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Green Marketing with Crown Bees | EP. #135

May 29, 2024 | Author: Andrew Maff



















The best kinds of businesses are the ones driven by passion and held together by ethics. On this 135th episode of the E-Comm Show, Andrew Maff interviews Dave Hunter, President Founder of Crown Bees. Crown Bees is a company committed to helping gardeners, farmers, and green thumbs alike leverage the power of bees in a sustainable way.

In this episode, Dave Hunter bridges the gap between nature and e-commerce. Showing how we can leverage the power of nature ethically and sustainably. Marketing mainly through word of mouth and referrals, Dave has mastered the art of doing things the natural way. This is a must-listen to this episode if you sell products derived from natural resources and want to market as green as possible.

Watch the full episode below, or visit TheEcommShow.com for more.


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Have an e-commerce marketing question you'd like Andrew to cover in an upcoming episode? Email: hello@theecommshow.com







Green Marketing with Crown Bees


Andrew Maff and Dave Hunter

CONNECT WITH OUR HOST: AndrewMaff.com  |  Twitter: @AndrewMaff | LinkedIn: @AndrewMaff 



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Dave Hunter 




Dave Hunter is the founder/owner of Crown Bees, an innovative solitary bee company headquartered in Woodinville, WA. With two decades of hands-on experience with native bees, Dave has been instrumental in shaping the commercial Mason bee industry. Dave has spearheaded initiatives that revolutionize beekeeping practices. He established the Orchard Bee Association (OBA), laying the groundwork for ethical beekeeping standards while optimizing efficiency for farmers and gardeners alike. Through collaborative efforts with researchers, Dave ensures that Crown Bees remains at the forefront of sustainable beekeeping methods. Crown Bees boasts a versatile approach, reaching customers through various channels including online platforms, wholesale nurseries, and direct engagement with researchers. Dave's commitment to innovation and sustainability led him to serve on the advisory board for the USDA/SCRI Project Integrated Crop Pollinator, where he championed the use of native bees in specialty crop pollination.

In addition to his entrepreneurial endeavors, Dave co-authored "The Mason Bee Revolution." He shares his wealth of knowledge with audiences worldwide, addressing gardeners, farmers, and researchers alike. Dave's expertise has earned him recognition in the agricultural community, with appearances on numerous farming and gardening podcasts.


We're not asking for money we're just making money to perpetuate change



Hello everyone and welcome to another episode of The E-Comm Show. I'm your host as usual Andrew Maff. Today I'm joined by the amazing Dave Hunter is the CEO of CrownBees. Dave, how you doing? Ready for good show?



I am good. This is gonna be fun. Thanks, Andrew.



I'm super excited to have you on the show your your business, your product line is very different. It's, it's definitely something new to the show, which is why I'm super excited to chat with you today. I love to do the usual kind of pretend no knows who you are. And just tell us a little bit about your background about CrownBees. And we'll take it from there. Okay.



Okay. It's kind of centered. I was a real estate director airborne Express was an overnight company years ago, I you plow through the ranks and year that I handled 12 million square feet of everything, customer service centers, etc. And then you get bought out and a good white paper. Four years later, they're losing a billion a year. It's like, okay, so as this company that bought us, closer us doors. I went out with the wash, and now suddenly gets six months of severance. And can you take a backyard hobby, solitary bees and create an industry where there wasn't one? And then can you go create a company and so you start from scratch. And my wife's a teacher and so she funds she's the banker, and you plow through the oil and yourself half a million to you know, and then you become profitable, and then you're and then you're a company that is solvent and does good things. So the the spin of coming from a corporate environment, I knew how to spell tax. But you know, and they knew how to sell you know, but then you learn there's a difference between sales and marketing. And you know, he's just, you could spell them. And now that you are it's just the fun of this. And the other part of it is I was a I was a shitty subordinate. I was always straining. I was always just a not a good support. And so when you get to call the shots, so much better. And so I love I go to fun. Every day, they will get there. But I go to fun. This is a great gig and it's just I run some awesome. So there's there's my there's my peace.



That's great. Hey, look, there's a lot of people that are they go to a job that they don't enjoy, or even they own a business that they don't enjoy. So the fact that you're having fun is, you know, that's kind of all that counts. How did you What gave you the idea to like make this into a business from a hobby.



