Julie Dunn spent over 20 years project managing for the NHS before she became the owner of The Cat Butler Chichester in March 2022.
Julie started life as a radio presenter and producer, before opening her consultancy business in 2011, project managing for the NHS. But when her mother became ill during the pandemic, her business took a back seat whilst Julie took on caring duties. Like many other people at that time, this gave her the opportunity to think about what she really wanted out of life. She decided it was time to do something completely different, and wanted to make sure it would be doing something she would love.
What did life look like before joining The Cat Butler?
Julie: For many years I was a radio presenter and producer – a job that I loved but that didn’t come with any stability or security. So, with a young family to support, I studied for a degree in Economics and Politics and used it to get a ‘proper job’ as a manager in the NHS in London – eventually setting up my own business providing project management services to the NHS as an independent contractor.
And then came the pandemic. As for many other people, this was a life-changing experience for me. My mother became ill and I put my business on hold so I could devote time to caring for her and also to setting up longer-term support arrangements. The time out gave me the opportunity to think about what I wanted from life and I realised that it really was time for something new.
Why cat sitting?
Julie: The simple answer is: I love cats. They’ve been constant companions throughout my adult life.
The slightly more long-winded explanation is that, once I knew that I wanted a change, I angsted long and hard about what that change might look like. A conversation with my brother prompted me to think about franchising as a way of using my existing business skills and, 24 hours later, an advert for the Cat Butler popped up on my Facebook feed. People talk about having a ‘light bulb moment’ and that’s really how it felt. I love cats. I love running my own business. What could be more perfect?
What was it about The Cat Butler that appealed to you?
Julie: So much! When I decide to do something I like to do it properly and it was obvious from the start that The Cat Butler was a very professional setup. All franchisees and their Butlers are properly vetted and trained, including cat first-aid training, and have strict protocols and codes of conduct to stick to. I was initially drawn in by the cute cartoon characters and then found the website to be very user-friendly – easy to navigate with clear pricing and service information for clients and, joy of joys, immaculate spelling and grammar! But most of all, the obvious expertise and care for cats really shone through. It was a service I would be delighted to have found for my own cats.
What support did you receive from the franchisor when you launched your new business?
Julie: I was no stranger to running my own business when I set up as a franchisee with The Cat Butler, and I have lots of experience caring for my own cats, so I thought I had a good platform from which to start. However, the support given by Sandra and the team at Head Office was really extensive, encompassing a wide range of elements needed to provide a truly stand-out cat sitting service.
The franchise start-up package included comprehensive training, including cat first aid; a tried and tested business model with associated tools and support manuals; my own local pages on an attractive and user-friendly website; branded clothing; and, what I found utterly priceless, an expert PR team to help me face my bête noir – social media!!! You would think that with my background, media and PR would come naturally but you would be sadly mistaken. I’ve never sent a Tweet, made a TikTok video or even opened an Instagram account. It’s as much as I can manage to ‘like’ a friend’s comments on Facebook! But modern, customer-facing businesses are reliant on such things and The Cat Butler team held my hand, whispered sweet nothings in my ear, and then dragged me kicking and screaming into the 21st century!
What does the future hold?
Julie: At the time of writing in March 2023 I am working hard to build a reputation locally in West Sussex. As the business becomes established and people know that they can rely on the quality of our service, I will be looking to employ more local cat lovers to become Butlers and spread the love to more and more of our feline friends. A future filled with contented cats and happy humans – what a way to earn a living!
Tell us about your feline family
Julie: My husband and I are currently ruled by Charlie and Larkin – two beautiful rescue cats who came to us from The Cat and Rabbit Rescue Centre at Siddlesham in 2018. Their names were influenced by our wedding venue – the Darling Buds farm in Kent – and the fact that they were born in May. So they’re our very own Darling Buds of May!
Charlie is a large, vocal, long-haired grey and white boy who everyone agrees is quite magnificent (although not everyone has the joy of picking the slugs out of his coat when he’s been off hunting in the undergrowth! Ugh!).
Larkin, on the other hand, is a quiet, adorable, short-haired black girl with a penchant for sitting on the window sill talking to the birds.
They say that it’s a sign of love when your cat brings you home a present, in which case Charlie and Larkin must love us very much! Hours of fun are had in our home rounding up startled and indignant frogs, mice and birds and returning them intact, if somewhat discombobulated, from whence they came!
Julie will be offering her premium cat care service to felines and their owners across Chichester, Bognor Regis, Arundel and Littlehampton in West Sussex.