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Adventures in Selling Honey Online

I run a digital marketing company by day and I have been interested in branding and ecommerce for many years. When I took up bee keeping several years ago, I figured it was only a matter of time until my day job and my hobby came together.

With a bumper crop from my small apiary (1 hive - at the moment!), I decided to test out selling honey online. The following is a ‘mini case study' of what I did, what I learnt and what happened.

Coming up with a brand name

Luckily my surname is Honey – yes it really is…. I guess nominative determinism played a part in my journey into bee keeping, although my grandfather also kept bees and I helped him from time to time when I was a kid. I chose Honey’s Honey as my brand name. I’m only a micro producer so the brand fits very well with my family and the people I know. Interestingly though, the brand has started to resonate with a slightly wider group of people and I’m often complimented on it.

Defining a brand identity - your logo

The look and feel of your logo says a lot about who you are and what you are selling. I’m fortunate enough to have had some help from one of the designers at work, but there are some very cost effective or free services that can help you come up with a logo. 

Logos often comprise of two elements. A graphic to symbolise the brand and a text element with the name of the brand.

You can design your own logo with a number of free tools (but be wary of some free tools – really what they are trying to do is allow you to design the logo for free, but charge you when you want to download it or sell you other services). Alternatively you could choose to use a paid for service. Fiverr is a reasonably priced service that can help you get a logo designed by a professional designer. I would budget somewhere between £15-£50 for using one of these types of services though.

For my logo I opted for an 'luxury high end heritage' look and feel by using a classic, but modern font together with a picture of a griffin.

 

Honey's Honey logo

What are you selling?

For me this was pretty simple. I’ve experimented with different shapes and sizes of jars for the last few years and found that a ½ lb jar works best for me. I don’t have enough honey to sell to make things too complicated with different types of honey from different hives and I haven’t got into making other products for sale...Yet.

Others will have views on pricing, but after some research I settled on a price of £4.99 for the ½ lb jar plus packaging and postage. This may be seen as a high price to some, but I haven’t met any issues so far from customers. I think they understand this isn’t a fully-fledged commercial enterprise and they buy into the micro nature of the business and the provenance of the honey.

The honey label

I’ve really enjoyed the process of creating labels for the jars. Having your own unique honey label is quite an achievement. It’s your chance to get creative and bring your brand to life!

There’s plenty of label suppliers that can help and some of the larger companies include Thorne, Avery WePrint or National Bee Supplies. It’s important to also consider tamper proof labels. If you use standard labels without a tamper proof mechanism you can always use shrink wrap jar sealers available from Amazon, ebay etc.

If you are selling honey it’s also important to understand the legislative and regulatory framework so I would recommend researching this before you go too far. There's a good few articles on the web about this and the differences between selling honey as a hobbyist versus as a commercial venture need careful consideration.

Honey's honey jar and label

 

The technical bits...

Registering a domain name

When you think about your brand name, also think about the domain name (your web address) that you will use. Ideally these will be closely matched. There’s plenty of website domain name companies out there. I would recommend a “.co.uk” domain for UK businesses although there other extensions that you might prefer. There’s usually a promotion on of some sort eg buy it for 2 years and get 1 year free so it pays to shop around and understand what the ongoing costs will be. I also bought an email facility with a catch all capability so I could have an email addresses such as info@ or sales@ and only pay for one email, but you could of course use a free email service such as gmail.

Which system to use for your online shop

With the brand and domain name sorted, the question of which online shop platform to use came next.

For me the most important requirements were; ease of use, simplicity of technical set up and features available. I wanted something that was essentially as easy as possible to get up and running and accept online payments. 

I looked at various different packages and options, including Wordpress, Wix and Shopify. In the end I chose Shopify. It certainly wasn’t the cheapest of them all (the plan I’m on is $232 per annum), but it made the most sense for what I wanted to do and for my requirements.

I found Shopify easy to use and customise (without much technical knowledge) and I really liked how easy it was accept payments using the Stripe payment gateway. The admin panel where you control your shop, manage products and the features  you need for running the shop (eg managing stock and promotions) are all easy to use. Plus it has an app as well, so I’ve been able to manage orders whilst out and about on my phone. 

Shipping and Packing

When selling online, it’s important to set up shipping rules to calculate shipping costs and Shopify does this well. You need to know the weight of your jar of honey plus packing, so when people order you can calculate the correct shipping charges depending on where they live and what they order.

Currently I ship honey to mainland UK, Europe and even the US and getting the wrong side of the shipping costs will cost you dearly! I settled on Royal Mail 1st class small parcel service – it’s reasonably priced and I’m fortunate enough to have a post office locally. As a guide it costs about £3.38 to send a small parcel weighing 1 kg to the UK.

I quickly learned that packaging supplies are expensive. I bought 2 sizes of boxes; one that could hold a single jar and one that could hold three jars. The boxes are expensive when bought in small quantities, and can be easily found on Amazon, ebay etc. I guess the more you buy the cheaper it becomes, but the costs for boxes and packing material needed to keep them secure and safe during transport, definitely needs to be factored into your calculations.

Sales and Marketing

Successful ecommerce is often about an appealing product description and product photography. I took some time to explain who I was, what I was doing and my ‘journey’ over the last few years on the website. I compiled ‘harvest notes’ for each for the previous seasons to explain what happened throughout the year with the bees, what I could see them feeding on etc.

