Parents in business: Kelli of Solar Buddies

2019 Natwest everywoman Awards. JW Marriott Grosvenor House Hotel, Mayfair, London. 3rd December 2019 Photograph by Steve Dunlop

Kelli Aspland, 41 years old is mum to 4 children, Olivia 20yrs, Sam 17yrs, Charlie 13yrs and Harri 9yrs and founder of Solar Buddies. She has recently won the Natwest Everywoman Aphrodite Award.

Kelli says, “I’ve been married to my husband Paul for 14 years. Paul and Olivia work with us at Solar Buddies – Paul assists with post and stock while Olivia, who is doing a business and admin apprenticeship with us, assists in social media and other relevant office work.”

What did you do before coming up with your business and how was it making the transition?

Prior to starting Solar Buddies with Laura Water, I was mostly at home raising my children. I did small jobs, working in a bridal shop and making jewellery but nothing full time.  I was lucky enough to stay at home with my children as they were a variation of ages.

When Harri (my youngest) was 1, I decided that I was finally ready to get back to work but was unsure of what to do. I just knew I was craving craved a fresh challenge.  I decided to enrol myself in a nursing course after my children were ill, Olivia with leukaemia and Sam with aortic stenosis. It seemed like a natural route for me as I was very hands on with their care. I completed my course and was ready for the next challenge of getting into university. Despite knowing the challenges of juggling course work, work experience and family – I was determined to continue.

During this time, I had also met Laura Waters and the idea of Solar Buddies was born. I had two career paths, but completely different.  I was also accepted to both Cardiff Uni and Uni of South Wales. I decided on going to Cardiff Uni but with Solar Buddies growing at the same time, the level of commitment that was needed from me forced me to make a choice between my new business or university.

It was a difficult choice honestly, but I went with Solar Buddies as I believed in the idea and product, it also worked around my family life too.  I don’t regret my choice.

When did you launch and how did you get started?

Solar Buddies launched in 2015 but started back in 2011.  It came from having issues with my children in school not being able to put their sunscreen on with correctly, effectively and mess free.  One of their teachers called me in at the end of the day to tell me what had happened when my youngest son (then 4) was trying to put his own , he had squirted the bottle everywhere, then they called my other son Sam in to help (age 9), as the teacher cannot assist due to no touch policy. 

 I remember just feeling really angry that no one could help them, that their uniforms had been ruined and a full bottle of sunscreen was wasted.

When this happened, I spoke to Laura who I had met at the school as our children were in nursery together. We spoke about this a lot as she also knew other parents who struggled with the same issues – we thought, wouldn’t it be great if there was something that would help children apply their own sunscreen easier and mess free while teaching them the importance of it.

We looked for products but there wasn’t anything on the market, even roll-ons were not as widely available then as they are now. Australia seemed to be the only place that was superior when it came to sun safety.

We felt we had stumbled across a product idea and a market that was not saturated and could become a fantastic product idea if we got it right, and so solar buddies was born with the help of Cardiff Metropolitan University and their product design team.  We worked with them for 18 months to bring the design to life.

What has been your favourite thing about running your own business?

I have loved learning about things I had no clue about.  Starting a business is hard, especially when you have no skills in the area. I went into this blind with Laura, but we were both enthusiastic about the journey ahead of us. I was ready for a new chapter and wanted to learn new things.

I never thought about learning about manufacturing, exporting, retail or design. I still don’t know the ins and outs of everything but I’m learning every day. I still make mistakes, but I hope to learn from them.

How do you fit in work with your family life?

This is why I love my job – I’m able to take my kids to school, pick them up and be home for tea with them. Of course, there are days where I can’t but I’m lucky that I get to work around this. My husband also works with me so he’s there to takeover if I’m unable to.

School holidays are trickier as I have to juggle between myself or my husband staying home or taking the kids out and still working. But I’m still able to do most from home and work on-the-go.

Have you had a “I’ve made it” moment?

Truthfully? No, I’ve had moments of triumph and appreciation for hurdles I’ve been through. My journey is still on-going.

Recently, I was awarded the Aphrodite Award at the everywoman in NatWest Awards, it was such a strange but amazing moment for me. My grandfather was the one who encouraged me to enter the awards. Being shortlisted and going to the ceremony was one of the best days. I met some truly amazing women and contacts for Solar Buddies, and I won in my category! I still look at my award and think “wow, that really happened”.

What has been your biggest challenge so far? How did you overcome it?

There’s been a few things, learning the ins and outs of Amazon has been tricky. It’s something that’s extremely beneficial if you master but there’s so much to learn from it. Exporting regulations and working blind with stock going from one area to another without you physically being on the ground and overseeing it. I think finding the right people to help within our team helps control challenges. Again, we’re still learning daily.

Where do you hope to be in five years?

I would like us to be established in the USA, Australia and New Zealand. We are currently trading here but wish this to be on a larger scale to help with seasonality to the UK.  We are also hoping to increase our range. I would love to see solar buddies be an established and known brand in sun safety and a teaching tool used in schools to help solve the issue of “no touch policy”.

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