Omotayo AdebisiLeeds-based 33-year-old Omotayo (Tayo) Adebisi was working in a job where she felt extremely stressed and was suffering from anxiety.

The breaking point came when her manager refused to let her leave work to take her one-year-old daughter to the hospital and she resigned soon after. Feeling lost and disillusioned professionally, a family member suggested that Omotayo turn her focus towards setting up her own Amazon store, Tilzmart – a one stop general goods store targeting seasonal consumer purchasing behaviour with toys, gifts and food hampers.

She set up the business with just an investment of £5,000, was pregnant with her second child in the early phases of the business and went on to turnover over £1million in 2020 after just 3 years and is now on track to triple that this year! The business has grown exponentially since launching in 2017. Tayo is proud of growing her staff to 8 permanent staff from a diverse background and employing over 20 rostered staff during the busy periods. She is now not just reselling but moving into manufacturing her own branded goods with big goals to become the online destination to rival the likes of Argos in the future!

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

My name is Omotayo Adebisi, a wife and mother of two beautiful daughters. I grew up in Northampton within a large family of seven. My Bachelor’s Degree was in Sports Science which aligned with my interest in fitness. Being the first generation to achieve a university degree in my family, I went on to pursue an MBA immediately.

Having moved to West Yorkshire in 2012, I have worked in various office environments including financial institutions and utility companies. However, in my previous job, I found myself very unhappy, with several struggles with anxiety. The final straw came when my husband called to tell me that my daughter was in hospital, but my manager refused to let me leave work early to go see her. I resigned, later set up my own business and haven’t looked back since.

I am now the founder and director of Tilz Prosperitas (“Tilz”, www.tilzmart.com), an e-commerce company trading on Amazon, The Range, and Ebay. Aside from running Tilz, I am also a certified personal trainer that runs a bespoke fitness programme for females, including pregnant women.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Yes, I have had many aspirations but as with life, things change and so did my plans. While I was still completing my undergraduate degree, I aspired to become a sports personnel, coach or personal trainer. Later as I was completing my master’s degree, I became interested in the hospitality industry and dreamt of owning a hotel. Post studies, I quickly learnt that while it is good to have a plan, you do need to keep an open mind as you never know what life may throw at you. I have trodden different career paths and I’m grateful to be in a position now where I am extremely excited about the future for Tilz. While starting an Amazon business was not in my original plans, the success I have enjoyed through it has also empowered me with the freedom to pursue my passion in fitness as I run my bespoke fitness programme in my spare time.

Have you faced any challenges along the way?

Yes. There are the obvious ones, like being a woman or being black or being a Muslim. For these alone, I have faced my fair share of discrimination and glass ceiling experiences.

Growing Tilz and finding my way with Amazon have also come with challenges. First challenge relates to having the right people behind us, in terms of employing the suitable people that will grow and aspire with the business and our missions & objectives.

A second challenge relates to capitalising the business and sourcing funds to help the business reach its potential. As a small business, it is difficult to get affordable financing, especially when it comes to managing working capital. Given our sales are concentrated in Christmas and Easter periods, having the right financing to manage this seasonality is vital to growing the business and maintaining a healthy financial profile.

Another challenge is gaining and keeping supplier relationships. We have so far been able to do this well, particularly as we move into selling more Tilz branded products and expand to more segments within Amazon.

We have a 10-year roadmap in place for the future of Tilz, and I anticipate that we will continue to grow while facing and overcoming different challenges along the way.

What was your approach to building an online business? Any advice to share with others?

A tiny percentage of starters of ecommerce/online retail businesses successfully see the business through. The goal for setting up Tilz was to generate profit and stay afloat, no matter how hard I had to push. I have remained resilient, consistent and on the right trajectory to keep growing the business profitably.

This has not been a sail-through journey for me. However, I had people who I Iooked up to, those who served as inspirations. I did a lot of research, I invested in training myself, be it via YouTube videos or other free resources I could find. Some of the lessons came from running the business itself. In the early days, I lost about 70% of my capital to customs. This was a big setback, but one that trained and prepared me better for the success ahead.

