“Tilly Trotter was the nickname my mother gave me – she refused to acknowledge my given name! When she died (three months before the wedding to my first husband) I used my inheritance to open the boutique so that her legacy and obsession with impeccable manners, decorum, and exceptional service, could live on!” Sian Leyshon, Owner of Tilly’s
With a successful career in the luxury sector behind her (that, notably, helped fuelled her vision of what a unique bridal business could look like) Sian Leyshon, owner of the award-winning, Warwickshire-based bridal boutique, Tilly’s, unleashed said vision on the bridal industry back in 2014. Celebrated for its beautifully curated selection of bridal designers (we’re talking about the likes of Charlie Brear, Vagabond Bridal and Madi Lane, to name a few) and their playful, fun spirit, Tilly’s is loved by brides across the country. I managed to catch up with Sian of Tilly’s to talk about her business journey and her version of Taking The Plunge, including the highs, the lows, the first jobs, the worst jobs and the tech she can’t live without…
Name: Sian Leyshon
Business: Tilly Trotter’s Brides (Tilly’s)
Date you took the plunge: Sept 2014
#1 In a nutshell, describe your business/brand – what do you offer?
“Our ethos is ‘inclusive luxury’. I pride Tilly’s on offering an experience that is luxurious, decadent and invaluable, but at the same time being fun and inclusive. We never judge – whatever you identify as, whoever you’re marrying, whatever your size, whatever your ethnicity…love is love and everyone is welcome (unless you dislike dogs…in which case please take your custom elsewhere, just kidding).”
#2 What’s your career background? Has it always been in the wedding industry?
“I have always worked in luxury retail, spending over 12 years at Dior in various roles including Regional Trainer and Area Manager. I also briefly spent some time at Estée Lauder as Area Manger of London and was fortunate enough to look after multi-million pound accounts including the incredible beast that is Harrods! I wasn’t at Estée Lauder for long as I was head hunted by Burberry (I know! Get me!) and went on to join them as a Training Manager. Within a year I had moved up the ranks and eventually had a role created for me within the organisation as Head of Training for Europe. I also covered the role of Director of Training (Europe, Middle East, India and Africa) whilst my boss undertook a secondment in Dubai. Due to various reasons, I came to the point where I needed to drastically change my approach to life and I felt that the experience I had gathered over the past +15 years could be positively applied to my own business, Tilly Trotter’ Brides*: providing brides with a service like no other and an experience that was unprecedented at the time.
*Tilly Trotter was the nickname my mother gave me – she refused to acknowledge my given name! When she died (three months before the wedding to my first husband) I used my inheritance to open the boutique so that her legacy and obsession with impeccable manners, decorum, and exceptional service, could live on!”
#3 What planted the seed of your business idea? Did it strike you suddenly?
“I’m not going to use the common adage of “I didn’t have a great experience when I bought my wedding dress”, because, in the most part, I had nice experiences. The boutique I finally purchased my first wedding dress from was lovely – I just knew that with my experience in luxury retail and service I could offer a lot more.”
#4 Describe how the first day of building your own business felt:
“A bit of a blur! I’m a bit of a bull in a china shop and when I set my mind to something I go full steam ahead without really thinking about the logistics! I remember feeling a little smug about how swimmingly things appeared to be going, but that quickly bit me on the backside as my business loan application progressed. For some reason I decided to apply for a loan with Lloyds – who I don’t bank with. The application dragged on and on… communication was terrible, and they eventually turned around and said they wouldn’t be funding the business. In a panic, I ran with my tail between my legs to HSBC (who I’ve banked with since I was 16) and applied with them. Thankfully the application was approved in record time and I was good to go, but it was hairy for a while!”
#5 The highs – what have they been so far?
“Oh, there’s so many! Winning our multiple industry awards have definitely been ‘pinch me’ moments. My wonderful team who ALWAYS have my back and support me through thick and thin. I am so grateful for the incredible friendships I’ve created with both boutique owners and designers/reps and the most amazing brides (you know who you are!) who I’ve been fortunate enough to keep in my life even once their weddings have been and gone. Relationships like all of the above are invaluable and I will cherish them forever.”
#6 The lows – how did you move past them? What did you learn?
“Oh, there’s so many! (laughing emoji!). Covid… obviously. Having a massive flood in the shop and being left with over £80k worth of damaged stock. Having our Instagram account hacked in the middle of lockdown and losing around 7,000 followers. Being spoken to terribly by customers. What have I learned? EVERYTHING happens for a reason. Don’t sweat the small stuff… rise above it. Instagram… floods.. etc. are First World problems. Take a moment, get some perspective, and make a plan. You are loved.”
#7 If you could tell yourself three things when you first started the business – what would they be?
“Don’t do it! I’m joking! Sort of.
No.1 Don’t listen to the naysayers. There are always those people who will whittle on about the risks etc etc, but stay focused. Tune out the negativity. KEEP GOING.
