If you live in Winnipeg, you’ve definitely seen the Beeproject Apiaries honey jars at your favorite coffee shop. What started as an experiment has now turned into a community-based business that combines urban beekeeping, education, and community engagement. Chris and Lindsay, the husband and wife duo behind Beeproject Apiaries, started their business with only five hives. Years later, they’ve managed to spark a local movement on the benefits of sustainable beekeeping – leading to a change in city bylaws as they pertain to the little pollinators.
Read on to find out how Chris and Lindsay make sure they’re always innovating, and the role that branding has played in Beeproject’s success.
How did Beeproject start? What have been some of the challenges you’ve encountered along the way and how did you overcome them?
It all started as an experiment. When we started, Beeproject was just a passion project towards small scale agriculture and sustainable beekeeping. We were trying to apply concepts we had learned in a class. We fell in love with honeybees and we wanted to learn more about bees, as well as share that love with others.
After a few years of working with rural beekeepers, we transitioned into urban beekeeping. We found that we were lacking a stronger connection with the urban community that we were selling to. This approach also offered a larger market, which was another plus for us.
As we transitioned into urban beekeeping, we encountered a few problems with city bylaws and people’s preconceived ideas of local food production. That called for a lot of community work, such as going to speak at the City Hall, chatting with businesses, hosting education sessions in schools, and talking to locals about the threat that honeybees are facing – plus telling them how sustainable beekeeping and bee friendly decisions could benefit all of us. We also had to do a lot of educating around our products, showing people how Beeproject is different from other kinds of honey sold. These things brought a lot of change not only in bylaws, but also on how the community approached us.
Facebook and Instagram have also been crucial. Twitter has not been as useful as a social media platform as our followers tend to respond better to visuals.
How integral do you both feel the branding has been to your success?
Branding is really important to us. When we first started Beeproject, we didn’t focus too much on it. But once we started paying more attention to the labels, how we brand our self, and what we put forward, we noticed an incremental shift on how much more recognizable we had become.
A few years ago, we got a grant for branding and we used it to build a more cohesive brand strategy. The branding process helped us define who we are and reminded us of the importance of being mindful of what some people might consider small details, such as colours and signage, even though they are crucial to how people engage with you. All that money and time spent was very valuable.
We understand that not everyone can afford this, but being more mindful of our brand totally changed the way people approached and interacted with us. And even though it can be a struggle for small businesses to spend money on branding, we firmly believe that we should have invested in our brand from the start.
We actually recommend that everyone who is serious about their business put some serious effort and money into their brand.
How has the Beeproject brand changed throughout the years? Why?
Our brand has changed a lot. That is partially due to our deliberate efforts to be adaptable. Yet, we’re always trying to stay true to why we started: increase awareness about beekeeping and showcase the beauty of eating locally. We try to stay true to these educational and advocacy mandates, continuing education programs in schools, community groups, and local media. Over the years, our goals have become more clear and therefore, we’ve become more consistent with the voice of our brand and how we present ourselves.
We have to be mindful of what we’re passionate about, but also need to be fiscally responsible and keep in mid which of our services and/or products bring in revenue. In the beginning, our focus was mainly making quality honey, but now we’re focusing more on our services side of the business. We now sell to only a few retailers, and we’ve focused our efforts into increasing urban pollination in the city by partnering with different businesses and organizations that allow us to put bees in their spaces.
You have found great ways to engage with your customers, either be that through your social media, events at your retail store, or participating in local markets. Why is it so important for you to engage with your customers and make sure that they feel that they’re part of your success story?
We have found that committed clients are the ones that drive the business.
We spend a lot of time in person to educate our clients. For example, we consider local markets to be both educational and selling opportunities. Once someone connects with us and our brand story, they tend to be more loyal. We want customers to feel the value in what we do and we try to gain loyalty through these interactions and we use our branding and social media to try to continue to engage these clients.
How do you make sure you’re always innovating and staying inspired?
Early on we tried to be “yes” people no matter what, and we never rejected any opportunity that came our way. Later on, we learned to say “no” when an opportunity did not really fit in with our brand values, even though it was great. It is very important to find balance, which we don’t always do.
We’re all about trying to support each other, and we tried to look at other businesses we respected and their social spheres of influence, and we tried to build on each other community reach and social presence.
You just have to find a balance in saying “yes” enough, not always.
We sometimes struggle with not going overboard with our commitments. It is very important for us to take pauses. We can’t stress enough how crucial finding a balance is. We’ve had to learn that the hard way over the years, and we’d always mention this to others who are just starting out their business.
We like to see things more like a marathon, rather than just a sprint. You have to continuously innovate rather than just go at it all at once.
We also looked at urban beekeeping projects in other progressive cities, such as Montreal and Portland. We always tried to be up-to-date with projects that we looked up to, and tried to find things that we could learn from them. Inspiration is everywhere.
You now have full-time staffers. What is it like employing people in the company you dreamed up together? Was it hard to entrust someone else with something so personal to you both?
We learned from the start that letting someone into your passion project makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. You need to show them who you are and what your goals are, and you also have to make sure that they portray and have internalized the same values and goals.
What advice would you give to someone who is looking to start their own business on how to market themselves better?
Right from the start, you have to spend time, energy, and money on getting advice on building a brand story that is true to who you are and that clearly conveys why you exist, and what your goals are.
Community involvement was also super crucial for us. We tell everyone to collaborate with groups and people whose brand values line up with your own. People are always watching and they notice if you’re celebrating ideas that you are not putting forward as your own.
What is one milestone or success in your career that you’d credit to good marketing?
Bylaw changes were totally a result of Lindsay’s social media work, and her comfort to be on-camera and speak to media. We are pretty proud of our place in the community, and that is the result of the passionate work we have done to educate people in a very open-minded and non-judgmental way.
We also try not to focus on things such as Instagram followers and likes, because that does not necessarily translate into brand durability. We try to focus more on community changes and how people approach us, and we are always trying to grow and get better.
What’s one thing you can’t live without at your desk or workspace when it comes to marketing?
Lindsay definitely can’t live without her phone and camera. I (Chris) always have my phone beside me and I could never function without it.
Oh, and also a good cup of coffee for sure.
What are some of your future goals for Beeproject?
Our goals shift from year to year, but one has been constant: teach people why bees are important. It is crucial for us that we contribute to helping bee pollination around the city, and grow the number of projects we’re involved in around the city by getting as many people and communities as possible involved.
We love educating people and getting people to understand the beauty of local food security.
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