Initially was just making money. years ago, I'm my wife comes home from abroad was class, we've wrapped her in the northwest winds big ass apple tree and my wife comes home. She goes, Man, I was at some place. They have 1000s of apples, we had like three. So I will go find out what they did. And they came back and she said, Well, they have Mason, these What's this, you drill holes in a chunk of wood. And so I went on drilled holes in a chunk of wood and all of a sudden things and really Psalm, but instead of a empty hole, you have a little piece of mud at the end. It's like, huh, and within this is years ago, maybe 25 years ago, but within two or three seasons, we had 1000s of apples. It's like and the I'm a civil engineer by degree. And the engineer in me says well what's going on behind these little wood blocks and you start opening them up, you start developing things and you find there's little cocoons and there's like no, it's just so you progress that hobby forward. And we'll be equipped with time off. So here's a lot of months off to go play. I interviewed every possible researcher in the world on this one bud. And then I'm trying to find the practitioners of mason bee it's a solitary bee what's going on and you you find the reason He says when you put a mason bee, in a cherry orchard, you get triple the yield. And an apple orchard, you're doubling your yield and your strawberries, you're just you're getting 40% more strawberries and yours. Well, why aren't we using this insect across the country? And so as you're, you're doing all this conversations, it really came down to the lead researcher in the western US said, Hey, did go watch the movie Bottle Shock. So back in the day, I'm renting a VHS from a library and, and essentially, Bottle Shock is the California wine industry. Does a blind tasting out there in Paris and they win 123. So you go back this researcher and you say, all right, white, French wines are two honey be like California wines are two mace and B said exactly. They're superior. But no one knows this. Okay, so I was able to, there wasn't an industry, I got that going, half researcher half practitioner. So now that industry is running, I was no longer the president after a few years, can you create a company that buttresses that industry, and I don't know, you, you learn the nuances of this bug. And initially, is just kind of make money. And then you you start learning, I'm an Eagle Scout. So you know, years later, you're still kind of thinking through how nature works. And what makes this company very unique is we do make money, but we're trying to work from the side of nature. So what does nature need? And then how do we team with nature to then help the gardener, the backyard gardener be successful? So it's, it's a very interestingly, I lean into nature. And think from that perspective, what they need. There's



so your target customer, you have obviously I would suggest farmers things like that. But then you also have your person who's just got a good old fashioned garden in their backyard kind of thing. And so really, it's, you're creating these vessels for these bees, mainly targeted to people that are growing some kind of produce or something Correct, correct.



Yeah. And actually, my two players, I don't go to farms. What I've learned is that farming changes at the pace of an old style glacier, nowadays, they change really fast. So they, they don't want to change and so it was a study of constants and variables. And so farmer is how's my weather? What's my crop, how we're going to pick it? You know, all these things? The one variables. Hey, Mike, I need some bees and Mike shows up with bees and they're there and they pollinate Off they go to put another variable and they're saying, Oh, look, here's a solitary bee. It acts differently. You're gonna get more yield. Am I am marketers selling you know, my green Washington's puppy? So do you really trust this new piece? Most farmers don't. And so you are working a lot of monies to one person and I went down the retail path so I am predominantly ecommerce we 20,000 orders a year to backyard gardeners and then we probably used to be 30% of business babies 20% or 20% of our business or nurseries, hardware stores type stuff. And as of last week, we're now read reaching out to landscaping professionals. So across the country, you're already in someone's backyard would you want to carry this product and get so we're launching a third channel.



Interesting. How does it work? Like what can you explain the primary product and then how it's attracting the bees and then what the bees are doing? Yeah, I



blew it. I should have had pilot cocoons on my hand. This is a nest anvil six inches by maybe five eighths of an inch. There are solitary bees made back up out of the nation's 4000 species of bees escape for North America. No beans and no no native bees make honey. Not the only honey making insect came across when the with the pilgrims. There was nothing sweet on the East Coast. There wasn't any pollen for the bees on East Coast. They brought the dandelion with them. Okay, so this is all went out. Honeybees. Second part 90% of these. The world has 20,000 species of bees. 90% of them are solitary. Every females a queen, they go out and they they're alive some part of the year they live six weeks They gather pollen nectar, lay an egg, and seal that little chamber with something. So in my nest involed pollen egg might be used as mud, poloneck mud. So in here, I've got maybe six to seven eggs that these eggs laid this year, or next year is BS, real simple. And there's maybe 1000 species of bees across North America that use small, medium and large little holes. So I've got eighth inch little holes to maybe five sixteenths of an inch. And we have people across the country, I've taught them to be so successful. They raised these bees, for me in Pennsylvania. In the fall, they got a handful of cocoons, they mail them to me, okay, just through the regular mail. So I got a bunch of cocoons, I store my coolers. And I've mailed these cocoons, back to people in Pennsylvania, or New York or whatever is runner. So I've got this whole scheme that I'm giving you, I'm buying your cocoons from you, I'm giving you store credit. So I've got people raising the bees for me. And then I just turn right around and clean them up and push them back very, very unique.



