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India is likely to have 31 million pet dogs by 2023, according to Statista.
India is likely to have 31 million pet dogs by 2023, according to Statista.

Making spaces for pets to check-in too

CollarFolk receives about 5,000 queries each month, with about 70 bookings on an average and a customer retention of 30%

By the time Delhi-based Rukmini Vaish, 35, was in ninth grade, she had five pet Boxers who anxiously awaited her return from school every day. Vaish, too, never left them alone for too long. But each time the family went on a vacation, they would have little choice but to leave the dogs behind with the domestic help.

During those days, there were hardly any properties around Delhi that offered pet-friendly vacations. The only place the dogs were welcome was their ancestral house in Mussoorie. “We would leave them with our help at home, but it would always tug at our hearts, since we were leaving behind five family members," recalls Vaish, a MBA from Institute of Management Technology, Ghaziabad.

Unable to find good pet-friendly holiday spaces for years, Vaish decided to establish CollarFolk, five years ago. The platform offers services like customized holiday plans for people and their pets.

She first arrived at the idea in 2013, when she sat by the Ganges in Rishikesh, wishing, as always, that her dogs were around. On a whim, she approached the manager of the camp where she was staying. “I asked him if he would be fine if I brought the dogs along the next time. He said that it had never been done before, but, to my surprise, he didn’t have a problem if the dogs were friendly," Vaish says.

It set the wheels in motion for CollarFolk. A year after that vacation, she quit her full-time job at Dulux paints company and started working on the project after spending a decade in the corporate world.

“I had enough experience to return to a regular job if things didn’t work out. Besides, my husband continued working on his corporate job, which made it easier for me to take the risk. His support was crucial during those early days," Vaish says.

A few months after their marriage, Vaish, her husband and their newly adopted Golden Retriever, Kiki, made a trip to their holiday home in Sattal in Uttarakhand’s Kumaon region. Over the next 10 days, they visited properties in the area to understand if they would be open to hosting pets.

“We took Kiki along to see how comfortable she was in a new place, while also trying to understand how the owners reacted to her. We discussed the various pet policies they would want in place and shared our needs if we were to stay with them," Vaish says.

By the end of that trip, she had a list of 25 properties that were open to the idea of pet-friendly vacations. Once back home, she started working on a website and spread the word through social media.

Most tie-ups were with properties that were at driving distance from metros such as Delhi, Mumbai and Bengaluru. Of these, 70% offered meals for the pets based on Vaish’s recommendations. Besides ensuring comfortable stay, CollarFolk also started looking out for local experience partners who could offer activities, both for the pets and their parents.

“We realized that a few didn’t have vehicles that were big enough to transport their pet or weren’t comfortable driving. So we started offering car rentals, while suggesting train travel for those who wanted to do longer distances," Vaish says.

Many things went wrong during the first few years, says Vaish. For instance, a booking on Christmas day landed a woman and her St. Bernard in the middle of a raucous party, much to their annoyance. On another occasion, the driver of a hired vehicle failed to show up at an early hour to the dismay of an annoyed young man and his restless German Shepherd.

“I’ve had to make many early morning runs to sort things out back in the day. It’s hilarious when I think about it now and thankfully it’s never happened with us again. Now we can tell people exactly what they are going to get," she says.

These days, CollarFolk receives about 5,000 queries each month, with about 70 bookings on an average and a customer retention of 30%. In the past five years, their business has grown by over 450% and the team has expanded to 12 people.

“In the future, we want to focus on the discovery and curation space. We have some interesting collaborations lined up," says Vaish, without offering many details.

On a personal front, Vaish no longer has to visit her properties to ensure people’s pets are as comfortable as she is on a holiday.

“Last Christmas, we spent five days hiking to Dodital in Uttarakhand. Whenever it comes to a new offering, it’s my dog who gets to experience it first," she says.

The Pet Club looks at millennials who are driving the petcare startup space.Write to us at businessoflife@livemint.com

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