Former Student, James Thomas, has lived in Henley since 2001 and attended the College from 2010. He now owns and manages, with his partner Stasy, a day-care and overnight boarding services for dogs! Find out more about James, his time at Henley and his business.
My name is James Thomas, I have lived in Henley since 2001 and before that I lived in Caversham just down the road. I was born in the Royal Berkshire Hospital so I am local to this area and have been here pretty much all of my life, except for a brief period when I attended a school in Scotland.
I started at The Henley College in 2010 and studied Business Extended Diploma (BTEC Level 3) – I think I achieved 3 merits as my final score when I finished.
I own and manage a company with my partner, Stasy, called Dogs of Henley which provides daycare and overnight boarding services for dogs. We were established in February 2017 and, as the name suggests, are based in Henley! What we offer is a unique, cosy and luxury dog care environment which operates from our home. We have a wonderful, loyal group of customers who send their dogs to us regularly for daycare while they are at work and for overnight boarding while they are away on holiday.
My first impression of The Henley College was that I loved that it was casual clothing as I had always been used to a uniform that usually didn’t fit right or was too hot/too cold! I think more and more companies are adopting the casual or smart casual approach to dressing in the workplace so why shove 16-18 year old kids into stuffy uniforms when they feel more comfortable in their own clothes, representing their own style?!
The reason I came The Henley College, in all honesty, was that I had terrible AS Level results as I just wasn’t conventionally academic and didn’t put the work in that I needed to so I had to completely rethink what I was going to do. My Mum and I popped our heads into one of the Information Events at the college one day in the summer following my awful results and I saw the business course which immediately appealed to both of us. A course which focused just on business studies ticked all my boxes as someone who had always been interested in running a business one day.
I really enjoyed the rugby at college, although initially I was reluctant to get involved as I hadn’t played in a while. I encourage anyone just joining at Henley to get involved in as much sport as possible!
I always loved dogs and we had a brilliant mix of them growing up. We started with a Collie/Lab cross, a Labrador and a German Shepherd and then moved onto a Jack Russell followed by our current dog, Bumble, who is a Parson Russell.
When I was at college I was obsessed with the idea of becoming a broker/salesman and went on to pursue that line of work in London then closer to home in Reading and finally Henley. It was only after getting to the point where I felt utterly miserable in what I was doing and having a very frank conversation with my then manager, which ultimately resulted in me leaving my company, that I took a step back and completely re-evaluated my career path.
After I took some time off, and very briefly worked as a dog walker, I realised that there was a complete lack of cosy, luxury, home from home establishments that offered doggy daycare and hotel services (overnight boarding) in the local area. So, I printed some flyers, built a website, started a Facebook and Instagram page and opened my home for dog care! I haven’t looked back since.
My dad is a businessman and so are quite a few of my family members so studying business in such a focused way every day for two years helped to reinforce my desire to become a business owner myself. I think that when I was at college I saw sales as a path to opening my own company and I am immensely grateful for all that I was taught during my short career in what is a particularly difficult but rewarding line of work. I think if I had studied a more general set of subjects on the conventional A Level path rather than the BTEC then I may never have gone down the route of sales which eventually led me to where I am today and that would be a great shame!
We have been looking at breaking into the dog treat market and exploring the idea of accessories too. But, right now, it’s all about enjoying what we have built over the last few of years and doing exactly what we set out to do in the first place – spending time with dogs, all day every day! Honestly, it’s a dream come true to get to do what you love every day and it is important to wake up every morning and appreciate that.
It taught me to take responsibility for myself. When I was at school somebody would be telling you what to do every step of the way and a bell would ring when you needed to be in class. At college I can remember one morning when I forget to set my alarm and overslept, missing my first lesson of the day. Nobody told me off, nobody was there to slap me on the wrist and give me a detention, but I felt a real sense of guilt because the only person I was truly letting down was myself. Ask my partner, I now set 6 different alarms in the morning because if I don’t get up for work nobody is going to give me a warning or fire me but my business wont run and what will all those people who depend on us to look after their dogs do?
My advice to 15-16 year olds considering their post 16 options, Don’t rush and don’t overthink things, you are young! Enjoy your life right now – go out with your friends whenever you can, play sport whenever possible, study as hard as you possibly can and create habits which will help you to become successful in the future. Go to bed early on school nights and get up early in the morning rather than lounging in bed until the last minute (take yourself on an early morning walk or run before everyone else is awake and you will be amazed at how fresh you feel going into the day), save any spare money you earn through part time work and tuck it away for the future, you might need it one day! It’s also important that you don’t fear failure as it’s a natural part of life and a huge part of business.
Above all though, don’t be afraid to dream big and tell yourself that you will be successful.
Anyone studying business or wanting to run their own business one day, please remember this: business is not biased, sexist, racist or homophobic. It doesn’t care where you were brought up, what school you went to or how rich/poor your parents are. You don’t require a brilliant mind or even a genius idea to make a business successful, you just have to believe in what you are doing and apply yourself.
The best way to start a business? Just start.
Take a look at James's Dogs of Henley Instagram page here.