Rated Locksmiths: Ali Lijee
Rated Locksmiths is an online system that connects customers with locksmiths offering automotive, commercial and domestic services
Name of founder: Ali Lijee
Location: North West
Date launched: June 2020
Rated Locksmiths was created to help alleviate potentially stressful situations, with people often needing locksmith services quickly and easily. Founder Ali Lijee explains more…
Tell us what your business does:
We launched Rated Locksmiths as a brand-new service offering in June 2020. Our aim was to generate work for our member locksmiths, who are dotted around the UK.
Our Rated Locksmiths network members typically provide three types of service: commercial, domestic, and automotive.
What makes Rated Locksmiths unique is that we offer the customer immediate access (free of charge) to a choice of local, skilled locksmiths. These locksmiths are all independent operators, and they all offer different services and skills.
Where did the idea of your business come from?
Provision of on-demand technician services for a wide range of private and commercial clients are not new to me. I set up, and still manage, a highly successful independent windscreen repair and replacement network, myWindscreen.
Having succeeded in covering the automotive glass market, I was casting around for other types of services that could benefit from this approach.
Lock and key services came to mind following an incident where a family member had a broken key stuck in their front door lock and phoned me for help.
I couldn’t extract the key, so tried to call for help from a locksmith – only to find it difficult to pinpoint one that was not only local but had the appropriate skills to do the job, and was available right away.
So, Rated Locksmiths was born, and skilled locksmiths across the UK began to sign up in large numbers, which was very gratifying.
How did you know there was a market for it?
It was clear to me that people in need of locksmith services are usually in a hurry, and being locked out or having damaged locks due to a break-in is inevitably stressful.
If you are in such a situation, you don’t have the time (or the inclination) to trawl through lists of businesses, and ask for comparable quotes before calling on the most suitable service provider.
In reality, most people will pick the first name they find and go with it, regardless if it is the best choice in terms of value for money, availability and skill set.
Therefore, I set up Rated Locksmiths as a single, simple point of contact between the many local small businesses operating across the UK, and the people in need of their services.
Our online service takes away all the complications involved in vetting potential suppliers, and gives customers easy access to the most appropriate locksmith to complete their job.
From the locksmith’s point of view, our online system is a ready source of work which is appropriate to their skills, and which they can choose to take on depending upon their availability.
What were you doing before starting up?
My background has always been in internet-related IT services, having worked for UKFast (a leading internet hosting provider) for around seven years.
Prior to that, I was involved in web-related service sales: the commercial internet was in its infancy at the time, and the term ‘domain name’ was still a strange concept to many businesses.
Have you always wanted to run your own business?
Oh yes, my mind was made up on this when I was very young. I love challenges, and I am a creative thinker, with a strong urge to challenge the way things are done.
My first commercial venture was the iTechnician network, now the largest and most successful UK-wide Apple device repair service. I set up that network because I was dismayed by the ‘traditional’ approach to mobile phone repairs which I felt was outmoded, slow and too costly, and so set out to change it.
My main driver with iTechnician was the same one that still operates today with Rated Locksmiths – to improve the way we do things.
How did you raise the money?
I am proud to say that all my ventures are designed and set up to become self-funding: I have never had to borrow money.
At the start of my career, I held down a day job (9 to 6) which paid the bills, and I then put in extra hours at lunchtime (working from my car) and at home after work to progress my own projects. Eventually, I was able to leave employment, and focus full-time on developing my portfolio of projects.
These days, I am happy to say, I have a superb team of professionals around me who can be relied upon to take on specialised tasks such as website development, marketing, content writing and account management.
Describe your business model and how you make money.
Simplicity is the key – my team acts as a remote marketing function for the network members, handling the important aspects of digital marketing and lead generation.
The locksmith network members pay a small membership fee of £40 per month (on a rolling monthly contract), which gives them access to leads. The monthly fee is the same regardless of the size of their operation (sole trader or SME). On average, leads cost from £1 to £5 each.
The price per lead is set depending on some factors which include location, demand and size of the opportunity. We keep competition to a minimum by only allowing three locksmiths to buy any individual lead. These prices represent great value for money for the locksmiths, and generate enough revenue to cover the network costs.
What challenges have you faced and how have you overcome them?
I have faced many challenges during the course of my entrepreneurship, but have found that keeping up the energy levels and really believing in what I am doing is sufficient to overcome them all.
What really inspires me though, is seeing the positive impact we are having on our network members. Hearing their feedback on network membership and the benefits it is bringing every day to their businesses is music to my ears – I love it.
What was your first big breakthrough?
I had been a bit sceptical about the benefits of professional PR and marketing companies, as I felt they could be rather expensive for what they could actually achieve.
Eventually, I bit the bullet and hired one for a large project, and they performed way beyond expectations. They got us the type of national exposure that we simply couldn’t have achieved ourselves – GQ Magazine, Sunday Times newspaper, and BBC Radio, to name just a few.
What advice would you give to budding entrepreneurs?
Success takes time and effort, combined with optimism and energy. Be prepared to wait for the results you want to achieve.
You have to love what you do – if your aim is simply to make money, you may well do that, but you will be involved in the work for a long time, so if you really enjoy it, it will be so much easier to put in the effort.Setbacks and obstacles are inevitable, but treat them as a learning experience and you can grow and progress.
Where do you want to be in five years’ time?
I want Rated Locksmiths to be the first name that comes to mind when someone needs help with locks and keys – within the UK initially, then maybe even overseas if the trading conditions look right.
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