Leader of the Year: Bee Naturals interview

Paul Vagg, owner of Bee Naturals, won the Leader of the Year at the British Small Business Awards, tells us what winning the award means to him.

Bee Naturals is the winner of the the Leader of the Year category at the British Small Business Awards.

Bee Naturals offers 100 per cent Natural Beeswax products that effectively restores, protects and nourishes all around the home.

Beekeeper Paul Vagg is a standout winner in the Leader of the Year category; an inspiring sole trader with a unique offering and community development potential that convinced the judges.

What was your inspiration for starting Bee Naturals?

I wanted to show that disabled people could be beekeepers; I had been told that I couldn’t become a beekeeper and I wanted to prove them wrong. I work with other disabled beekeepers as well as community projects and I’ve been slowly building my name out there and the business has come. I’ve worked really hard.

What was difficult for you when you started out?

Finance was difficult because nobody wanted to give funding to a disabled person. I approached the banks and told them all about my handmade products, using wax from the hives and such. The first thing they said to me was ‘How are you going to manage that? You’re disabled?’ But the way I managed to overcome that was by hiring two students from the London Beekeepers’ Association (LBKA); I have two apprentices a year who I teach beekeeping skills and in return they do my beekeeping for me. The keeping aspect isn’t just about having a hive and keeping some bees in there to collect honey once a year; there is a lot more to it.

Were there any difficulties taking on apprentices early on?

A few. My main difficulties were with the lifting, so to be able to get somebody to do the lifting, regardless of whether they understand why they are doing that lifting, made it easy for me.

What milestones have you achieved so far?

After two years of beekeeping I was on the committee for the London Beekeeping Association and last year I was named the London Beekeeper of the Year at the London Honey show. This year, I won it again and I am the only person to have won it twice in its history, let alone two years on the trot! I also won Best Honey which was quite a big thing for me. Finally, I passed my beekeeping exams which was a big deal.

What are beekeeping exams?

When you first start, in order to get your insurance and license, you have to have a minimum qualification known as Bee Basics. You study for a year and then its one practical exam which takes place at a training apiary under an examiner from the British Beekeeping Association. You have to do all the basics of running a hive and tell them what you see and how to run everything, how to spot and prevent disease and all the things that you should know at that level. When you pass you can keep bees and get the relevant insurances. I got £10 million of liability and third party insurance after I passed.

What are the dangers of beekeeping?

I know beekeepers who have died, I know beekeepers who are anaphylactic, yet still choose to be beekeepers. I know someone who didn’t know they were anaphylactic and died. I also know of a keeper who died of a mass attack, when a large number of bees attacked him. I have personally been mass attacked but fortunately I was close to home when it happened so I could react and get indoors very quickly.

Beekeeping can be a dangerous job. It shouldn’t be when done properly but sometimes you are swarm collecting in dangerous areas and it can be dangerous. You can avoid danger by just having a bit of common sense and managing your hive effectively, placing you bees and management are a big aspect of risk aversion.

Whats next for Bee Naturals?

I have just done a deal with a cosmetics company that has the same ethos as me to white label cosmetic products in the new year. I am also launching a new beeswax candles range which is exciting.

I have managed to collect a really good following online, I have 4,000 twitter followers and 1,400 Facebook followers so I can get information about new products to customers quickly and get things moving quickly. Certainly next year I am looking to expand quite a lot.

How has the success of Bee Natural affected you personally?

Well, I drive a nicer car! It has affected me. Before, like most people, you work very hard for very little income. Now I work for myself and the hard work I put in before allows me to take what I deserve now. I can get the reward I deserve and I earn more than I did working for someone else, so it can’t all be bad!

Is there anything you would go back and change in the process so far?

There are a few things. I wouldn’t step on other beekeepers toes, especially if they are bigger than me, because that cost me quite a bit of business.

I also wouldn’t bite off more than I could chew early on. When I first started, I was elated to get a deal with six shops but I was too small on my own to manage it. I had all the goods and produce but getting it packaged and labelled all by myself, especially with short term deadlines it was really hard for me. So when you start out, start out small and manageable, you can certainly increase if you feel you can take it but I wouldn’t move at the pace I did if I could change it.

Is there a mantra that you have lived by?

Yes: Don’t tell me I can’t do something. If you tell me that, I will make a point of going out and proving you wrong and I think a lot of businesses can learn from that.

Congratulations to Bee Naturals and Paul Vagg on winning Leader of the Year, we look forward to seeing further success from the company in future.

Further reading on the British Small Business Awards

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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