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Small Business Stories with Claire Harris

claire harris

Claire Harris is the founder of Pets 2 Places, the UK’s first pet taxi franchise offering transport to any destination a customer chooses. An animal lover herself, she has been in the business for over 5 years and has built up a lot of knowledge about transporting the correct way. She specializes in helping elderly and less abled people, with certificates in manual handling of older persons and guiding blind people.

How Pet 2 Places Started

Claire has always liked to be self-employed. However, after suffering a personal loss, she found herself starting two businesses at the same time.

“I started a holistic business as a franchisee and Pets 2 Places at the same time. It was strange how Pets 2 Places started. Somebody I knew worked as a receptionist in the vets, and they just said to me, we’ve always got people to call in, they need to get to the vets, they can’t get there, and they need somebody to take them. Why don’t you do that, you’ve got to become really good with people, and you love animals? And that’s literally how the business started.

So I was running them both part-time, and the pet taxi just took off. It was just the way people responded to it, how grateful they were, how they would be tripping over themselves to compliment you for the service, and how it’s needed. When you’re at work, that’s the kind of feedback you want.”

Joining a Franchise the Right Way

As Pet 2 Places took off, Claire left her other holistic business. She shares with us the learnings she gained from joining a franchise.

“The advice I could give to a potential franchisee does your homework. When I joined the franchise before, I didn’t do my homework at all. I was very naive because the person was actually my friend and probably didn’t know anything, to be honest. And I didn’t do any research. If you’re going to invest in somebody’s business, you want to know exactly what you’re getting for your investment price and what ongoing support you will get. With a franchise, buying it is one amount of money, but then you have ongoing franchise fees. It would be best if you found out what that franchise is all about, where they are going with their business.

If you’re paying a franchise fee every month, what is it that you’re getting for that money each month? With the franchise that I was in, I paid 12,000 pounds essentially for an operations manual and didn’t get much out, and for my 300 quid a month, I got absolutely nothing. There was no training, no support or anything.”

Using her Past Experience

Claire decided to expand Pets 2 Places with this experience, and she is now offering its franchise to other people, but she wants to do it the right way.

“It was the customers that gave me the idea to franchise the business. I never started this business thinking of global domination. But the customers started saying, oh, my friend or family lives in such and such town and they’ve got nothing like this there, it would be convenient if they had the service there. So that’s what gave me the idea to franchise it. We’re still at the beginning of our franchise journey but watch this space. It’s going to be an exciting couple of years for Pets 2 Places.

My goal is to take on three franchisees this year and dedicate my time to them to build their business. I’ll be putting into practice all the things that I’m learning. As part of their franchise fee, they’ll be getting all the marketing, publicity, training. This is the first pet taxi franchise in the world. It’s never been done before, so whoever invests in my business, I want to respect that, and I want to go the extra mile to give back to them.”

Awards as a Marketing Tool

Pets 2 Places have received a few awards for Best Pet Business at Animal Star Awards, Pet Industry Leader at the Women Leaders Awards. They were also finalists a couple of times at the Milton Keynes Business Achievement Awards. Here’s what Claire thinks about the role of awards for the business.

“It’s beneficial to go for awards, but be careful which ones you go for. If they’ve got a hefty price tag on them, then you’ve got to look at your investment in going for the award versus the publicity you’re going to get from it. It also depends on the industry that you’re in and the award that you’re going for. In 2019 we won Best Pet Business in the UK, and that was at the Animal Star Awards, and because it was a specific animal award, that was a big feather in our cap.

Most of the awards are free to enter, and then if you do make it to the final, that does come with some press coverage even if you don’t win the award. That means lots of people out there that are now hearing about you, that didn’t know who you were before.”

Why You Should Hire a VA

Claire is a big fan of the book “E-Myth” by Michael Gerber, and one thing she learned from it was to write down all the details of every aspect of her business, so she can get help once she needs it.

“When you get to the point where you can afford a VA or a bookkeeper, then you’ll already know what their job description is and how much time that’s going to save you. If you took on a bookkeeper for two hours a week, and that’s going to cost you 50 quid, for example, if you know that you can easily earn that 50 quid back, then it’s really worth investing into getting the help you need. As for VA’s, they have done an excellent job of educating people on helping small businesses.

When I first found the VA that I currently work with, I was surprised how much I can delegate to her because she is so multi-skilled. the A big bit of advice would be that if you think there are certain aspects of your business you’re not very good at, you definitely reach out to a VA. It doesn’t cost you anything to have a phone call with them, see what it is that you’re not good at, and get a VA to help you. VAs are worth their weight in gold,” she concludes.

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