That is very unique, super interesting. So I got a little garden out back and I'm like, I gotta get one of these things. This is awesome. I'm horrible at it. So the marketing of it, like you're not really using some of the I believe you're not using like any paid ads, channels cracked, everything is organic. How are you controlling that? Because I see that to be difficult, in itself, but difficult to even reach new audiences without just kind of doing everything you can to get word of mouth moving?



Right? Yeah, I don't want it I just caught paying the monster. Mike, my competitors both pay. So first of all, my website is is white hatted the highest SEO you can get. So we were there naturally, we live and breathe the commodity. And so if you want to go and search for us in Google or edge or anything, we're always right there. If you want to pay an ad, sure your brother but people recognize what to pay that so I don't need to get to the front page. When I talk with my competitors, and we do you know, open book with us, my peers, they're paying 60 or 70k, I talk with my closest guy, he's maybe a quarter my size, why are you paying so much your number two anyway? Because well, that's what you're supposed to do. So what if you just stop paying, they're still gonna find you. And he stopped, he probably only put 20k Last year into it. I don't know, I just don't have that need to do that. Um, we are marketing is word of mouth. A couple different flavors. Word of mouth. So people are finding more about us, SEO is really high. And then we've got guerilla marketing tactics, Houston Museum of Natural Sciences, okay. And you go put this out in the public garden, it's of you know, at the Houston Museum, and someone's saying, Oh, and there's gonna be a B house behind us one of my products, and you're just visiting the gardens, go read this little QR code, man, it co brands, them and us are right on there and learn what's going on in this house and buy these put them in your yard. So I've got hundreds of places across the country doing this we yeah, my marketing scheme, Andrew is let me teach you what to do. And let me just be open and honest with you and help you help you be successful.



And so that that QR code that you've got there that you just showed, is that. So that museum we referenced, or did they get a commission for every kind of sale that comes through they act like an affiliate? What's their incentive to showcase that?



Education I'm helping, they don't they don't know enough of these Bs. And so we're helping teach there the add value add for them as they don't have to teach their people. And it's a co branded site. So there's a little bit about the museum on the top part. They get that if they want to. Yeah, well, we work with one of the affiliate links out there about link, and I can give them 5% of the sales if they really want it. So most of them don't know, but we can.



And so, obviously, so obviously, a lot of that's going back to your website, are you selling anywhere else besides your website? Are you in any of the marketplaces or you have a retail presence? What's that approach?



Yeah, we have one store. So my town here in Woodinville, you know, maybe 5% of the volume is actually is the whole Seattle area can come in from a physical store. And I'm saying we're probably in 300 nurseries, you know, across the country. Mostly West. Maybe we're starting Chicago now with various little somethings, but our bees, our products are in nurseries a little bit. I almost got into Tractor Supply. Thank God I didn't, I don't I don't want to be beholden to China. So everything we manufacture is local, everything is we're using the woods from our houses leftover cedar chunks from First Nation for a second BC. I mean, every Arby's across the country of my paper products are made in Wisconsin, everything we're trying to do is to be as as tight as possible. And if I had to go to if I'm doing now millions of stuff through, you know, big commerce, I'd have to go to China, just just as the carbon footprint in our path is we don't want to head out, you know?






Do they have to, but not well, yeah.



The it's a very interesting model. And so how big are you trying to get it? Like, because I know, at a certain point, right, like, are you thinking maybe you'll go international? Or are you thinking like, you're just there's a certain point that you want to get it to? And it'll be more of a lifestyle approach? Like, what do you think in there? Okay,



good. Good question. So we are going to Nationals, Canada, so in our products we sell things across to you know, Israel and whatever, but very, very, very minor. How big do you want to get what drives you? I know all my workers out here, I bring my dogs, you can hear a dog barking? My dogs are very, the eight people that work here. It's very tight. We need to make a million a half to maybe, I don't know, 1.8 this year, how big do I want to get I know I can run a million dollar company, I could probably run a $3 million company. My my physical presence is expensive here in the Seattle area. Past 3 million, I think I'm gonna blow the walls out. And at that point, is it no longer fun? So right now I've got great people, the processes are easy. I don't want to grow fast. Right now. We're running 9% over year to date sales. So we're doing fine. But how big? I want to enjoy what I'm doing. The latter half of my curve. So why stress? You know, so, in game words is