No.2 Listen to your gut.
No.3 Stop trusting EVERYONE.”
#8 Your tips for those dreaded lying-awake-at-3am times? (Counting sheep? Glass of water? Get up? Meditate? Read?)
“Tips!? God, I have no idea! My friend Nicky says that communicating with me is like talking to someone who lives in a different time zone as I’m always awake and sending messages and emails at 3am when the rest of the country is asleep! If anyone has tried and tested techniques, please let me know!”
#9 Your top organisational tip?
“Hire an ‘Emily’.”
#10 Who inspired you? Or inspires you in business?
“SO many incredible people (P.s. I’ve had a couple of glasses of wine and am feeling extra sentimental, so bear with me)! My best friend, Jeren, a fellow entrepreneur who has run her own (incredibly successful) dancing school for the past 15 years. She runs that place like a well-oiled business machine and I learn so much from her every single day. I also love the fact that Jeren is amazing at dishing out all the incredible advice, recommends ALL the inspiring podcasts, but doesn’t actually apply any of it to her own business! I will love that girl until the day I die. Who else? My wonderful friend Shannon (Dotty Bridal), who has pulled me out of the gutter more times than I can remember. Jemma (Halo & Wren), who is ALWAYS at the end of an Instagram DM when I need her. Victoria (Tilly Mint), who has been in my life pretty much since Day One and who has listened to endless weepy phone calls from me over the years. Anneliese (Chameleon) who has saved my arse no end of times. All of these women are the most incredible entrepreneurs and I am honoured to have their unconditional support and friendship.
And, I haven’t stopped there: Tim and Bec (Allure Bridals) who I must owe at least one kidney to by now for the amount of times they’ve helped and supported me, my team and the business. My fabulous friend with the most beautiful soul, Charlie Brear. I don’t need to go into details, but the woman is incredible… do not underestimate her. She is a force and she blows my mind.
And Adam. My husband. The love of my life.
Ok, it’s turning into an Oscars speech now. Sorry!
*Pause for applause”
#11 An app/piece of tech you now couldn’t live without for your business:
“Oh, there are PLENTY…. I just don’t really know how to use them.”
#12 Your first ever job was…
“Saturday Girl in a hairdressers….bloody loved that job. Despite the fact that I only earned £1.25 an hour!”
#13 Your top social media tip?
“Hire Rosie from Rymedia – she’ll help you with your analytics, your audiences and put together a kick ass social media schedule that will be the answer to all of your woes.”
#14 The brand you’d love to collaborate with and why…
“Bridal Editor. Oh! Hang on..!”
#15 Name a business/social media account(s) – that have helped/inspired you with your business?
Can I name more than one? Well I’m going to anyway….
No.1 “Carrie Green – The Female Entrepreneur Association: @femaleentrepreneurassocitation
No.2 “Denise Duffield-Thomas: @denisedt
No.3 “Your Social Team: @yoursocialteam
I’ve got more if you want them!?”
#16 Your fav social media tool: (Pinterest? Instagram? LinkTree? Etc.)
“Instagram. I live, eat, breathe the bloody thing. It’s a love/hate relationship. Unrequited love…. I’m obsessed with Insta. Insta doesn’t even know I exist….”
#17 Your advice to those looking to TAKE THE PLUNGE:
“With regards to opening a bridal boutique? Research, research, research! Why, in God’s name, open a store in an area that is already highly saturated? And PLEASE, I beg you! Don’t open a boutique in a location where all the key labels, the big names, are taken! You’re new and you’re unknown… you need a well-known designer to attract brides. Finally… get some experience. Not necessarily in the industry (I didn’t have that), but experience in retail (luxury retail is even better) will be a HUGE advantage. ‘Liking’ something isn’t the same as being experienced. I ‘like’ animals. Scratch that, I LOVE animals. It doesn’t mean I should be a vet. I’ve just read that back and it sounds really preachy and self-righteous. I don’t mean it to be. I’m trying to be helpful! Consider it ‘tough love’!”
Rapid Fire Questions:
#1 Most inspirational book you’ve read:
“I honestly don’t feel like I’ve found a life changing, inspirational book yet. Any recommendations? The last book to really kick me in the gut was Where the Crawdads Sing by Delia Owens. Does that count?”
#2 You’re in Starbucks, what do you order?
“Grande skinny Americano and banana bread (but the bread needs to be warned up. I’m not an animal).”
#3 Instagram feed crush:
“Bridal Editor (Ok… I’m being a bit too obvious with the ass kissing now aren’t I! It IS true though!)”
#4 If you didn’t do what you do…what would you do?
“Beauty Journalist. Without question! Being paid to write endlessly about beauty products for the rest of my life? Bliss.”
#5 Work day pick-me-up:
“Mess around and be silly with my son…. snog my husband… snog my dogs… drink some wine. Sorted.”