Nick Edmonds is a gardener who knows a lot about "one of the best kept secrets of nature": the awesome pollination activities of the little-known solitary bee, here in the UK. His business partner, Duncan Green, explains how they turned this passion into a business.
"Much has been reported in the media about how the human race is threatening its own survival by ignoring massive changes in the natural world. From glaciers melting, forests being destroyed and crops being sprayed with harmful products, we live in a world that is becoming increasingly less habitable.
"Well, one small part of this equation is the plight of our most essential pollinators - bees. Most people equate bees with honey bees. The less well known but even more important species of bees are solitary bees - fertile bees that nest alone.
"My friend Nick Edmonds is a gardener and landscaper. He had a thing about solitary bees. That might sound mildly eccentric until you find out that these bees are veritable super-pollinators. He was also aware that most people have no idea that solitary bees even exist in our gardens and orchards.
"Nick's idea was to provide solitary bees with a beautiful nesting place - something special that people would be proud to have in their own gardens. At the same time, the product would be a way of heightening awareness of the solitary bees and how important they are to our world.
The perfect bee
"Some say that if Carlsberg made bees, they would make solitary bees! A bee with a seldom-used weak sting, that doesn't swarm, is low maintenance, and will happily nest next to human activity.
"Research has demonstrated that an acre of apple orchard may require up to 20,000 honey bees to pollinate it, but only 250 solitary bees can do the same job – a remarkable fact and one reason why Nick wanted to champion the solitary bees.
The perfect home
"The perfect home for a solitary bee needed to have a small carbon footprint, be weatherproof, be aesthetically pleasing, and it had to be head and shoulders above anything else on the market now and in the future.
"Nick's initial idea was to produce a large minaret shaped piece of garden architecture. There followed three years of new ideas and failed experiments. We tried stone, terracotta, cork, glass, wood and recycled plastic. Eventually, assisted by some brilliant product designers, we produced the beepalace in high quality earthenware - which ticked all the boxes.
"Having it made in England was important. Finding a high quality potter who was prepared to work on small batches proved another major obstacle. We eventually found an ideal supplier in Stoke-on-Trent. We received a 50% grant for some of the special tooling needed for our manufacturing process, as well as advice on manufacturing generally.
The perfect gift
"We have been delighted by people's reaction to the product. It's a present that people enjoy giving, partly because it looks so good, partly because it is novel, and partly because it is 'doing the right thing' environmentally. It also seems to be something that people give to 'the person who already has everything he (or she) wants'.
"We would like to think that a beepalace is often the first step in a journey of discovering more about the natural world, but the reality is that most people simply think that it's a great gift.
The perfect business (for us)
"Having spent most of my working life building up and then selling a residential property letting company, I can confirm that beepalace is a wonderful business to be involved in. There is so much excitement and enthusiasm at every stage.
"Currently we are a two-man band and we reinvest all income back into the product. Social Media (Facebook and Twitter in particular) and Design and Craft Fairs have been our main marketing tools, but we are really still at the beginning of our sales and marketing plans. At present we are concentrating on building a client base and selling B2C. Selling through retail outlets seriously reduces our margins, but helps to raise our profile.
"We get so much encouragement from everyone we come across. We are not going to become millionaires, but I think we have a fun few years ahead of us."
Duncan's top tips
- Be patient and work hard - overnight success can take many years.
- Find something that inspires you - feed a passion.
- Make the most of your contacts - don't be afraid of asking other opinions - and have your non-disclosure agreement to hand at all times.