The Country Dog Hotel: The luxury business founded on dogged determination

The Country Dog Hotel: The luxury business founded on dogged determination
Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowInkwell

Posted: Tue 20th Aug 2019

A few weeks ago, Country Dog Hotel founder and Enterprise Nation member Rebecca Linnell found herself in Lorraine Kelly's bathroom wondering - in her own words - "how the f*** did I get here?".

But when you dig beyond the bout of imposter syndrome, it's clear the business has been built through relentless hard work.

Country Dog Hotel offers the canines it boards a unique luxury. As a result, it has been at capacity since it launched. We spoke to Linnell ahead of her talk at the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs on 18 October in Bristol.

The personal story behind the business

Linnell told the kennel she volunteered for to get in touch if they ever wanted to sell the business. She was in Thailand working with strays when they called with the news that they were ready to hand over the reins and Linnell eventually convinced her partner's parents to buy the business.

In-spite of working at the business, she would never board her dogs there. The desire to create a kennel that met her own high standards provided the inspiration for the Country Dog Hotel, but it was splitting up with her partner that gave Linnell the push to launch the business.

"It was based on personal circumstances more than business," Linnell said. "I was on my own with my two biological children and two foster children. I was a stay at home mum and a single mum and I thought 'what can I do where I'm available for the kids and that I'll love?'. I wanted to be a really positive role model."

Struggling to deal with demand

Linnell hasn't spent any money on advertising beyond a handful of boosted posts on Facebook and Instagram. In the beginning, she just listed the business on a Facebook page and other buying and selling sites.

"We started to get customers trickling in," Linnell recounted. "Then it started to go crazy. I was replying to more people to say 'no' than 'yes'. We couldn't keep up with it."

Positive reviews have been crucial to maintaining the growth. The business has a five star rating on Facebook with 73 votes and 4.8 on Google with 28 reviews.

Linnell has worked on the business constantly since. The level of care means being with the dogs constantly and there's work to do 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

"We never used to have time for marketing. We used to do it at midnight or one o'clock in the morning. We'd run the business during the day, sort the kids out, finish off with the dogs and then sit and do marketing stuff. Now it's easier because we've taken on staff," she said.

Country Dog Hotel

From Facebook listings to Country Living Magazine

The level of demand was down to the quality of the service and Linnell has been adamant about making it the best offering possible since they launched.

"If I was going to do it, I wanted it to be the best. I'm quite passionate about that. That was from day dot. I didn't want it to be run of the mill," she said.

Part of the uniqueness of the offering is down to the rural location and the amount of land they have to walk the dogs on. They've also pushed the boundaries in terms of the environment they have created.

"Some people can be quite judgemental. Saying things like 'you can't have a dog on the bed'. Each and every person makes that decision. We're not there to judge, we're there to care. Dogs are more part of the family than ever before and we've moved the boundaries to take that into account," Linnell said.

She hasn't done a lot of PR, but was persistent about targeting the Country Living magazine. She started by phoning the office to build up rapport and work out who to pitch, and then sent a series of follow-up emails. Six months later and seemingly out of the blue she was told they were planning to run the feature.

How to build a business that requires one-on-one care

Scaling the Country Dog Hotel is challenging. Because it offers 24-hour care, the team is only able to host 10 dogs at a time. It isn't sustainable to pay people to be there all of the time. However, they're keen to expand and the co-founding team has recently taken on four students that started on work experience for the summer.

They're about to purchase a small cottage at the end of the lane that will house smaller dogs. There's a plan to convert the summer house on the property into a spa that uses natural products and offers dog yoga too.

They've also created a VIP tier, which includes picking up and dropping off dogs around the country (when we interviewed Linnell, she was using a hands-free kit while driving a Cockapoo home).

The importance of being confident

It's moments like picking up Lorraine Kelly's border terrier that leave Linnell wondering how the business got where it is today.

"How did our business go from scrimping and saving and busting a gut to get into this house in two to three years?" she said. "I remember going to McDonald's for my birthday and we didn't have enough fuel to get there because we were skint from moving house."

Linnell said that being shortlisted for Enterprise Nation's Female Entrepreneur of the Year and pitching in front of 300 people helped build her confidence and understand the value of network groups. She's also worked to turn the negative experience of going through a divorce into a positive mindset.

"On a personal level, it had knocked my confidence big time. I could just wallow in it, or I could brush myself off and think, bugger this, I'm going to do something great.

"It was all about mindset. Sometimes when you have something really negative or people putting you down or not being the best people around you, sometimes you can turn that into a positive. I try to use negativity to boost myself and use it as a way to challenge myself," she said.

She recommends other small business owners push to get out of their comfort zones. "Work hard and have a can-do attitude. If you have a big dream, why not go for it?"

Hear from Rebecca and other inspiring entrepreneurs and experts at the Festival of Female Entrepreneurs in Bristol on 18 October. Book a ticket here.

_Festival of Female Entrepreneurs 2019 is supported by:

Festival of Female Entrepreneurs sponsors_

Chris Goodfellow
Chris GoodfellowInkwell
Chris has over a decade of experience writing about small businesses and startups. He runs Inkwell, a content agency that helps companies that sell to small business owners grow their audiences through content marketing. You can find him on Twitter at @CPGoodfellow.

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