Manor Pet Housing supplies beautifully crafted, quality rabbit homes for enrichment beyond the hutch. Owner Liz Gooch shares the journey that took her from rubble to rabbits and beyond.
"This story starts with a parrot and a building business and, to date, ends with castles, thrones, galleons, guinea pigs and of course, rabbits. Little did we know that the parrot and the building business would lead us to where we are today.
Einstein is the name of our cheeky African Grey, who we bought into our home in 2010 from a local parrot specialist who also owns pet shop.
Knowing we were in the building trade, it was that same pet shop owner who first asked my husband Shaun and I to build a hutch for him to sell in his store.
Disillusioned with the poor quality hutches he stocked from major suppliers, he was after something strong, robust and good looking – something that would appeal to discerning rabbit owners.
That was 2012 when we realised small hutches were still all to prevalent (the norm). Did you know it was the Victorians who first kept rabbits in hutches? It was a temporary storage solution before they were popped in the pot. Despite our growing affection for our furry friends, we’ve held on to those Victorian hutches a 100 years too long.
The first adventure
With very little to go on, my husband and I set about crafting a hutch after work. We’d been in the building trade for many years and Shaun is an expert joiner.
We took out time, tinkering with ideas, crafting the hutch in the evenings once the kids had gone to bed.
When we finally revealed our masterpiece to the pet shop owner, his face fell. It was too big for him to stock in his shop and it was too heavy to sell.
This was our first learning curve: while the quality and style were spot on, a pet store owner needs a flat-packed hutch to stock and sell effectively. But was this hutch really too big? and were hutches even necessary?
Discovering rabbit welfare
We began researching hutch size requirements and of course, found the Rabbit Welfare Association and Fund (RWAF) and their A Hutch Is Not Enough campaign. With this information guiding us, we knew our hutch met the minimum guidelines.
The RWAF advise hutches must be 6ft x 2ft x 2ft to offer our bunny buddies enough space to make at least three hops, lie stretched out and be able to stand up on their back legs without their ears touching the top. Without space, safety and stimulation a rabbit’s health begins to suffer.
Market research told us most cages where 3ft, 4ft or 5ft wide at the most, considerably below the welfare guidelines. Our hutch exceeded these and offered rabbit owners an opportunity to provide a really exceptional environment for their pet. We could also see how Shaun’s master craftsmanship would ensure the hutches looked good in any home.
Over to social
After the pet shop turned down our prototype, I popped the hutch on Facebook. Several comments and shares later and it was bought by a rabbit owner in London. The very first Manor Pet product (rabbit home) was shipped to its new destination in the south.
Social, it turns out, was a turning point for the business.
Not long after the first home was bought, several local people commissioned bespoke housing via the Facebook page. We talked directly to our new customers, carefully listening to want they wanted and what was important to them.
From the customer feedback and through our newly learnt awareness of what rabbits actually require, our range of products started to develop. First to come was the Budget Hay station closely followed by the two tier castle, from this there has been no looking back.
Facebook helped us build friendly, personal relationships. We were no longer ‘building blind’ like we were with the first product (hutch). Now, we heard the passion rabbit owners had for their pets, and we understood the need for size and space, and a solid and appealing design.
The RWAF meanwhile, helped us become 100% welfare aware. We made a decision very early on that this had to be a priority. Becoming a member of the RWAF Retailer Charter has ensured all our hutches, homes, runs, castles, thrones, penthouses and galleons are built to meet the charter’s recommendations.
Selling online also removed that first hurdle we encountered: a quality and suitable product is difficult for pet stores to stock. Our e-commerce website means that problem is removed, we have direct relationships with our customers and no extra costs are incurred from a middle man. In short, pet owners get quality and value. Starting on social media made sure this was the norm from the start.
From rubble to rabbits
We ran Manor Pet housing for two years alongside our full-time building business and in 2014, choose to focus on the rabbits full time.
Rabbits, and all their small furry friends. (and sometimes no so small and not even furry) We’ve built homes and toys for guinea pigs, chinchillas, cats, rats and hamsters. We’ve just completed a tortoise table and a ferret house. Right now we’re very excited to be working on a bespoke lighthouse for a rabbit.
Everything we create connects together and will last for many years (the lifetime of a rabbit (7-10 years). A castle can connect to a manor, to a corner fort, to a digging box. The toys, and feeders complement the designs too. Customers come back for birthday and Christmas gifts, building up their collection and providing an ever-extending maze of enjoyment for their rabbits. We even offer office and bedroom solutions for the bunny mad house rabbit owner.
It’s fantastic to offer pet owners a housing solution that brings out the best in their bunnies.
That’s what drives us forward: seeing the difference our products, especially our indoor range make to someone’s life. The reactions, comments and response is overwhelming and we simply can’t wait get up each morning and make more rabbits happy!
Hopping forward – the future of Manor Pet Housing
This year, we’ve experimented with larger sheds which are proving easier to clean and get into. We call them bothies. There are 4 standard designs to choose from currently, however our bespoke service is always available to create something extra special.
We’re delighted to have doubled our team to a mighty four! It’s important to us to keep the personal relationship we have with our customers and deliver exceptional customer care. Manor Pet Housing will always remain a family business with ethical roots, but we’re very glad to have an extra master craftsman in the warehouse to help fulfil the orders.
We exhibit twice a year at the National Pet Shows. I really enjoy this. As great as online relationships are, meeting happy customers face-to-face is an absolute delight. It is also a chance for our customers to come and see our products set up and being tested by our mascot bunnies Binky & Buttons who attend these events, they are a real crowd pleaser!
What’s next? Who knows. We’re forever guided by our customers and their pets. We’re now the proud owners of two rescue guinea pigs – chief testers of our guinea pig range - but with two horses, three dogs and of course Einstein, adding rabbits to the mix has so far not been possible. It’s on our wish list!"
Manor Pet Housing's Aim
Manor Pet Housing help new and perspective rabbit owners create a more suitable environment for their pet. One that promotes the rabbit to have the ability to perform natural movements such as hopping, jumping, stretching out, foraging behaviours, such as digging and places to hide from things that scare them.
Rabbit welfare is extremely important to us, as we understand rabbits are intelligent animals. Therefore, if allowed to get bored, left to feel lonely and forced to live in confined spaces with no stimulation, their health will suffer.
How can we do this?
By working with existing owners, perspective owners and the RWAF organisation to raise awareness of rabbit welfare.
Putting an end to poor husbandry skills and lack of knowledge, that leads to many innocent rabbits suffering from pain, injury and disease.
Promoting research, into the care and requirements of rabbits before purchase.
Manor Pet Housing is able to show and allow customers to be aware, that there are other housing options available, that support and work with the rabbits needs and that "a hutch is not enough".
Being able to communicate effectively with our customers to offer advise on our products that provide freedom and range of movement for your rabbit.