BeeBee Wraps. From Kitchen Table To Dragons' Den.
Imagine coming up with an idea that could help to change the world for the better. Wouldn't that be great? What about if that idea could be turned into a business? Now imagine that business was so successful that it led to national press coverage, featured designs by Kate Moss and Sienna Miller, and led to an appearance on Dragons' Den. Well that's exactly what Kath Austin did with BeeBee Wraps. From selling on Etsy to working with international charities, the founding and growth of BeeBee Wraps is truly an amazing story. We were lucky enough to have the opportunity to pick Kath's brain about product innovation and how she's been so successful at growing her business.
Can you describe BeeBee Wraps in a single sentence?
BeeBee Wraps are a natural and reusable food wrap made of cotton and beeswax!
You started BeeBee Wraps at your kitchen table and selling your products on Etsy. You've been very successful since then. Can you tell us about how your business has grown?
Etsy was the perfect testing ground until we had our own website. I realised there was demand pretty early on so we quickly migrated on to our own site. This encouraged us to develop a brand very quickly and we grew so fast.
With coverage in The Guardian and The Daily Mail stepping up orders we were able to move into our first commercial premises in May 2018. Later that year we finalised our waxing equipment design and installed "Bertha" as she is affectionately known". By November we had completed our first cobrand project for Sky Ocean Rescue with designs by Cara Delevigne and Kate Moss.
This year has felt like the coming together of so many projects. We launched our second range of designs, new packaging which just pop so well on shop shelves, we started working with groceries giants Abel & Cole and Milk & More, and we start new cobrand projects notably with The Woodland Trust. It's been a good year!
Can you give us some of the reasons why you've been so successful?
I often wonder what the secret formula is. Ultimately, the stars aligned and the timing was perfect; as the world woke up to the plastic crisis, I launched our brand. We've always tried to stay ahead but there's an element of crystal ball gazing there too. Our environmental mission is central but the delivery, the conduit to the success of that mission is changing behaviours around using environment ally unfriendly products. Making our wraps beautiful was a big part of our success. Over and above that, the crystal ball gazing continues and we try to guess what the next big thing will be to gain more traction in reducing plastic.
What obstacles have you encountered in growing your business?
This list is huge. My life over the last three years has been "up, down, up, down, up, down". There is always something that is the next issue. We have had to work hard to find a reliable supply chain of cotton. Due our wraps needing specifically organic cotton, and being absolutely unwavering on that point we have found the pool of choice gets smaller.
Growing pains too! We have grown so quickly that finding the team to come along with us has been tricky. Some days we couldn't employ enough people quickly enough, then we ran out of space for those people. Now we are just trying to make enough BeeBee Wraps quickly enough. I'm delighted to say that the demand is still high and we are responding to it as quickly as we can.
What does the future hold for BeeBee Wraps?
I know that we must innovate and be creative forever. I never want us to "arrive". We will always be striving to deliver the next product which helps us tread more lightly on the earth. We have a new product launching next month which I've been trialling for some time and am very excited about! Next Spring we hope to launch a plant wax wrap opening the vegan market to us. In 2020 I want to see us in a position to give back too, how that will look is yet to be decided upon but we're discussing ideas.
You recently appeared on Dragons' Den, that must have been equal parts fun and terrifying! Can you tell us about the experience? Has it helped to raise awareness of BeeBee wraps?
Dragons' Den was a strange, otherworldly experience. The actual day of filming, from a very early morning in the green room to arriving home in the wee hours, was extremely intense. I am so happy I held it together for the grilling which was far longer than the final edit showed. Dragons' Den is an amazing brand and, even though we didn't secure investment, we spoke directly to 3 million viewers (give or take) about an alternative to clingfilm, a ubiquitous kitchen staple which causes so much damage. I absolutely would do it again.
You've been innovative and disruptive in the food wrap industry. What advice have you got for anyone out there who is trying to create an innovative new product?
Same advice I live by and dish out over and over. Fail fast.
Don't waste your life, money, time and energy on something that has no traction. There will always be another answer even when it feels or appears like it's a dead end.
BeeBee Wraps is obviously a socially responsible business, which seems to be a growing trend (thankfully). From a business viewpoint, how important do you think it is for companies to become more socially responsible?
Consumers have the power, we may not feel very powerful alone but together we can demand anything. Businesses are always the first to respond. When governments change legislation it is usually because of consumer pressure to which big businesses have responded first. Consumer pressure is building to act more responsibly and so whether businesses consider it important or not, they will have to respond to consumer demand.
My concern lies in the possibility that green-washing will quash the demand without delivering any real substance. At BeeBee Wraps, we acknowledge we are not perfect but we strive towards perfection and are transparent about our journey.
What's been your favourite thing that's happened since you launched BeeBee Wraps?
So many amazing things have happened; working with Sky Ocean Rescue, Abel and Cole, Milk and More, The Woodland Trust. Seeing our venture and Team BeeBee grow to be a bona fide business. Saving over 8.6 million potential pieces of plastic entering the natural world!
However, in all honesty, it was the day my eldest daughter turned to my mum at the dinner table and asked "Did you have a business when mummy was a little girl?". That moment made me weep for joy. Both of my daughters are watching me, they're watching a woman drive forward and create positive change. They're watching me create jobs for our team. They're watching me grow our business without permission from whomever I should ask first. For them, the limiting belief we often feel will be much diminished and their horizons will be wider and more eventful than mine. That is my biggest success to date and I am so very proud.
If you could go back to when you first started BeeBee Wraps and give yourself one piece of advice, what would it be?
So many nuggets of wisdom to hand down. I think the biggest problem I have faced was not having a handle on the accounting early on. My partner David was doing the accounts alongside working full time and it quickly became a full time job in its own right. It's tricky balancing up bootstrapping and getting in experts, especially when you're in start up mode and watching every penny. I would say a good finance team are worth their weight in gold and more!!
Is there another entrepreneur who you find inspiring?
Yvon Chouinard, the founder of Patagonia, is the benchmark in business for me. Patagonia is rooted in doing good and giving back whilst remaining a commercial business. It is due to Chouinard's foresight that enabled and continues this commitment. The company's track record in positive environmental impact is borne out of the same passion for the wild that the business works to support and for which it produces. A love of the wild, true wildness, is a beautiful and, in my eyes, essential quality in business and indeed life. We cannot and should not divorce ourselves from it.