Kelli Aspland from Solar Buddies talks to workingmums.co.uk about a year which went from fears of closure to expansion and financial success – all due to Tik Tok.
When workingmums.co.uk spoke to Kelli Aspland in 2019, she had just won the Aphrodite Award at the NatWest everywoman awards ceremony. The Award celebrates a woman who founded her business whilst raising a child/children aged 12 or under.
It was her first award in her own right for her work as co-founder of Solar Buddies which was set up to make it easier for children – and their parents – to apply sun cream. Solar Buddies are pre-filled roll-ons which can be topped up.
Kelli met her business partner Laura Griffin in the school playground and the two hit it off and went on to build the award-winning business, supporting each other through the process and through other challenges, for instance, Kelli’s son’s operation to replace his aortic valve.
The business was doing well and then Covid hit. Kelli says it was a nightmare initially. “We rely on people going on holiday and they weren’t able to in lockdown,” she says. “Covid was literally ruining us.”
She says 2020 was a case of just trying to survive and, without government help, she thinks the business would have gone under. Two members of staff were furloughed and the business got a government grant which Kelli says was a “life saver”. Kelli and Laura moved stock into their homes and Kelli was bagging, labelling and posting products from her dining room table while homeschooling her children. Sales picked up a little at the end of summer 2020, but everything was very slow.
Solar Buddies’ main customer base is in the UK and sales have been very weather-dominated, but they also sold some products, mainly to Australia and New Zealand, in the UK winter. The US market had been slow to take off. But then a woman put a video on TikTok about Solar Buddies in late 2020 and organic sales “went bonkers”, according to Kelli. A few months down the line and Kelli says 2021 has been the company’s best year yet. “It has completely changed the way we have run the business. We have had to expand, take on two extra employees and move into new premises.” The turnaround in the business’ fortunes has been so fast that Kelli jokes that it has given her “whiplash”. They had to take out a loan to get more stock.
Now as restrictions have been dropped, the business is able to focus on a slightly longer term strategy, which includes how to be better prepared for sudden surges in demand so they don’t run out of stock. That includes looking at new distributors. They also had a couple of new products in the pipeline before Covid, which went on the back burner, which they may be able to look at again soon. They anticipate taking on more employees next year as well. And they are focusing a lot on Tik Tok.
“Ours is such a visual product that it works well on that platform,” says Kelli who acknowledges how sharing the business leadership with Laura has helped them both to weather the sudden changes of the last year. Now the pair are confident about the future. Keill says: “We hope 2022 will be even better than this year.”
*The NatWest everywoman Awards are open to any female business owner whether they operate as a limited company, sole trader or in partnership with others. The awards celebrate the woman behind the business, her personal successes and achievements and how she individually inspires others. Entries for this year’s Awards are now closed. The ceremony takes place in London in December, but you can register your interest and be notified when nominations open for the 2022 Awards by clicking here and submitting your details.