Jodie Kieliszewski and her family were facing hard times. Luckily, a little side hobby they started proved to be a very nice business. Now her whole family has jumped on board, creating great products for their clients using their bees. Find out how she got started and how Etsy proved to be a valuable tool for her to get her marketing out there to the world.
Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:05] Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the Call of Leadership podcast where we interview people from our Michigan community who answered the call of leadership. We’ll hear their powerful stories and get their advice. Today I’m speaking with the founder of Bee Lovely Botanicals, a business that makes natural products using our friend the little bee.
[00:00:25] They’re also members of the indie business network. Please welcome to the show, this entrepreneur, this philanthropist, and this bee mogul Jodie Kieliszewski. Jodi, how are you?
[00:00:37] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:00:37] I’m doing well. How are you doing, cliff?
[00:00:39] Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:39] I’m doing well. Thank you for asking. Thank you for being on the show today.
[00:00:42] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:00:42] No, thanks for having us.
[00:00:44]Cliff Duvernois: [00:00:44] So why don’t you tell us a little bit about where you’re from.
[00:00:47]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:00:47] I’m from Sebewaing. I grew up just outside of Sebewaing, my parents owned a small business. I guess it kind of runs in my blood and I actually live probably half a mile away from where I grew up. So in all my travels, I ended up pretty much where I started.
[00:01:04] Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:04] Okay, great. And you went, you also went to high school there.
[00:01:07] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:01:07] Yup. I went to USA high school, graduated in 96.
[00:01:12] Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:12] Excellent. And where did you decide to go to college.
[00:01:15] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:01:15] I went to Lake Superior State University in Saulte Saint Marie. I got a degree in exercise science with an emphasis on athletic training.
[00:01:26]Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:26] why did you decide to pursue that degree?
[00:01:29] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:01:29] I have always been, I’d love playing sports when I was in high school and I’ve always been really. Impressed with the body’s ability to heal itself, given the proper amount of time and given the right nutrients. You know the right exercises, the right stretches. It’s amazing what the body can do to fix itself.
[00:01:50] Cliff Duvernois: [00:01:50] I know that it seems like just based on some of the preliminary conversations that we had, that you’ve also had an interest in natural products for health. Where did this interest come from?
[00:02:02] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:02:02] Oh. Probably about a decade ago. I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. And when, when that happened, we just started taking a really hard look at everything that we were eating, all of the ingredients that were in our food. And that just kind of naturally progressed to, the ingredients that were in our products.
[00:02:22] And we also, when we started beekeeping, , we read so much about bees before we started, and when we started, we did everything by the book. At that time it was, just kind of generally accepted that you treated with antibiotics and you treated with these antifungals and these white strips every year.
[00:02:42] And we started looking at the ingredients that were in those treatments. I remember one day being out in the backyard. And there was this beautiful frame of honey and there, honey, right out of the hive tastes amazing. Like there’s nothing like honey, right? Fresh from the hive. And we had this beautiful frame and I took my finger and kind of dug into the wax and I wanted to taste the honey.
[00:03:05] And I realized that this frame was. A deep frame where the bees live and it had been on when the treatments were on and that that honey might not be safe for people to consume. And that just really made us start thinking about the way that we were treating our bees. And I mean it, it just kind of, all of these things were happening around the same time.
[00:03:26] And it just kinda snowballed into this really, really introspective look at what we were doing. The way that we were treating our bodies, the way that we were eating, the way that we were treating the bees. So that’s kind of how all of that came to be.
[00:03:41] Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:41] Yeah, and it’s the products that you’re, that you consume. It’s the products that you’re putting on your body every day. That has a big impact on that.
[00:03:48] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:03:48] Right, right.
[00:03:50] Cliff Duvernois: [00:03:50] I remember it was a handful of years ago when I went to the doctor, my blood results came back from my physical and it seemed like a lot of my numbers were really screwed up. And when I started taking a look at, , researching, why my numbers were so funky. I was amazed at just how many products that I would either eat or like the, the type of deodorant I was using, or even the type of shampoo.
