Editor’s note: This story originally appeared in the May/June 2015 issue of Catster print magazine. Click here to subscribe to Catster magazine.
A￼s I sit at my desk, a velvety black cat brushes my leg, while a small gray tabby naps on a shelf overhead. I’m at work, and this is my dream job. It took me a couple of decades to figure it out, but somehow I’ve managed to create a business and a life that centers on cats, and nothing could be more rewarding.
My business, Hauspanther LLC, was born when I realized I could use the skills I’d gathered from various jobs over the years to create something that combines my passion for cats and design. I now spend my time writing about how design impacts cats’ lives, through both products and interiors. I also design and manufacture a line of unique handmade cat toys. My days are filled with product testing, photographing cute cats playing with new toys, and working with other companies that have the same mission: to help improve the lives of cats and our relationships with them.
Does the idea of starting your own cat-related business make your ears perk up? Maybe you already have a company, and you want to incorporate cats into the mix. At Catster, we like to feature entrepreneurs who have done just that, but not everyone has the luxury of quitting her day job in order to pursue a passion. Sometimes theses changes are forced on us, as was the case for Jennifer Schmidt of Washington, owner of The Cat Ball LLC. Jennifer was employed full time at a costume shop when suddenly the shop closed, and she found herself out of a job.
Before the shop closed, Jennifer had been working on an unusual project: making a costume for a soccer team mascot. The costume involved a huge round head, and Jennifer had made several small-scale prototypes. When Jennifer’s two orange kittens, Twix and Pacer Stacktrain, hopped inside a prototype, the Cat Ball was born. Jennifer realized she had the foundation for what could be a successful cat bed business.
Jennifer started The Cat Ball without any preplanning or investment — not the recommended way to start a business, but sometimes you just have to jump right in! The only resources she had were sewing machines, fabric, and her skills in design and patternmaking. Jennifer had already sold accessories online through Etsy, a marketplace for selling handmade goods, so she listed the first Cat Balls for sale there.
This is actually how I met Jennifer. I found her cat beds on Etsy and wrote about them on my cat design blog, and all of a sudden her business picked up, and she was flooded with orders. This goes to show you how a little good press can really help kick off your business and get your product in front of the right audience.
As for the other aspects of starting and running a business, Jennifer warned that it can be bewildering and frustrating at times. When a business is small, you have to do everything yourself, from product development, to sales and marketing, to accounting. Jennifer looks
forward to the day when she can hire employees and focus entirely on patternmaking and prototyping, the tasks she enjoys the most.
In a product-based business like The Cat Ball, new product development is critical to the company’s ongoing success. Once the original Cat Ball bed was perfected, Jennifer wanted to create another cat bed at a lower price point, so she came up with the design for her Cat Canoe, a smaller bed that’s open on top.
An interesting thing happened with the Cat Canoe. Customers started reporting that the Cat Canoe was handy for vet visits because you could simply slide the cat into the carrier while she was in the bed. Once at the vet’s office, the cat can stay in the bed for comfort, and some procedures can even be performed while the cat is in the bed. This is a great example of how an entrepreneurial development can really make a difference in a cat’s life, transforming a necessary — and sometimes traumatic — part of cat care into something more manageable.
The future is bright for The Cat Ball, as Jennifer and her husband, Chris, plan to expand the business, adding wholesale offerings to get their products into retail shops across the country. All of Jennifer and Chris’ cats provide constant inspiration for their business and remind them daily about how lucky they are to be doing what they love.
Read more of Kate’s cat style tips:
About the author: Kate Benjamin is the founder of the popular cat style blog Hauspanther.com. She specializes in helping people live stylishly with cats. You may have seen her on Jackson Galaxy’s show My Cat From Hell. Make sure to check out Kate and Jackson’s books Catification: Designing a Happy and Stylish Home for Your Cat (and You!) and Catify to Satisfy: Simple Solutions for Creating a Cat-friendly Home.