Weird businesses that should've Titanicked in the recession

From luxury cat hotels to zombie weekends, we look at some of the weirdest businesses that defy logic as well as tough economic times

Trimming the fat. Transforming into a lean, mean, pure tech machine. Avoiding excess and avoiding danger. That is what the recession is supposed to be about.

Redirecting resources from things we don’t need, to things we do in order to make sure we swim and don’t hit a giant hurdle and go down like the Titanic.

A painful readjustment, sure, but one that will make us all better off in the long run.

Undeterred by the doom though, some entrepreneurs decided to be very British. To keep calm and keep prospering on, no matter how frivolous their idea might have seemed at a time of supposed austerity and stiff-upper-lipness.

So just who exactly are these recession-defining nutjobs?

The zombie bloodbath brothers

zombie bootcamp

For years it has seemed like the end of the world as we know it. Econogeddon. Eurogeddon. Everythingeddon. 

But nothing quite spells the end of days like an attack of the living dead or a werewolf invasion. Richard Kershaw and Stephen Pavlovich somehow recognized that and since launching their website  last summer have turned it into a blood spurting cash cow.

The London-based pair promote weird fantasy adventure packages online and offer you the opportunity to re-enact your wildest dreams or, as seems to more commonly be the case, nightmares. Why pretend to be James Bond when you can get caked up in zombie makeup and run around sucking the blood of fellow freaks?

“You might wonder why anyone would spend money on this, but people do and they love it,” says Kershaw. “It is cheap entertainment and a cheap form of escapism. It definitely beats booking a couple of nights in a hotel which is what people would have done previously.

“For much less money we offer something people have genuinely never done before.” turned a profit within six months and made £1m in revenue in their first year.

With zombie bootcamp costing just £79 and water jetpacking experiences for £99 could the end be nigh for traditional tourism?

Flying through the rough

No.1 traveller

MPs aren’t (or at least aren’t supposed to) be doing it. A large number of corporations are no longer doing it. And many of us who could once afford to, are doing it no more. First-class air travel is out.

But as you grimace as your once-loving employer shafts you with an Easy Jet ticket, or worse a Delta Airways one, fret not. Only your time in the sky will be grim.

No.1 Traveller saw the gap for a little airport R’n’R and in 2009 opened its first lounge where you can buy all the flying perks for peanuts.

Gatwick, Heathrow and Stansted all have lounges and Birmingham just opened its own. By the end of the year, No.1 estimates one million passengers would have used its service and allowed it to turnover £10m.

You can fast-track your way through security, or book into a lounge with complementary drinks. Both cost £17.50. Alternatively you can book in for a massage at their Heathrow Spa or even hire a chauffeur-driven Mercedes.

As CEO Phil Cameron says, it’s luxury but its “affordable” luxury. Even Ryan Air flyers can get on board with that.

Raaaa is for riding


“Dadddyyyyy I want a pony” is probably a phrase/demand/ultimatum for love we have all said or heard at least once. And probably the first to be scorned at during tough economic times.

But miracles can be achieved young ones if you get daddy on your side. And a West Sussex riding company has figured out how to do just that.

While 50% of riding schools in their area have closed, Lavant House Stables has grown 20% year-on-year since 2009.

In part, it’s done this by broadening its customer base and luring in more London clients. At least 25% of its regulars are Londoners and growing numbers of urbanites are going there for lessons, clubs and various activities. It can be less than an hour drive from South and West London.

Its adult male riders have gone up from 7% to 21% of their customers in a few short years. Plus the Olympics helped too with people encouraged to take up the sport. Yeeeehhaaa to that.

Record Cool

rough trade

Opening a giant 5,000 sq ft record shop in 2007, should have been the pinnacle of folly. Uhm, the recession is coming alongside a little thing called the digital revolution. People can download music, for free.

But Rough Trade not only proved that the industry has young, spritely, skinny-jean-wearing legs in it yet. It boomed as big rivals like HMV scrambled for the exit. The shows’ over, nothing to see here, except that there is. The shop doubles up as a music venue a few nights a week.

Founded in Notting Hill in the 1970s, Rough Trade is an alternative music staple. Rocking forth with this image, defining their niche and sticking to it, has allowed Rough Trade to ride out the tough times. Come in, listen to music, pick up a book, chill out and have good coffee while you browse CDs and vinyls. The doors are open and staying that way.

Feeline Envy

kitty lux

Yes you want to treat your cat, but you want to treat yourself more? Don’t be so sure. Luxury Cat hotel chain Longcrofts is expanding, fast.

“We don’t have a specific customer base, we just cater for animal lovers,” says Abi Purser, founder of Longcrofts luxury cat hotels. “We have people that earn upwards of £100,000 a year, and people who earn £20,000 a year.

“Some people can spend as much on their cat’s holiday as their own, but they feel it’s more than worth it.”

It might sound bonkers. But in one year the chain has grown from one location to four and next year is opening up in in Europe. It hopes to become “The McDonalds for cats.” In total, ten locations are expected by the end of 2013 with Longcrofts actively searching out more London-based partners.

The scheme has been particularly attractive to retirees looking for a steady income. Should you open a six-bed hotel luxury cat haven you can turnover about £45,000 a year. By taking a percentage of the profits, Longcrofts expects to be making as much as £180,000 by next year.

The cats can choose from large suites, extra-large suites and super-sized suites. These range from £16 to £60 pounds a night and cater for up to six cats. They’re kitted with pillows, blankets, play areas.Your four-legged loved ones can also get massages and grooming packages ranging. Oh, and there is a cat chauffer too.

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