It's hard to believe Zee Bee Market has been around for a year, and what a year it has been! We have so much to be thankful for and we know we would not have succeeded had it not been for the incredible support you -our customers- gave us in 2012.
Here are highlights that show what we've been up to since our Fair Trade and Eco-friendly shop got established.
With the encouragement and help of generous friends, I decided to register Zee Bee Market in the State of Missouri and make it official. It was April 12, 2012 when we received our Certificate of Organization. This was not as easy as I expected so a good friend of mine, an attorney, guided me through the process. Zee Bee Market was "open for business"
So we had an official document that told us we could operate but we didn't have any products to sell yet. I wanted to create a business that sold socially and environmentally conscious gifts from around the world. I knew of several Fair Trade organizations that I could approach to buy product from and wanted to ensure we had a balanced assortment of gifts. My first supplier was Partners for Just Trade and I placed our first order of beautiful, handmade Fair Trade products from Peruvian artisans. I also contacted Global Crafts and placed another order; this one included a limited selection of Fair Trade, hand carved gifts from Kenya, copper and glass jewelry from Chile and cotton scarves from Guatemala. Lastly I reached out to Green Jute, a wholesaler I met at the Earth Day Festival a few weeks before that sells sustainably beautiful handbags made of jute and bags made of recycled sari from India. These three suppliers provided our first product offering.
Shortly after placing these first three orders, it was time to think about where to bring our products to sell. Luckily, our very own neighborhood held a weekend-long event that I learned about by pure coincidence: Thurman LoopFest. I managed to get permission to set up an 8-foot table that I dusted off from my garage. With sheets for tablecloths and a coat rack, I completed setting up in a relatively short time. The best part was the incredible response our products received from customers and visitors! I could hardly believe it. This was a way for me to see the interest level our customers had for our gifts; what they really liked and what they didn't care much for. The good news was every item had positive reviews and for the rest of the day I shared with neighbors and strangers our Fair Trade story and how it is changing the lives of many artisans who live in extreme poverty and how these purchases make a difference.
I know I could have sold more that day had I owned the necessary equipment to process and accept credit/debit card payments. A customer pointed out the many benefits of Square and I got hooked. This is perfect for a small business owner!
A week later, a friend of mine, the Executive Director of Old North St. Louis Restoration Group mentioned to me I should consider coming to the North City Farmer's Market on Saturdays and offer our products there. The best part of this volunteer-run event was they provided a 10 x 10 tent! This was perfect as I did not own one. So, the corner of 14th St. and St. Louis Ave. became our home away from home for the next several weeks. While traffic was not always heavy, the market enjoys a healthy number of visitors who come to eat at the world-famous Crown Candy Kitchen just across the street!
With the sales success I was quick in reordering best-selling items and introducing new product categories. I was careful in providing a balanced assortment that would interest our customers. Learning about the Fair Trade artisan stories behind the products still inspires me and reaffirms my commitment to continue to do this.
July & August 2012
Zee Bee Market enters the social media space! We launched our Facebook page and within a couple of weeks we get 100 "likes" (we have almost 300 now.) I also started our Tumblr page and learned a lot pretty quickly of how social media could help increase brand awareness given that our marketing budget is nonexistent!
One of the highlights this month occurred while participating at the North City Farmer's Market (NCFM) on July 7. State Representative Russ Carnahan visited the market and spent a few minutes with each vendor. Here is a photo of both of us in front of some of the handmade gifts we carry. How cool is that?
A dear friend and graphic designer extraordinaire, Sharon Gutowski, kindly offered to do freelance work and help us with our brand identity. We desperately needed a logo and Sharon’s incredible talent and creative mind began working on it.
This was probably our busiest month yet! We participated in our largest event, the Greater St. Louis Hispanic Festival, held the first weekend on the grounds of Kiener Plaza in downtown St. Louis. We had a “short” Friday due to severe weather but Saturday and Sunday turned out to be two beautiful days and had a great event.
Besides keeping busy at work, studying for my MBA degree and selling Fair Trade gifts on weekends, I also found time to train as much as I could to run my 20th marathon scheduled for September 30. I took the opportunity to work on a fundraiser and support Partners for Just Trade and their wonderful work with many Peruvian Fair Trade artisan groups. Family and friends generously donated about $2,200!!!
We were part of the last couple of Saturdays at the NCFM and got ready for our First Annual Pre-Holiday Trunk Show, held at home on October 14. This casual event was a huge success and our friends and long-time supporters came and got quite a bit of shopping done. Our adopted creative director, Sharon, joined us that day and brought several logo ideas. They were all so good! We held and impromptu election of the three finalists and Sharon continued to give us her generous time and talent to refine the logo.
The second highlight of the month was our participation at the Thurman Loop Oktoberfest, a fun, family-friendly neighborhood event.
We start the month by unveiling our logo! A million thanks to our talented friend and supporter, Sharon Gutowski. The logo allows us to create several marketing printed materials and becomes the iconic image for all our branding efforts.
This milestone is followed by another. We partnered with our neighborhood school, St. Margaret of Scotland, and organize what we hope would be the first of many Fundraiser Fair Trade Sale events. Zee Bee Market gladly donated 15% of the proceeds to this wonderful parish school. We welcomed a newest supplier, Minga Fair Trade Imports, this month and had our first sale event east of the Mississippi! We brought our Fair Trade and sustainably produced gifts to the Green Gift Bazaar in Alton, IL. A wonderfully run event that we’d love to go back to every year.
By now, a few people in different parts of the country have found us through Google searches or via social media sites and we begin shipping our first orders. In case you are wondering about our website, let me tell you that I had been researching many options for quite a while. A web developer friend recommends I look into Shopify.com. This turns out to be the right decision for an ecommerce site. After many late nights and weekends (and with much help from friends), I manage to decipher the complicated codes and create our website! People say timing is everything. www.zeebeemarket.com goes live on Friday, November 23 (so called Black Friday) and the day before Small Business Saturday. We are thrilled!
Sharon G works on our website graphic that incorporates what we are all about. Within a few days we start receiving orders! This is particularly great news because for someone like me who knows little about HTML or websites, this tells me I did not break the system!
We had a few other events this month just before the holidays. The highlight for us was the purchase of a laptop (a pretty grown-up thing to do, don’t you think?)
I want to take this opportunity to thank many people who have made 2012 such a successful year. I need to start by thanking my wife and daughters for their support and for putting up with me. I want to thank those who have graciously donated their time and talent to Zee Bee Market (you know who you are!) I am blessed to have such friends who share their experiences and successes so we can succeed as well. Finally I want to say THANK YOU to all our customers who have chosen Fair Trade and in doing so are making a difference in the lives of the producers who are lifting themselves and their families out of poverty through their talent and hard work.