Secrets of Success: Brandi Tolley


There are some “rules” of business success most entrepreneurs abide by. But many also have their own “secrets”—things they do or believe that helped them achieve success. In “Secrets of Success,” a weekly interview series here at’s Small Business Forum, I ask some of today’s smartest, most innovative, most successful business owners to share their insights and success secrets with you.

Meet: Brandi Tolley, the founder of Buy Big From Brandi, a leading big and tall men’s online clothing store. Brandi is also a veteran of the United States Army. While working for the state of Illinois, Tolley was a single mom to a son with special needs. At one point she needed to raise money so she could take her son to see his father. Not really knowing what to do, she went through her closets and sold “gently worn” clothes online. She soon realized she could make more money doing that than working at her job—so she started a business on eBay.

Buy Big From Brandi specializes in selling clothes for big and tall men (a very hot niche these days). Brandi, who remarried and has three children, likes the freedom selling online offers her. What did you want to be when you grew up?

Brandi Tolley: I started “working” when I was very young. My family never really had much, so I loved that I could turn my creative ideas into money. I always wanted to be a wife and mom, and outside of that, I could never, ever decide what I wanted to do as a career. So, now at nearly 40 years old, I still have no idea, other than I love being an entrepreneur. Why did you start your own business?

Tolley: I started selling years ago, in about 2000, when I needed to make some extra money to pay for a last-minute trip. I put some of my used clothing (in excellent condition, of course) on eBay, and a week later, voila! I had cash for the trip. I thought to myself, if my used clothes can bring me extra cash, what else can I sell? The rest is history. Did you experience a pivotal moment on your way to success?

Tolley: I’d say the most “pivotal moment” would be when I was struggling with my sales. I really felt like I had run out of ideas, and that I just couldn’t make it anymore [selling on eBay]. At that moment, I made a commitment to myself, and to my family, that quitting was not an option. Not then, not now. I decided even if I sell very little in any given month, I will not quit. I can still have my business, and do all of the other things that my heart is passionate about. My business will be my business, and I can control how big or how small it becomes by choosing how much or how hard to work at it. What’s the best small business advice you ever gave and/or received?

Tolley: The best small business advice I’ve ever received is to always be honest. I’ve learned that my customers nearly always appreciate honesty. If I make a mistake, I apologize and fix it immediately. If I post the wrong picture, or mail the wrong item, I fix it, and I fix it promptly. I’ve learned that being honest upfront is the best way to gain your customers’ trust and keep them coming back for more. That’s huge in business, or at least it is to me! It makes me stand apart from the others that just don’t care and are only concerned with making money. What’s one “best practice” more entrepreneurs should be embracing?

Tolley: I believe that people in general need to always remember that everyone has a story. Everyone has a burden they are carrying. What may seem to be anger and betrayal may actually be someone’s cry for help. I try to always break down that barrier and let those around me know that we all have those days, and if I can help them, I will do everything I can to do so. I’ve found that [by] being honest, being a friend to all, communicating and helping when I can, the world has become a much better place. I’ve learned that it certainly is not all about the money.

Having a small business is about building relationships and providing a service. I have chosen to make friends along the way. It makes “working” not really work at all. Find your passion within, tap into it, and change the world, one person at a time. Do you have a 2015 small business prediction?

Tolley: I don’t. There have been so many changes that greatly impact our industry already this year. What’s your favorite book?

Tolley: I don’t have a favorite book to read, outside of the Bible. My beliefs are very important to me, and in that book, I’ve found answers to many of my deep questions, and more importantly, I find that it has taught me how to deal with people. Is there a quote you find particularly inspiring?

Tolley: My favorite quote is Philippians 4:13, “I can do all things, through Christ who strengthens me. In my darkest moments, I turn to Him, and find hope, strength and renewal of my spirit.”