One of the biggest problems pet owners face is not being able to bring our furry friends along with us.
I was lucky to have good neighbours who helped to take care of my two dogs when my family and I went overseas. Subsequently, my grandmother and uncle moved in and they helped to look after them when we travelled.
But for 29-year-olds Rachel Sio and Adrian Chua, the owners of two cute rabbits, what was supposed to be a relaxing getaway to Krabi turned out to be worrisome one.
It was also this trip that led to them starting up The Fluffy Hut, Singapore’s first commercial boarding service to take care of their beloved rabbits and small animals.
A Hut-tening Solution For Rabbit And Rodent Owners
The couple were fretting over the irregular updates on their ‘fur babies’ from a home-based sitter they engaged before their anniversary trip in July last year.
When Rachel and Adrian came back, Cupcake, their Dutch bunny, would not eat for “three hours straight”.
According to Rachel’s blog post, “We don’t get updates everyday. Maybe once in 2 days. And we were only away for a trip for 5 days. Cupcake wasn’t even like this when we sent her away for 12 days when we went for our Japan trip.”
She explained that the boarder who took care of their bunnies during their Japan trip was unavailable to care for them again.
So when they were searching for other boarders and sitters, they realised that there aren’t many boarding services in Singapore that took care of rodents, and most were not up to their satisfaction.
To prevent fellow rabbit and small animal owners from facing the same problems, they decided to start up and provide this service themselves.
Right after coming back from Krabi, they spent three-and-a-half months working on getting The Fluffy Hut up and running.
They had their first customer in the middle of November, just a couple of weeks after announcing the opening of the boarding service in late October.
The space is air-conditioned the whole day, and has CCTV surveillance (with night vision) in the individual pens as well as in the whole place, so you can see them whenever you miss them!
Customised playpens are two to three times the size of regular playpens, have anti-slip surfaces, and customised pee trays that cannot be bought off-the-shelves.
All you have to bring is your precious pet as they provide pellets, hay, supplements, treats, and food.
Rachel said she only feeds them organic fruits and vegetables as that’s the kind of food she feeds Cupcake and Pumpkin, a Netherland Dwarf.
“We also have experienced groomers who are properly trained in handling small animals. Also, either one or both of us will be here at the shop to attend to them throughout the day,” she told me.
On top of these services, they also provide transport in case of emergency. They’re also planning to launch insurance for pet owners and their own organic-baked treats for small animals.
Not Always Fun And Binky
For Rachel, a customer service executive, and Adrian, a Sales Manager at his uncle’s construction company, starting up for the first time and out of pure passion for their animals was tough.
They didn’t mention leaving their jobs anytime soon either.
So, on top of their full-time jobs, they also put in hours at the shop.
Rachel wrote in her blog that they both spend up to 15 hours a day working, and they stay up till 5am on weekends.
Designing of the playpens, while maximising all the spaces in the shop, and creating the DIY pee trays that are deeper and wider than store-bought ones were some of the problems they faced.
Planning was tedious [because we wanted to ensure] optimum living conditions for the animals. We allocated an area for small animals to roam around and play, even though their playpens are large enough for them to play inside too.
But the couple was fortunate to have some help when they decided to do this.
Their current space at Ubi Techpark belongs to Adrian’s uncle.
Rachel said that after his uncle’s office moved to Kaki Bukit, the current place was under-utilised.
She recounted, “When we raised the idea of The Fluffy Hut, Adrian’s uncle readily supported our idea by ‘lending’ this space out of pure kinship. We want to start paying rent soon so we can be independent.”
Adrian’s uncle helped when they needed advice and sourcing of the materials for the place.
“We’re very thankful for the support we received from both our families,” she added.
Hopping Into Entrepreneurship
Rachel and Adrian met each other when they were 13 but only started dating when they were 24.
It seems this year will be a busy year for them as they are getting married in December; they mentioned in a TODAY interview that they can’t go on vacation because they “just love them too much”, even if they hire.
That compassion and love for animals shone through when I asked her about the possibility of people abandoning their pets at the shop.
“If we ever come across an abandoned animal, no doubt we will take care of it until we find a suitable candidate for adoption, at no cost even. We will ensure that it will fall into the right hands,” Rachel said.
However, if it’s our customer who abandoned their pet, we will reach out to understand why. If it is because of the lack of knowledge and the handling of animals, we can give them advice, guide, and educate them.
She believes that pets need a family who will care and be responsible for them, so if she sees an impulse buyer, she would make sure to find the animal a good home.
At the moment, they haven’t broken even yet and Rachel reckons it will take some time.
“The cost is quite high [because we needed a lot of materials] during the planning and setting up, including the facilities that we have. We are also looking at upgrades in the future,” she explained.
But the humble soon-to-be newlyweds haven’t really considered themselves as entrepreneurs yet, despite already making plans to create their own business ecosystem.
Rachel sees The Fluffy Hut as more of a venture out of their love for animals, and not for profit like how other entrepreneurs might perceive entrepreneurship.
However, now that we are in this business, we have to thrive and grow. It’s still a long journey for us if we’re looking at upgrading our hardware like, the existing facilities, manufacturing, expansion of services and manpower.
She also thinks getting the right ‘software’ is important for their business’ survival, like keeping up with the times and constantly brushing up their knowledge to be specialists in the industry.
So, if you’re travelling soon, do check out The Fluffy Hut and check your furry friends in!
You can visit their website for their rates here, and follow them on Facebook here.
Featured Image Credit: The Fluffy Hut