"Cat Door with a Brush"
It all started in 2004. We, like many cat owners, wanted to put our cat's litter box in the basement. We didn't want to leave the door open. So we made a cat door by cutting a small arch-shaped hole in the door. This worked fine, but we didn't like the appearance and Motchka's loose hair was constantly collecting on the edge of the hole.
We made a pair of arch-shaped wood frames to cover the hole and painted them. We then looked for a way to fill the void between the frames and decided that a brush would be the ideal choice. It would collect loose cat hair efficiently and would help keep our house cleaner.
We decided 'CATHOLE' would be a good name for our cat door because it resembled a large mouse hole. The name became the butt (excuse the pun) of many jokes by our friends. Regardless, we liked the name and have had it trademarked.
CATHOLE became a conversation piece. "Why don't you patent it?" We did - but that was only the beginning of a long voyage. Even though our sales are doing quite well, we are still a "mom and pop" company. Our company has become a major effort for us - after we retired
We want our customers to be delighted with the usefulness, quality & appearance of their cat door.
We want to continue to have fun making our little business grow.
We want our grand children to assist in running the business and earn money for their college education.
We are on track with these goals
There are an endless number of challenges in making a small business profitable. As long as we can continue to learn from these challenges (without going broke), the business will continue to be fun. We started out by reading everything we could get on small businesses, attended small business consulting classes, and used local resources such as an Inventor's Club and SBA. The real lessons, however, were learned first hand. We learned the cost of making design changes - obsolete inventories, rework, etc. We learned how difficult (and important) it is to find good suppliers. We also learned that the real work begins when you try to market your product.
Our cat door has gone through three major design changes. The initial design was fine for our use - but it had too many nonstandard parts and was too difficult to install. So we simplified it.
In our second design, we were making the wood frames from solid wood blanks. These met our aesthetics criteria, however, they were not strong enough. We introduced Baltic Birch frames to address this quality issue. Furniture-grade Baltic Birch is attractive, can be painted or stained and is very strong and durable.
Our third design change resulted from a supplier problem. We were using a brush made by a large company. Rubbermaid Corporation, a very large company, bought this company out and decided to discontinue the brush line we had been using. We weren't (and still aren't) big enough for Rubbermaid to care about our business. So, after a country-wide search, we found a very stable, high-quality family-owned brush manufacturer in Vermont. This whole painful experience turned out to be a real blessing. Our new brush is perfect and our new supplier is a delight to work with!
Many businesses, large and small, go "off-shore" for manufacturing. We could probably reduce our manufacturing cost by 40%, by outsourcing our manufacturing. However, we will not make this move. We like having high-quality American suppliers and will continue to do our little bit to support manufacturing in America.
Many of our customers install this cat door in a very visible location. We have seen them in basement and laundry room doors that are adjacent to kitchens and main hallways. A lot of people have told us they really like the wood frames. Our PHOTOS page shows the many different ways our customers paint and stain the wood frames. Some of the stained and varnished frames are spectacular! We have continued to make our wooden frames from high quality Baltic Birch and ship them unfinished.
Some of our customers have asked for white frames. So we added a similar product with the frames made of attractive molded white plastic. Meghan, our oldest grand daughter, handles the customer fulfillment for this product. Our other grand children help with the packaging occasionally. Even our youngest, Daniel, stars in our YouTube video! To see Meghan's YouTube .......YouTube video MEGHAN'S CAT DOOR
There are many costs that have to be managed. However, none is as difficult to foresee and manage as the cost of sales. It is fairly easy to get a handle on development, engineering and even manufacturing costs. High costs of sales can easily leave you selling at a loss! While most of corporate America has faced this in the past few years, and much has been written, it does not hit home until you try to sell your product at a profit.
Our experience may help some of you who are thinking about starting a small business. We suggest you give a lot of thought to cost of sales - both dollar cost and time (your time) cost. Experts say that the mortality rate for small businesses is very high. We suspect that the majority of these failures result from underestimating the cost of sales. We have met many inventors and would-be entrepreneurs. Many of these people think that all you need is a good product or service and it will sell itself. Not true for us (and probably not true for most others). Additionally, many small businesses may fail because too much emphasis is placed on obtaining venture capital? Once this money is available, it can easily be gambled away on marketing efforts that provide questionable return. We choose to boot-strap our growth with our early profits - a very conservative approach.
Much of the advice in "GUERRILLA MARKETING" addresses this cost-of-sales issue. We like this book and recommend it to everyone. A Guerilla Marketing technique that we are attempting to employ is to explore as many marketing channels as possible - without going broke! There are lots of marketing channels open to small businesses. Determining which channels to use and how much to invest in them can be very difficult. Each channel has its own unique cost and probability of return. The key to all of these Guerilla Marketing techniques seems to be to try as many things as possible and look for early indicators. Use these indicators to determine whether the marketing investment will have a positive impact on net earnings and then tune the marketing efforts accordingly. This cautious approach definitely hasn't made us rich. However, it is helping us achieve sustained growth. This should lead to long-term success.
Another principle that we learned is that "customer satisfaction" is everything. We encourage our customers to let us know what they think of our product and service. We get lots of questions and feedback on our cat door. This helps us to continue to focus on what is important to our customers. We have adopted a number of these suggestions over the years. A customer suggested that we become a PAYPAL merchant. Another suggested that we establish a simple way for customers to order replacement brushes. In Oct. 2010, a customer suggested that we include a PDF copy of the frame outline and hole cut-out template on the website. Customers have also helped us determine the most important key words to use for search engine optimization.
We added an option to our product for Internet sales. We provide free personalized name tags with kitty's name (or whatever the owner wants) - see our PHOTOS page. The labor to fabricate these name tags is quite high and therefore the sale is not all that profitable. However, this channel puts us in direct contact with the "end user" of the cat door.
Managing cost-of-sales on the Internet can be especially difficult. There are hundreds of companies that will take your money to provide marketing assistance. We have tried some of these and have had little success. We do use one "pay per click" offering on the key words "cat door".
A whole new paragraph needs to be written about "social networking".
We are a just beginning to learn about the many techniques and tools that are
emerging. Some of these are extremely powerful - especially when you have
a very popular product. Our friend Caren has included us in her
"Cat Chat with Caren and Cody"
This is only the beginning of our "social networking" efforts.
Another friend, Tamar, has an interesting blog about being a 30-something single female cat owner in NY City. Tamar's blog is "I HAVE CAT"
Our grandson, Brendan, has taken over the order fullfilment for all orders placed on this website. Like Meghan, he manages his own inventory and ships orders to his "PayPal customers". Brendan also makes the name tags that you request.
Granddaughter Meghan, grandson Brendan and my wife Carol & I really enjoy running this little company! It is very satisfying to hear from happy customers. The testimonials on our PHOTOS page are a small sample of the feedback we get and we are delighted that a significant number of our customers hear about us from their friends!
Brendan and grandpa have added a mobile website for CATHOLEs. We used the goMOBI tool to build this website. The goMOBI web creation tool is very easy to use. It has lots of preformatted templates that can be customized.
We also added code to this website (our desktop site) to detect smartphone inquiries. When this site "www.cathole.com" is accessed by a smartphone, the inquiry is automatically switched to our goMOBI version of the website. Take a look at our "Our MOBILE Website"
We welcome any comments you may have regarding improving our product or improving the visibility of our product on the internet.
Hope you have enjoyed this little history of our cat door company.
I always enjoy hearing from people who have visited.
My e-Mail address:
This cat door is made in America ---- Patent # 5,458,088