Auto Locksmiths: Omar Lijee
Auto Locksmiths offers customers an easy and quick way to compare quotes for auto locksmith services, and a platform that provides work for independent locksmiths
Name of founder: Omar Lijee
Age of the founder: 19
Location: North West
Date launched: January 2021
Number of employees: 3
Which university, if any, did you attend? I never attended university.
One evening, Lijee and a friend were locked out of the friend’s car, and it was a difficult process to find a locksmith. This experience, and others, inspired Lijee to launch Auto Locksmiths. Lijee explains more…
What does your business do?
Auto Locksmiths is a totally new service, which was launched in January 2021. The aim of the service is to act as a lead generation site for our members, which consists of hundreds of independent automotive locksmiths located across the UK. Members of the Auto Locksmiths network provide a range of specialised auto locksmithing services.
What makes us unique is that through a single point of contact, customers can gain immediate access to a selection of local, specialist auto locksmiths. The service is free of charge to the customer, and as the auto locksmiths are independent businesses with differing areas of specialisation, there is a choice of skills and services on offer.
Therefore, the customer has access to a wide range of offerings, and can choose to do business with a provider who can deliver exactly what they require, when and where they require it.
Where did the idea for your business come from?
Providing on-demand services to an extensive range of both commercial and private customers is a concept I have been familiar with for some time. From an early age, I have been working with my father, a prolific entrepreneur, who established and still manages the largest and most successful independent network of vehicle windscreen repair and replacement technicians, myWindscreen.
Following this success in the automotive glass field, I felt that the same approach could be applied to other services. Inspiration came to me when on an evening out with a friend, we found we were locked out of his car.
Unwilling to break a window or force a door, we decided to call for help from an auto locksmith. Finding one who was near enough to us, and who was available right away, proved to be difficult, so I decided there and then that vehicle lock and key services could benefit from the myWindscreen approach.
As soon as Auto Locksmiths was launched, large numbers of skilled locksmiths from all across the UK began to join, proving that there was a real need for this service.
How did you know there was a market for it?
Being locked out of your car or losing your keys is not only inconvenient, it can be most unpleasant. It is pretty obvious then that anyone who needs to call out an auto locksmith has usually found themselves in a difficult situation and will be feeling stressed.
They certainly won’t be in the calm frame of mind needed to get price comparisons and search out a good deal from a skilled locksmith – they want to put the problem into a safe pair of hands and let them get on with solving it.
Enter Auto Locksmiths: the easy-to-use website offering a simple, straightforward way for people who need vehicle lock and key services to contact local, independent locksmith businesses, wherever in the UK they happen to be.
The online service removes the complexities of trawling through supplier offerings by directing customers’ requests for a quote to the auto locksmiths who have the specific skills and availability to take on the task.
The customer benefits from the simplicity of the process, and the locksmiths benefit from a regular source of work that fits their skill set and workload.
What were you doing before launching your business?
After leaving school, I worked in my father’s internet-related IT business for three years before starting my own business.
Have you always dreamed of starting a business?
Yes – while I was still at school, I worked for my father on weekends, and since leaving school I worked for him full-time straight away. Seeing his success as an entrepreneur made me determined to branch out on my own and establish my own business as soon as I was able to.
How did you finance your business?
I have been lucky in that I did not need to borrow any money to set up the network, as I had been working (and saving) for some time before beginning the process.
As I had adopted a model for the network that had been developed by my father (who has mentored and supported me throughout), those startup costs were fairly minor and I had sufficient funds. Now the network is up and running, it is self-funding.
Explain your business model and how you make money.
Our aim is to make it easy for both members and end customers to use our services, and we do that by keeping everything simple. Our central team performs a remote marketing role, handling vital tasks such as generating leads and carrying out digital marketing services.
Our network members have a rolling monthly contract with us, and they pay us a monthly membership fee (currently a modest £40 per month). The fee is the same whether they are sole traders, or small or medium sized businesses, and it gives them access to all leads which fit their skill set and availability.
These monthly fees offer the auto locksmiths an affordable service, and the revenue generated is sufficient to cover the running costs of the network.
What are the main challenges you have faced? And how did you overcome them?
Running any business during normal circumstances can be challenging, but starting a new enterprise during a global pandemic seemed doubly so, and I did wonder if it was worthwhile proceeding.
Luckily, auto locksmith services are considered essential work, and although car usage declined during the lockdown periods, people still needed keys cut and assistance with damaged locks and keys locked inside cars.
This meant that we still had a wide enough range of auto locksmiths in operation who were keen to join our network, so we persisted, and today, we have a viable business with potential to grow even further.
What has your experience been of starting a business during a pandemic?
I discovered that businesses were more receptive to understanding ways of marketing their small business during COVID. We have seen a significant number of auto locksmiths join the platform as a result.
Describe your first breakthrough.
Good PR is vital to the success of any business – you simply can’t rely on word of mouth for anything faster than organic growth.
To achieve a breakthrough, I took the same approach as my father had taken, and which had brought him success in his own endeavours. I engaged a professional marketing company to work alongside us, and they were able to open doors in a way that we would never have been able to.
With their help, we were exposed to a much wider audience than would have been possible simply via our website and posting on social media. Our name was made visible to the public via newspaper and magazine articles, as well as mentions on the radio, which drew in new customers, alongside new network members.
How has Brexit impacted your business? Do you think it will in the future?
We have not been directly impacted by Brexit.
What advice would you give to other aspiring business owners?
Problems will occur in any business, especially in the early days, and meeting those challenges means drawing on your own personal skills and resources.
I am a keen boxer (I have been boxing since I was seven years old), and hard work and self-discipline are two key requirements in order to succeed in the sport. Training for boxing develops far more than just the ability to hit your opponent – it teaches rapid decision-making, as well as dexterity and agility of mind as well as body.
I am still relatively young at 19, but I believe that my experiences in and out of the boxing ring have equipped me to deal with most things that life and business can throw at me.
Therefore, my advice is to make time for some kind of activity outside your work – preferably something physical. It will not only keep you fit, but it will give you relief from the stresses of your business, and may even help you to make better, quicker decisions when you get back to work.
What is one resolution you have for your business this year?
For Auto Locksmiths to be the number one name that people think of when they experience vehicle lock and key issues, and they will come to us first.
Having established ourselves in the UK by the end of the year, we may then go on to establish a major presence overseas (USA), depending on the economic outlook.
How do you see your business developing in the next three years?
Our presence online getting stronger and more auto locksmiths signing up to be a part of our growing platform.
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