialised services on offer.
“The thing we really love about it is it’s a personalised menu… people who want to pop their animal there will be able to pick a range of options that suits them and suits their animal,” Thiele said.
“They might want grooming, they might like the dog to have beach walks, they might like a little bit of behavioural training, so really we can actually tailor what people are looking for.
“The lovely thing about this concept is that we are quite unique in that we’re using the expertise we have as Guide Dogs… to take what is true to our core brand, around understanding animals really well, and actually, for the first time, allow people with domestic pets to experience what it’s like.”
Thiele said the pet hotel will boast 244 standard and luxury rooms, and extensive indoor and outdoor enclosures for pets to run, play and swim.
“The standard dog rooms will have individual kennels with beds that will be climate controlled and lots of lovely, natural light,” she said.
“And then the luxury rooms will allow people to dial in on Skype and actually check in on their dog.
“Cats will have spacious cat condos and they’ll have private sleeping areas, cats love to be tucked away so we’ll create an environment that’s suitable to a cat.”
Construction is due to begin in several weeks and is expected to be open to the public by early 2017.
The facility will be phased in over three years and once fully operational, predicted to be in the fifth year, all profits will be used to support Guide Dogs’ services.
“The thing about this that’s so important is that every penny that we raise in terms of profit does come back to help people living with disability, and that’s why we’re doing this,” Thiele said.
“We’re not doing this because we want to develop a for-profit business, we actually want to develop a social enterprise that allows us to drive different revenue streams to continue to support people who are living with disability to the future.”
She also said that the pet hotel would support the wider community through employment opportunities.
“The other exciting thing is it actually offers employment for new people, so I’m incredibly proud of the fact that we’re actually able to offer some new jobs, we think about 65 casual jobs over the five years,” she said.
“For a charity to be able to help employment as well as help the community is brilliant.”
The social enterprise has been in the pipeline for a long time, with the concept first developed in 2010.
Thiele said the charity was at Adelaide Airport for another reason and the pet hotel “just popped as an idea, ‘wouldn’t it make a brilliant site to use for dogs’”.
As the investment is so significant, she said it took years of in-depth concept development and strategic planning to reach the construction stage.
“We had to spend some time with the airport themselves to see if it actually aligned to their strategic plan, and as it turned out it did,” she said.
“We then started to build a very detailed business model. So we engaged in some extensive market research to see whether there was indeed community need.”
In the early stages, Guide Dogs kept their brand quiet to test the strength of the model on it’s own, and to ascertain whether it was a good concept for a social enterprise.
“We ran some focus groups and had a really good look at that research to see whether the concept was desirable, whether there was a gap in the market in the western suburbs to accommodate a pet hotel, what price points people were going to feel comfortable with,” Thiele said.
“We also did a whole lot of work around building a financial model. This is a very significant investment on the part of our organisation so it needed to stack up robustly and we started to engage with our board finance committee to test that model.
“We gave it a nickname, we called it Project Maldives, and it was a bit of fun and it was really about if you go away and have a holiday in the Maldives why can’t your pet have one as well, and we loved that. Everything that we tested appeared to be a viable concept.”
She said the most challenging, yet important, aspect was to ensure that the integrity of Guide Dogs was protected through the establishment of a new venture.
“All the way along we were very conscious that as we started to move into this space that we didn’t want to do anything that impacted our current business, we didn’t want to lose sight of what we were doing to support the community,” she said.
“When you’re starting to move into a space like this you need to make sure you absolutely stay 100 per cent focussed on why you’re here and 100 per cent focussed on making sure that you are continuing to support the communities you do support.
“So we’ve set up a structure in our business to make sure we can do that, and we’ve got someone who’s dedicated to managing the project so we can make sure that for the rest of us we stay particularly focussed on meeting the daily needs and the daily challenges of Guide Dogs.”
The other challenge was to make sure the charity didn’t need to use any corporate or community donor funding to support the enterprise.
“This enterprise is actually all going to be debt funded, so we’re liaising with banks to debt fund it so the community knows if they give a gift to Guide Dogs that gift comes to Guide Dogs and isn’t used for the enterprise,” Thiele said.
“The enterprise has to stand up on its own two feet financially and deliver a profit so that we can continue to grow.”
Thiele said as community need for charity services grows, other organisations should look to social enterprise to generate revenue.
“It’s a pretty exciting way to move. For all charities, the notion of financial sustainability is really critical,” she said.
“So we have to think of innovative and perhaps entrepreneurial ways to continue to meet community need.
“We know that philanthropic giving is really important. We are one of the organisations that’s impacted by the National Disability Insurance Scheme, and that’s really wonderful for communities and the sector, to increase the funds and the choice and the control that consumers have, but it won’t be the panacea.
“Philanthropic giving and financial sustainability into the future will remain really critical to organisations that work in our sector and all of us continue to think about how we meet community need.”
Thiele said, for Guide Dogs in particular, the need for a social enterprise was “absolutely essential”.
“By 2020 they’re saying 100,000 Australians will be diagnosed with vision loss. Every hour, every day someone will find out they will have some form of vision loss, and of those ten people will end up being blind,” she said.
“The need is great, It’s growing because of our ageing population and this organisation wants to continue to be able to meet that need, and support people living with vision loss, and support people who have hearing loss, and most especially support children who are living with severe autism.
“Because we’ve been voted the most trusted charity for the third year in a row I think we’ve got to continue to demonstrate that we’re responsible to the community.
“We want to help people with disability, we want to help them study, to gain employment and have independent lives and hopefully these new funds will help us do that.”