Meow Parlour became New York City's very first cat cafe when it opened its doors last year to cat enthusiasts everywhere. Founded by cat lovers Christina Ha and Emilie Legrand, the cafe's mission is to connect its furry hosts with their future homes, while providing an open environment for cats and humans to mingle over a snack. Ha, who also owns Macaron Parlour, discussed the ins and outs of running a cat cafe with Business News Daily.
Business News Daily: How would you describe the service your business offers?
Christina Ha: We provide a venue where people can rent time to eat cookies, coffee, tea and relax in the company of adoptable cats.
BND: How long have you been in business?
CH: We just celebrated 10 months!
BND: Did you start with a formal business plan?
CH: We did have a formal business plan before we got started. We needed to make sure we knew what we were doing and that all of our bases were covered before we started spending money.
BND: How did you finance your endeavors, both initially and as your business grew?
CH: We're proud to say that Meow Parlour is mostly self-funded. We did have a Kickstarter where people could get exclusive first-access to the space while we were testing things out, and we used the money raised for our miscellaneous expenses towards the very end of our buildout.
BND: Is your business today what you originally envisioned at the outset or has it changed significantly over time?
CH: It's still very much what we envisioned it to be. For me at least, the most surprising thing is the kinds of cats we have. We had envisioned having a lot of cats that were harder to adopt when we first opened. We've surely had a lot of cats with truly compelling stories and reasons for why Meow Parlour was the best home for them, but we also had a lot of "teen cats" — cats around 8 to 18 months. They are cats that had been passed over as kittens, but they still have a lot of energy. so they need to go into a home with another cat or get adopted with another cat. People who are looking to adopt a single cat or a [mellower] cat are more inclined to get older cats and, obviously, many people fall in love with tiny kittens for the adorable factor. So, there is an age gap in between and teen cats end up being a harder sell. Sometimes if you see a teen cat in a cage, he would be bouncing off the walls because of that energy, which could turn some people off. When they're with us, sometimes they have a ton of energy and people can see their playful side, but they can also see their calm side after they have finished their 20-minute "crazy time" session.
BND: What are some lessons you’ve learned? Is there anything you would’ve done differently?
CH: I think the only thing we could have done differently is our vestibule. We could have made it less open to interpretation, because people seem to have a hard time figuring out how to check in to the space!
BND: What were the most important factors that contributed to your success?
CH: We genuinely love cats. I think that if we didn't, people would have been able to tell and they would have felt that we were in it for something possibly less honest or genuine. We fall in love with many of the cats that come to us and we're thrilled when they go into good homes, even though it's sometimes bittersweet, as if our friend is moving away. If we didn't love cats so much, we probably couldn't have pulled off this business in the way that we have.
BND: What are the next steps you want to take as a business owner? How do you see yourself achieving those goals?
CH: Since we've opened, people have been asking us about whether there will be more Meow Parlours. We're still taking things slow, because we think that we can always do it better and improve on the current business instead of racing away to open five more all over the city. When you're talking about people who love cats, owning a place where we can get to know cats well and be a part of their life story in the way that we have, this is already a big deal.
BND: What is your best advice to someone with a great business idea who is ready to give it a shot?
CH: Ask around and, one, see if everyone thinks you're crazy. Two, see if everyone still thinks you're crazy after you put together your financial forecast and, three, see if someone else understands your vision. You don't have to have a partner to start a great business, but you have to see if you have the skills to convince someone else that the world needs your business. We opened despite initial opposition from my husband, because he thought I was less crazy after I put together a whole business plan for him. Emilie and I couldn't have opened Meow Parlour without each other and we keep each other grounded. It's a great system of checks and balances.