Q & A with Chris Raimo of Happy Cat Hotel Franchise
Chris Raimo, franchisor and founder of Happy Cat Hotel Franchise, is far from catty. (Just some feline humour there for you!)
Jokes aside, Chris has been a part of the AC community as a client and friend since 2018 when Angela and him connected at the IFE. His desire to franchise ethically and create genuine impact in local communities makes his franchise system a fantastic model in the emerging industry.
The Happy Cat Hotel Franchise is a unique concept – a cat hotel and spa for when humans are traveling for business, pleasure, transitioning real estate, engaging in home renovations, or relocating internationally.
Happy Cat Hotels feature individually themed premium hotel rooms, full day enrichment activities, a variety of thoughtful amenities, full service grooming, and a cat-tastic gift shop!
One of our favorite things about Happy Cat is how unique a model it is, it is truly demonstrating that you can franchise all kinds of businesses.
Chris’ approach to franchising is (in AC Inc’s humble opinion) a great example for how to enter the industry successfully. He has amazing franchisees, grew slowly but surely, listened to his gut, and knew that getting a check was less important than finding the right franchisee for your unique business.
This is an interview with Chris Raimo that highlights the myths, highlights, lowlights, and lessons that he has learned as an emerging franchisor.
Think back to when you decided to start the Happy Cat Hotel Franchise, got an FDD and then knew you needed to find franchisees. What were some of the feelings you had at that time?
Excited? Fear? Self doubt? Imposter syndrome? Alone?
All of the above. But most specifically I remember feeling major trepidation over my Item 19. In fact, my very first iteration didn’t have an Item 19 in it.
Thankfully – I found my way to the IFE workshops in NY, Springboard, and Angela. I was advised to consider adding it in even if I didn’t think it was great.
What are some of the things you did early on out of fear?
A couple of things come to mind…
Early on I didn’t put myself out there much at all. In all honesty I probably never will put myself out there in the way that some people do. I prefer to get more creative with how I show up and talk about our brand so I can share our story while still feeling comfortable.
I didn’t engage with many vendors which I actually don’t regret. This is a way in which fear did its job and kept me safe. I would have found myself with the wrong people and given them all my money.
Instead, the people who advise and support me now are people who approached me because they saw from above the fray what we were doing and what we’re about and there was a natural alignment with their values. That’s what you NEED as a micro-emerging brand in my opinion.
The rest of my experience to date hasn’t been affected by fear. I’m generally not governed by that emotion. Sure things can be scary but I’ve reconciled in life that fear is nothing but a limiting belief magnified by the unknown. But if I’m on a journey to learn, then the unknown is EXACTLY what I want.
What do you wish someone had told you when you decided to franchise?
That you need more money. As frugal as you try to be, franchising is just damn expensive. I wish someone had told me that I need more money (investment capital) or a better source of revenue to fund the franchise endeavour more successfully.
Let me clarify – franchising can be done on a bootstrapped budget – but it’s definitely going to take longer. For me, taking longer was a better decision. I’ve been able to learn more, make more deliberate decisions, and remain in control of the growth of the company.
Had I known, I may not have gone for supercharged growth, but I may have ended up in the same place I am now, just with much less stress along the way.
How can you tell if a franchise vendor is trustworthy and a fit for you?
Easy. They don’t talk about money. They genuinely love your brand/concept. They give you free advice without ever trying to “close” you.
If you are empathetically wired and intrinsically motivated, then you want to align with someone who is as well.
If you are un-empathetically aligned and extrinsically motivated (not bad, just different in that you want dollars, results, and tangible markers for success), then you want to align with someone who sees the world this way as well.
What is the best way for a new franchisor to find their first franchisee (or two)?
I don’t know if there is a best way because lead generation seems to be so brand specific. I think this answer has to do more with their foundation and approach.
If you’re brand has been around for 20 years, you have 6 corporate stores, and a boatload of cash to put toward lead gen, maybe that first zee comes from a broker (not always advisable even with money but brands do it).
If not, which is usually more often the case, it probably comes from something more organic. Facebook, personal network, etc.
We had early success from PR – a few articles about our concept in notable magazines within our industry brought about early inquiries and ultimately our first franchisee. It’s free, adds credibility, and can be recirculated time and time again.
How do you work your network to find that first franchisee? What are some ways to get the word out to your network?
For me, its inception rather than insertion. I will market and make it known but I won’t pitch or offer to them. It’s a crossover that I find our customers don’t appreciate. If we keep it rolling but not in their face, eventually they approach and inquire and it’s often with more serious intentions.
What are some things you’ve learned about vetting franchisee prospects that you wish you had known?
That the franchise industry and more specifically lending institutions (banks) don’t find value in people who are not already wealthy.
I am diametrically opposed to this philosophy. How many great franchise operators are out there but never got a chance to succeed because they don’t have 780 credit scores and $300k in the bank?
Until I can solve this problem by either finding a lender who sees it like I do or fund them myself, I have to identify early on how far they are willing to go to secure funding.
You can start a franchise even without being wealthy, but do they have what it takes to fight for that? Some do, some don’t. I have to leave it be if they don’t have the desire to overcome that challenge, even if I think they’re a great candidate otherwise.
Candidates deserve every chance to prove themselves, but they are not me and I can’t put my hopes and dreams for them on their shoulders.
How did you know who you were looking for as a franchisee when you didn’t have any yet?
They must love the brand, the service, the culture, and the founder. I would not consider them if they just like the business and its ROI.
I want my first 5 franchisees to live and bleed the Happy Cat Hotel Franchise colours, mission, and values. I also want them working in the business because I want that early adopter feedback so that we can improve.
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Enjoy this interview with Chris? For more discussions on these topics and more, join our free virtual AC Roundtables where emerging and established franchisors gather on zoom to collaborate and problem-solve.
The AC Roundtables are a free resource we offer franchisors who are seeking collaboration and peer-to-peer learning. We’ve been running these virtual roundtables since 2020 and we always love to have new franchisors join us!