a wise man. Like, it's, it's, it makes a lot of sense. So you're, you know, nowadays, it's just especially with like social media stuff, you're surrounded by these like hustle mentality guys that are just like get big get grow and scale this and buy this and do that. And but at a certain point, it's kind of like, it's exhausting. And it's, sometimes it's not fun. So to your point, like it's, it's comforting to hear that approach and that honesty of like, No, I actually think that, yeah, I'm gonna let it keep kind of going in this direction, but I'm not gonna force it down people's throats. I'm just gonna let it be its own thing. There



was a book recently, I didn't read one of my peers did that there's two curves. There's the first success curve. And then oh, crap. In this second curve.



Yeah, it's the end of life.



No, help the people, I'll try to be successful. So I don't need to have a success. I just need a significance. This is I'm just trying to help. I am significant in helping others. So my gig right now is this planet has been messed up. Can I before I get out of here help the planet a bit. So I don't need my name and highlights. I just need to help get things going. So I don't care to be making the millions. I just care to make a difference. And this is with my people. We all get that same mantra in sports, probably. I didn't know how to know how to spell nonprofit back in the day. Was there a hyphen in there and just, you know, so I'm profitable. But the mission drives the company and I don't have to ask you always for money. I've just make it off selling stuff. So you know, mission driven and we're we work with a lot of nonprofits across the country and we're just the only we're the only albatross No, we're not asking for money. We're just making money to perpetuate change. Yeah.



Well, right. Before we started the episode, obviously you and I chatted for a little bit and you brought up something I was like, I definitely want to hear this And it's something now that I'm thinking about, like, I should ask this in every episode. But tell me about your failures, right? Everyone talks about like, Oh, we're awesome for this, we do this, we're crushing it on this, like blah, blah. I want to hear like, Where'd you fail? Where'd it go wrong? And then obviously, what do you do to kind of address that?



Okay, I believe failure I can, when you listen to the unicorns talk about success. They're all unique. And of course, they're successful. But when they talk about failure, I I haven't had many failures, because they keep on analyzing this shit, okay? The failures that I really have done have been tried to go to big box, okay, and I you know, so whether it was Costco is just 20 minute drive headquarters, 20 minute drive from me, or two tractors by whatever, that would have pushed me on a path that would have been probably unsustainable. It would have been a stressful environment. So I'm dodged that probably also, I, at the very beginning, you only can hire who you can hire. And so I'm hiring people that not you know, they can fog a mirror, maybe more than that. But my key players weren't necessarily strong players. And my probably biggest failures was at the very beginning. All Play owner, Matthew, you're gonna go play ops, and hey, Debbie, you're gonna be the ops manager or the you know, the back office, and you're gonna do sales. And I had everyone just walk and do their own thing without any true concert between them. I just let I let them do their own gig. And I've now learned through the years that I've got my hands in Eph. I know what everyone's doing. And I can do their jobs. But I don't need to. I do not minutiae manage. That's a mistake. But I'm aware of what they can do. So beforehand, I just let you do your own thing. And we had just wasn't in concert. So probably the biggest error was hiring people. And they're working professionals. But I didn't. I didn't manage them. Well, I was I'm a crappy manager. nowadays. I probably picked up.



Yeah, yeah. Probably. It's great. You're aware of it. And look, even in my business, it's the same thing, right? Like, with us, it's a service. So it's like all about people. But certain of the a lot of people talk about the success of a business's, always quality product. Like if you've got a great product, especially from a marketing perspective, your job is easy. marketing's job is just let people know it exists. And then the product sells itself. But then the people behind the scenes that are running it, you've got to have quality people in place as well. What's your isn't everything local there, I assume?