A few things I learnt along the way that new starters looking to start on Amazon can benefit from:

  1. Be aware of your own skillset and look for training to skill up where you may be lacking. There is an abundance of free resources available online. The Amazon Small Business Accelerator, for example, is a free, online educational programme for anyone who wants to start a new online business or grow an existing one. It’s extremely valuable for those starting out as you’ll be able to tap into expert knowledge and access bootcamps covering an abundance of topics including website building, selling online, social media, marketing, managing cashflow, selling on Amazon, and identifying growth opportunities.
  2. Understand the difference between a product-niche focus and a general store focus. When you first start, it may be easier to focus on a single product and only consider expanding to a category focus as you start to understand what works and what doesn’t with your single product.
  3. Be open-minded and constantly evaluate the market to understand what is selling, and what is not selling, so that you can grab opportunities as they come – we identified an opportunity in the sports sector during Covid and was able to quickly create a sporting range called Tilz Gear, which included quality weight plates, dumbbells, and other sports equipment at affordable prices. These products have sold tremendously.
  4. You need to think about money. When you make a commitment, think about where the financing will come from so that you don’t overcommit. Have a good relationship with family and friends, and wherever the financing could come from.
  5. If you are in a relationship, try to make sure that communication is open and that they are supportive of your venture. An eCommerce business is just like any start-up – it is physically and emotionally demanding, so be ready for your relationship to be tested. Regardless, getting their support makes the journey more enjoyable.

 Omotayo AdebisiWhat has been your biggest achievement to date?

I’ve had many triumphs throughout this journey and while there has been plenty to celebrate, I am extremely proud of the following three:

  1. Tilz has scaled up significantly from a £5k start-up to a 7-figure profit generating business in the span of three years.
  2. Product lines have grown significantly and the business can boast of 70+ branded/exclusive lines cutting across grocery, toys, garden, electronics, baby, and gift sets.
  3. Going from being only me in 2017 to now having a very diverse workforce consisting of 5 permanent staffs and 27 part time/roster staffs.

What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success?

I’ve always had really good people around me, particularly my family and friends. As my biggest supporters, my husband, my sisters, and my best friends have all rallied around me throughout this journey offering endless physical, mental, and financial support. They have been the driving force behind my tenacity and focus to take my business to the next level.

How do you feel about mentoring? Have you mentored anyone or are you someone’s mentee?

I am a big believer in the value of mentorship for all parties involved. While mentees can benefit from the experiences and knowledge of their mentors to gain confidence and reach their goals quicker, mentors can also benefit from gaining fresh perspectives and avoid complacency. A well-matched mentorship can create great synergies.

I’ve been lucky to have access to various experts, both personally and professionally, who have guided me along my journey. My younger sister Omolade, who works in finance, was a winner of We Are The City Rising Stars Award 2018 and has served as both a mentor and a source of inspiration for me. My husband Dr. Oladipo Adewale has shared advice and encouraged me to reach for the stars. Larry Lubarsky from Wholesale Academy and Tayo James of HiCollections have both shared their wealth of knowledge on how to build a successful business on Amazon.

Now with my experiences, I have taken on younger entrepreneurs to guide them through the journey of building their online business.

If you could change one thing to accelerate the pace of change for Gender Equality, what would it be?

We have years of inequality to make up for and it will take years to reach true equality. I care about providing women with job opportunities so we’re always advertising our job openings with women in mind and often also reach women through word of mouth. However, I’ve come to realise through the hiring process that we also need to better prepare women for interviews. There are many situations where we have come across women with stronger CVs who are then being outperformed by men in the interview process.

I think ultimately, we need to hire more women, provide equal financing opportunities for women, train women to reach their full potential, and provide the right support & environment for women to work in so that they can stay longer in their chosen careers. Most of all, we need to be shouting out loud the existing opportunities and ensuring that we’re using the right channels to communicate these opportunities to women.

If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self what would it be?

If you want something, go for it and NOW is the time. There is no time to regret, just reflect and learn. In the long run, I’m a believer that one’s biggest regrets are not one’s actions but one’s inactions.

What is your next challenge and what are you hoping to achieve in the future?

Achieving a 7-figure revenue was just a dream few years back, but now we have our vision set on continuing our growth to reach 10-figures in the next decade. As we have grown, strategy is even more important than ever and we have put in a 10-year road map with the view to distinguish our revenue streams through five main brands:

  • Tilz Gear: Sports equipment, garden furniture
  • Tilz Collection: Grocery items
  • Tilz Gift: Hampers and Gift set
  • Tilzmart: Sales through own website
  • Tilz: Sales through 3rd party ecommerce platforms

We have carried out extensive market research and have identified niches and opportunities that can help us achieve our goals within a set time frame. We have broken this down into objectives and action plans which are now in place to ensure each stream can reach 8 figures annual revenue in the near future. It is also important to mention that we are building a brand that people trust, not just selling products that people need, and this takes time.

To reach a 10-figure sized business, we are actively looking for the best hands (staffs) to fill strategic positions within the business, we are looking to move into a better commercial & distribution hub to improve logistics, and we are improving supplier & manufacturer relationships. Most importantly, we are exploring several avenues to get more financing and particularly ways to manage working capital and the seasonality Tilz faces. We are also looking for large retail partnerships to facilitate the sale of our branded products. There’s still a lot of work to be done but we are in a fantastic position and I’m certain we are on the right track.

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