[00:04:11]the chemicals in there just have an adverse reaction on the body. So I was, became very interested in that myself.
[00:04:19] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:04:19] Right? . A small amount might be okay, but when you start looking, like you said, across everything, it’s a lot more than what you would realize.
[00:04:27]Cliff Duvernois: [00:04:27] Yeah, you’re absolutely right. And I know that you were just talking about bees. When did you, when did you first become intrigued by bees and what they can do.
[00:04:37]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:04:37] in 2007, we had a tree. The bottom of it was kind of rotten in the front yard, and some bees came and they had made a hive in that rotten stump, and it was, it was right next to the ground and we could go sit out there. It was a really gentle hive and we could just sit out there. I mean, we used, that was our entertainment.
[00:04:56] We just go sit and watch the bees. You’d see them fly in with, they have, pollen sacks on their back legs and you can just see, it’s kind of funny, you know, some bees come back and their pollen sacks just have a tiny little bit. And then other ones, it looks like they’re so loaded that, you know, their pollen sacks are about to burst.
[00:05:11] And the more that we watched them, it was, we were just. Really amazed. and that’s kind of what started our interest in bees. That summer I was pregnant with my second son and I had him in the fall. And while I was home with the baby, I was just started reading books about bees. And the more that we read, the more interested we became.
[00:05:30] So then the following spring, we got our first packages.
[00:05:33]Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:33] Now when you’re talking about we, you’re talking about you and your husband, correct?
[00:05:37] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:05:37] Yes. Yup.
[00:05:38] Yeah. And what does he do.
[00:05:40] he works for our business. He was teacher back at that time, he was the ag science teacher at the local high school. he had this kind of interest in science and farming and in biology as well .
[00:05:53] Cliff Duvernois: [00:05:53] So I know you said before that you were doing this research and the bees and, and you decided to go ahead and I think you actually said, get your first “box”. Did you actually order bee’s like through the mail, like through UPS or something?
[00:06:07] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:06:07] Yeah. you can order bees there. There are different ways to start a hive. one of the probably easiest ways to start is to get a package and there are bee suppliers down in Georgia and Florida, and they divide their hives up. each package has a little. Plywood box was screened on the side, and it comes with a queen and three pounds of bees, and they send those through the mail.
[00:06:30] They send them UPS, they, you know, they get delivered to your house and you just kind of dump them in the hive. And then you started.
[00:06:39] Cliff Duvernois: [00:06:39] I have to ask, do you think the UPS driver knows that he’s got a box full of bees in his truck?
[00:06:44] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:06:44] yeah. Yes they do. They don’t want us in the post office will call and let you know if your bees are in, you can come pick them up. Even even early in the morning. They, they will call and let you know your bees are there, which is good cause we always want to pick them up as soon as we could too. So.
[00:07:00] Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:00] No, I, I remember back in college, my parents decided to start raising chickens on the farm, and I guess I didn’t know this before, but when chicks hatched, they can live two or three days without any food or water. So my dad went through a catalog and ordered a bunch of them, and it was Sunday morning.
[00:07:16] I had just come home from college. And the phone rang and it was the post office and you could hear all the cheap, cheap, cheap in the background. And the postmaster was like, Hey, you don’t have to wait until tomorrow to come pick up your package. So
[00:07:28] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:07:28] Yeah,
[00:07:29] Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:29] yeah, my dad was up there first thing Sunday morning to get the package.
[00:07:32] I didn’t know that the, the post office was open on Sundays, but I guess they are
[00:07:35] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:07:35] they are for chickens and bees.
[00:07:39] Cliff Duvernois: [00:07:39] Excellent. you’ve ordered your bees, they showed up, compliments a ups. You know, you kind of dumped them into hive and with, at what point in time did you start looking at bees and thinking, for their honey, the, the honeycomb, whatever else that they make that, that perhaps this was something that you could start as like a side business or a product to sell.
