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Why this former public servant decided to bring the hugging craze to Australia

Broede Carmody /

Hugs all round

A former public servant is starting her own business by charging people for a cuddle.

Heidi McAlpine, a former Australian Taxation Office worker from Albury-Wodonga, told SmartCompany she was inspired to set up the business after learning about a woman in the US who had started her own “professional hugger” business called Cuddle Up To Me.

The business, which has a shopfront in the US city of Portland, charges customers $70 for a one-hour cuddling session and has had to hire additional staff to keep up with demand.

“My reaction from that was I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry,” McAlpine says.

“But the more I thought about it, I felt that there were so many people that want to go and make use of the service. I thought that’s something I can do – I’m a very empathetic person.”

McAlpine says as far as she knows she is the first person in Australia – certainly on the border between NSW and Victoria – who has a business that offers a one-on-one hugging service.

A one-hour session at Professional Cuddler will cost clients $100 and McAlpine has hired premises in central Albury.

“It may be as simple as hand rubbing, foot rubbing, a back scratch – all the way through to what people would consider to be a cuddle or hug. The one hour is entirely up to them,” she says.

At the moment bookings can be made on Sundays and Mondays, however, this may vary according to demand.

McAlpine says she started promoting her business on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn two weeks ago and so far the reactions have been mixed.

“People will initially laugh, but I think the more you talk about it with them they soon come to realise there is a need for it,” she says.

“I kind of expect that. If they’re not people that don’t feel the need for this service they’re probably really blessed people.”

While some people may raise their eyebrows, McAlpine says studies have shown human touch has some “fairly well-known health benefits”, such as reducing stress and blood pressure. She says her target market is people suffering from what she calls “double T disease”.

“They are time starved and touch starved,” she says.

“Other people that could use this service are people who aren’t in a relationship or who choose to not be in a relationship, or elderly people who live alone.”

McAlpine has already received numerous requests for bookings and plans to promote her business through word of mouth and social media.

“It’s almost quite fashionable to be into some sort of alternative therapies, it’s much more widely accepted these days,” she says.

 

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Broede Carmody

Broede Carmody is a former senior reporter at SmartCompany. Previously, he was a co-editor of RMIT University's student magazine Catalyst.

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