Yeah, everything's local, give or take the BS that I've got from across the country. It's important, you're talking about quality. I was invested about a bit ago. And before I bowed out, one of the key classes that I had was talking about types of businesses. So my business is an expertise and you can say BMW and Apple would be and Nordstrom would be peers of mine, that are top of the line. If you've got someone will call Nordstrom says up here and I'm going to pick I don't know, whoever's down at the bottom, but in the middle of was Kohl's and Macy's and, and they're, they're trying to get their customers by constantly just trying to have sales and they're always kind of a race to the bottom. So why here, they buy there and you purposely buy wherever they're at. If you're at the top, I have to have best customer service, best shipping, best product, best quality, my pricing that's higher than the guys that are all below me. But I have to be best of the best. Okay, every effing year. I've set my prices and my customer, my peers, look at my prices, and ducking by five or 10% Always. So I could keep on lowering my price to get into that, but they're just going to steer the ship down. And my wonderful peers copy everything I innovate. And so every year you just have to instantly innovate and so I am I have to stay at the top by innovating quality, best best best best best innovate. Yeah. So I mean, there's my



rate Dave, I loved every minute this this was awesome. I really appreciate your time and I want to take up too much more. I know you're super busy. I'd love to give you an opportunity to let everyone know they can more find out find out more about you and of course more background base. Yeah,



CrownBees is you know crownbees.com Super easy. We're in all the socials. The other part, just one little thing, Andrew, um, a



is just, oh, yes, okay, let's do it, okay, hey,



I spooks me in in the fact that you go to my website because I am wiki, everything, my my website bleeds the SEO. So it's all there. You can now within a week or whatever, you can go and say, Hey, tell me what to do with my mason bees in Pennsylvania in August. And the AI is already scraped my website. And it's gonna give them data based off my website, so you don't need to go there anymore. Okay, so if you want to buy my stuff, which how I make money, you're not relegated to a white square on the screen. And you're now comparing mine to crap from Amazon. And, you know, where am I gonna be able to make my money when you're faced with just pls from China scares me. And so my company sees this. And we're trying to think through and be what AI isn't. Okay, and AI isn't doing, they can't go raise bees, they can't go, they can't be in a park and it can't pollinate. So we're shifting from an informational sell stuff to maybe all three, inform, sell stuff, and do. And so we're working with doing organizations to try to get our feet in the door before it's too late. There's my AI.



Yeah, I mean, AI, it's interesting. You know, I, I hate hearing it now, simply because I'm so tired of everyone thinks that they have some kind of AI. And it's like, it's like a me to AI. Now. I think the thing that would be interesting would be if you I don't even know how to do this. But I know it's a thing where you can kind of create your own AI. And it just reads your site and just provides a ton of information. And I'm doing someone a really big disservice right now by not remembering their name. But they I just had them on the show like three weeks ago. But that's what they do is they help you create an AI that's just meant for your website. So if someone's got a question about, like, if it comes in a color, or hey, if I'm doing this, like it just scrapes the information on your site and your site alone, so that you could still become like the place to go for everything around mason bees and just have like a little chat option that could do stuff that way. Because that's the other thing, right? It's like with the AI side, especially from a marketing perspective, on our end, like for I definitely wasn't a fan in the beginning. I was like, This just seems really dry and daunting. And it just doesn't it I don't really see what this is doing. And for a while there, I was like, Okay, I was right, this is getting out of hand looks and sounds horrible. It's starting to get cleaned up. And you know, people are leveraging it. But I can tell people are really starting to understand where it's really beneficial. And then where it's also not at all, to your point of you know, what you mentioned just now. And I think it's it's getting to that point where it's like, how do we play nicely with it, the best, you know, that some of the best marketers are going to come out are the ones that just know how to use it correctly without abusing it. But traditional marketers are going to abuse everything as much as they can. So it's you know, it's interesting that it's definitely, you know, it's been a hot topic for years now.



Yeah. And it's, I think it's we're only on the front edge of this here, toes are just dipped in the water by the time five years from now. We're all gonna laugh at this conversation. Of course. Yeah, hindsight. I think the people that are are aware and thinking about it are the ones that will succeed the ones that that aren't, I think we'll get you know, there'll be in the rough waves. So, if there's if there was a lesson learned in this little pieces, keep your eyes to the, you know, to the blogs, and you know, I guess begin to experiment when you can. That guy that you're talking through VSCO? Could I is does he cost me a million bucks to go out and do this? Or is it? Uh,



no, it's like an app or something. I feel so bad. I'm gonna have to look it up and put it in the show notes because I feel bad that I can't remember it. And I will send it to you. Yes, of course. Yeah. Beautiful. Dave, thank you so much for being on the show everyone else who tuned in. Of course, thank you as well please make sure you do the usual rate review, subscribe, all that fun stuff on whichever podcast platform you prefer. or head over theecommshow.com and check out all of our previous episodes. But as usual, thank you all for joining and we'll see you all next time. Have a good one.



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