Many small businesses had to rethink their plans and adapt in 2020. Tim Rundle-Wood was searching for a space for his natural candle shop when the pandemic hit and the country went into lockdown. Kate Prescott’s company, Abridge Academy, had to suspend all cultural exchange programmes. Bethan Thomas wondered how she could continue reaching customers with her maternity teas, as pregnant women were encouraged to shield.
To help small businesses during these challenging times, Amazon teamed up with Enterprise Nation, the small business support network, to launch the Amazon Small Business Accelerator, a free, online educational programme for anyone seeking to start a new online business or grow an existing one.
Small businesses of all kinds across the UK have joined so far, accessing online learning tailored to their level of experience, with a comprehensive curriculum covering website building, social media, marketing, managing cashflow, selling on Amazon's stores and identifying growth opportunities. In addition to the free on-demand training, businesses can join also an intensive bootcamp experience to get started online quickly. After a challenging 2020, Tim, Kate and Bethan are busier than ever. Here are their stories.
Bethan Thomas, HotTea Mama
HotTea Mama’s specialty products are award-winning, functional teas with specific benefits that support women during pregnancy, motherhood and menopause. The business was created by Bethan and her best friend Kate, who drew inspiration from their own personal experiences.
“When women become pregnant or start breastfeeding, they become very aware of what they eat and drink, and of the all new dietary restrictions tied to the new situation,” Bethan explains. “I have a degree in Tea Science and, when Kate was pregnant, she would often ask me for advice on what she could drink. I would tap into my knowledge to recommend herbs and blends that could help her with morning sickness, or be a satisfying replacement for caffeinated drinks. This research helped me, too, when I was expecting my first child. We kept asking ourselves, why is nobody offering this kind of product? We had no answer, but we loved the concept.”
“When HotTea Mama launched, I had a three-month-old baby, and Kate had two very young children. Since then, we’ve grown quite organically around the needs of our families. Employing other mums, who work flexibly around their kids and childcare needs, is something we are incredibly proud of.”
Bethan recalls thinking of Amazon as a natural channel for HotTea Mama’s products: “Amazon is great for pregnant women and mums when they need to get something quickly, and with lockdown this became even more evident. We knew we wanted to sell our teas on Amazon’s online store. We opened our account just before participating in the Accelerator bootcamp, but we didn’t really know where to start. I thought the training would be the perfect opportunity to understand how selling on Amazon works. As I went through it, I tried to put what I learned into practice every day.”
“We signed up for Fulfilment by Amazon (FBA), Amazon’s logistics solution that helps us reach customers with benefits like fast Prime delivery. I particularly enjoyed the interactive sessions, when we would get the opportunity to ask practical questions about the previous day’s topics,” she says. “Online resources and wikis are great, but there’s something to be said about being able to ask a specific question and obtaining a direct answer. The training was invaluable in giving me the confidence to set everything up.”
“Since then, sales in all of our product lines have been growing constantly, on average by 20%. We have collected hundreds of enthusiastic reviews from customers, something we are very proud of. Customer feedback is essential to establish trust and help people understand just how delicious and effective our blends are. The Prime badge helps us stand out in search results. It’s worked really well for us.” she says.
Katie Prescott, Abridge Academy
Katie Prescott, the founder of Abridge Academy, became an entrepreneur almost by chance: “It happened a couple of years ago, as I was graduating from university,” she explains. “After spending one year studying in China during my undergraduate degree, I went back for a summer camp. I had a wonderful time there, but it was possibly the worst-organised programme ever!”
After Katie’s experience, the school got in touch asking for her help to improve the coordination on the UK end. The answer was Abridge Academy: “It was all pretty spontaneous. The original summer camp offer gradually grew to include language exchanges and au-pair programmes, not only in China, but also in Taiwan and Japan. I have always been passionate about promoting better cultural understanding between the UK and Asia, and I believe the work we do in this area is very valuable,” she beams.
Katie was working on expanding Abridge Academy’s offering when the pandemic started. The impact on the business was immediate: “We had to cancel all of our programmes, first in China and then, gradually, everywhere else, as international travel came to a halt. That meant losing a year of income. It was a difficult moment. We had to pivot very quickly and reinvent ourselves.”
She started developing online courses, like English tutoring programmes. In the process, she had to rebuild the whole Abridge Academy website to support the new training. “Before COVID-19, I was mostly working on marketing and promotions, so I wasn’t very tech-savvy. It’s been quite a steep learning curve,” Katie says. “I saw an advert for the Amazon Small Business Accelerator bootcamp on social media as we were setting up our first online courses. The training covered everything you need to know when running an online business. It was accessible and easy to follow for entrepreneurs who are not necessarily selling products online or on Amazon, like me.”
Looking back, Katie is proud: “The digital spin-off is working surprisingly well, and it has allowed us to diversify our offering. We have learnt how to engage meaningfully with the community of our students and, in turn, they have supported Abridge Academy in our time of need. About 50% of the bookings we had to cancel this year have been deferred to next summer, which has helped mitigate the financial impact. Most importantly, this whole experience has made us more resilient. In a way, I think we are coming out of 2020 in a stronger position than when we started.”
Tim Rundle-Wood, Twoodle Co
Twoodle Co is all about natural, hand-blended scents and the emotions they awaken. “The sense of smell and memory functions are located in the same part of our brain. That’s why they are so closely interlinked,” says Tim Rundle-Wood. He started the company five years ago. “Initially, I was selling handmade cushions and throws on my website. After my dog Henry sniffed a reed diffuser and almost died from toxic shock due to the synthetic fragrance, I decided to start creating my own essential oil blends. They outsold everything else, and I realised I had stumbled upon something I was really good at,” he smiles.
In between lockdowns, Tim also opened his first bricks and mortar shop in Shoreditch, London. “Maybe I am a bit mad,” he jokes, thinking of the timing. “I had a vision in mind: a shop with a workshop in the back, like a bakery for candles, where customers could enter and smell the scents and watch the products being made,” he explains. Soon after opening his physical shop, Tim took part in the Amazon Small Business Accelerator.
“Being active on multiple, complementary channels is key for a business to thrive. The Accelerator taught me a lot about doing business in general, not just in connection to Amazon, but it definitely helped with my Amazon account too. I focused on improving my Amazon listings, particularly the descriptions of my scents, to try and bridge the sensory gap that comes with digital sales. Every scent I create is connected to one of my happiest memories, and that’s what I tried to convey.”
Like many shop-owners and wholesale retailers, Tim has felt the impact of lockdowns, but serving customers online has supported the business throughout. “In these past few months, our online sales have soared. In November alone, I made more than the whole of last year. If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that being omnichannel is crucial to the future of retail.”
Learn more about the Amazon Small Business Accelerator.