For product photography,  I invested in a camera app for my iPhone. I knew good product photography was key to selling online, but didn’t want to spend too much money on getting good photos. The camera app cost £5.99, but allows you a lot more control over camera features than the standard phone camera. This together with a white background allowed me to get some pretty decent product photos to use on the website and Facebook page.

Facebook 

I created a simple Facebook page for Honey’s Honey and invited friends and family to like the page. I update it from time to time with posts/photos etc and it’s a simple and free way to keep everyone up to date. For the first few seasons I gave most of the honey away to friends and family and this really helped spread the word so to speak. Over the last few years I’ve built up a 100 or so fans (which isn’t a lot by Facebook’s standards), but perfect for the amount of honey I have to sell.

When I launched my shop this year, I posted an update saying it was available for purchase and was amazed by the response. Within minutes I had my first orders coming in from family and friends. For people that lived locally, I offered a code they could use at checkout to take the shipping amount off. Within a few days I started receiving orders from people that I didn't know. 

Facebook boosted post

I considered the idea of selling the rest at the local farmers market, but opted to boost a post on Facebook to see what would happen.

Using the boosted post feature in Facebook, I advertised my post to women between the ages of 35-65 in the local area so that they would have the post displayed in their news feed.  This seemed the most logical group to target based on who I thought would be most likely to be interested in locally produced honey. It’s not that males or people older or younger don’t buy honey – of course they do.

The results were very impressive. From a budget of US$ 7.00, my post was shown to 1,243 people and 73 of those engaged with it (eg they liked, commented, shared or visited the website). From this boosted post I was able to get about 10 new customers. What’s interesting is that these are all people who live locally that I did not know and I have a feeling they will be back again next year for more!

 Example of a Facebook boosted post

Honey's Honey Facebook Boosted Post

Results

This season I extracted 48 lbs of honey from 1 hive, leaving the bees with plenty for the winter. This allowed me to bottle 96 ½ lb jars.

Costs

I’ve kept a reasonably accurate tally of all the costs associated with this. 

Website

£174.00

Domain

£4.99

Email address

£21.53

Labels

£18.81

iPhone camera app

£5.99

Jars (100x 1/2 lb)

£43.94

Packing boxes

£34.00

Shrink wrap jar sealers

£9.40

Packing tape and filler

£10.00

Postage

£34.00

Facebook promotion

£6.00

Fuel

£5.00

Total

£367.66

 

The costs for the website, domain and email are approximate annual costs and all the other costs were the actual costs incurred to bottle, label and ship the 96 jars of honey.

Income

From the 96 jars this is how they were allocated and the associated income received. 

Sales (Website, Facebook page)

69

 Sales of £378.31

Gifts to family, friends and neighbours

15

£0

Kept for self

12

£0 

 

The income figure includes the Shopify payments fees of 2.2% +£0.20p for each transaction.

 

Conclusion

As you can see from the costs/income there isn’t a great deal of money to be made by selling online - only £10.65! This hardly seems worth it given that is was a reasonable amount of work and effort over and above looking after the bees for a year. I’ll easily spend that on something bee related. And I certainly don’t think my venture into ecommerce will be causing the good folks at the large honey producers any concern!

But as with most things to do with bee keeping - it's not about the money.

Here are some further insights and lessons learned.

  • I gave away 15 jars to some very grateful family, friends and neighbours and I have enough honey for my family to last until next year.
  • I could easily have achieved a similar result and spent less doing it. I made choices about how to go about this and I wasn’t always using cost as the deciding factor.
  • The website performance was really good and some interesting metrics have been obtained. The conversion rate of visitors to buyers is 9.91%, the average order value was £12.08 (ie most people bought two jars). Quite a few people have placed several orders with one person ordering 3 times within a month.
  • The bulk of costs eg website, email, domain, will remain constant.  So if I was to scale up there is the opportunity to make a little more money. But at this stage it really isn’t about the money. It’s more about learning and doing. Having said that I have been mulling plans to increase to 5 hives! 
  • Selling to the local community has got me out and about. I’ve discovered new parts of the area I live in, met new people and hopefully made them a fan of the honey.
  • Sending off honey in the post to people and then getting great feedback when they taste it is immensely satisfying.
  • I more or less sold all the honey I had very quickly (I only have a few jars left at time of writing) - this is both good and bad as I now have a website sitting there and very little honey to sell. I'm guessing I'll be buying some relatives Christmas presents this year instead of giving them honey!

So little of the honey consumed in the UK is from the UK so in my book anything that helps more people discover the great honey produced in this country is a good thing. I’ve yet to meet a beekeeper who isn’t just a great person – doing a great job looking after their bees and one day, I hope that I can sell other beekeepers’ honey via the website. 

I've really enjoyed the branding and ecommerce side of things and I’ll never have enough of my own honey to satisfy demand, so it makes sense to learn about selling honey online - who knows maybe one day I can help another bee keeper sell their honey online.

Was it worth it? Absolutely! 

  

 

 

1 comment

  • Thank you for writing this article. As someone in your situation it’s useful to read and informative too on things to consider moving forward. Thanks again.

    Daniel

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