[00:08:04]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:08:04] when you start learning about bees, you inevitably come up, come upon all of this information about how great bees wax is for your skin and how good honey is for your skin and all of the different ingredients that are in a beehive and different ways that you can use them. So we had been making honey soap and doing like bees wax lip balms and lotions and things.
[00:08:26] Just out of curiosity, kind of as a hobby. after we got our bees, you know, on that first year, we, we got some wax and a little bit of honey. So we started trying out different recipes, in, I believe it was 2008, my husband got laid off teaching and he was really fortunate. He found another job, but it came with a serious pay cut.
[00:08:48] So, you know, I, in 2009, I had had my second or my third son. So here I was with these little boys. I wanted to be able to stay at home, and be a stay at home mom for them. But our budget was getting tighter and tighter. And here we had this honey soap and we had extra honey and beeswax lip balms. We thought, well, we might as well try the farmer’s market and see how that goes.
[00:09:11] So that was kind of where it all started.
[00:09:15] Cliff Duvernois: [00:09:15] And with the farmer’s market because I know that there’s, there’s all different kinds of of products that you can take and sell there. I’ve, I’ve seen, I think virtually everything that can be sold at a farmer’s market, but you decided to focus primarily on. , the skincare products or , the , natural creams, lotions to sell.
[00:09:35] Why did you focus on that?
[00:09:37]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:09:37] when we first started, we weren’t necessarily focused on that. We had, we did. I’m like, honey, cinnamon raisin bonds with real butter. And we had honey wheat bread and we had honey granola and every, I mean, we had every possible thing you could make with honey or bees wax, something from the beehive. We took it to the farmer’s market.
[00:09:58]we used to stay up until two or three in the morning, baking fresh bread and then taking it to the farmer’s market. But as we gained a little bit more experience, you start to see bread has a definite shelf life. And stand up, you know, to make bread so that it was fresh for the market and then you go and you don’t sell it all it, it was just not as good of a business plan for us.
[00:10:21] Where as with the skincare products, you have a longer shelf life. You don’t have to make them fresh that morning, for the market. So it worked out better for us
[00:10:32]Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:32] Yeah. Because every loaf of bread that you make and you don’t sell, you’re basically throwing money away.
[00:10:37] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:10:37] right. Yup. And I mean it works out really good for the neighborhood cause we’d come home from the farmer’s market and have the stuff that wouldn’t keep and we’d know give it away to the neighbors.
[00:10:50] Cliff Duvernois: [00:10:50] Oh, that’s great. That’s great. And I know one of the products that we were talking about, and I actually did some research on this, but. One of the products that bees produce is almost something that’s extremely relevant today. We’re still in the middle of this lockdown as of this recording. What, what is this propolis.
[00:11:09] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:11:09] So propolis is a resin that they collect resin from plants and trees and they bring it back to their hive and they mix it with some of their enzymes and they use it to seal their hive. Its antibacterial, it’s antifungal, it’s antiviral. Studies have shown that it helps to heal cavities. That’s if, if anybody listening is bored and they want to look some stuff up, just Google propolis because it is just amazing the research that they’re doing, the things that they’re finding out, the benefits of propolis, but the bees use it in their hive.
[00:11:43]They, they actually could seal like an intruder, like if a mouse or something large got in the hive and they’ll, they’ll kill it, but they can’t drag it out because it’s so big. They’ll actually entomb and propolis and this stuff will keep it from rotting and it will keep infection from being in the hive because it’s so antibacterial and antifungal.
[00:12:04]Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:04] probably makes for a really good a hand sanitizer.
[00:12:07] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:12:07] It is antibacterial and antifungal. So it’s like you said, it’s very relevant right now. And we do make some soaps with, with propolis in it too.
[00:12:16]Cliff Duvernois: [00:12:16] That’s awesome. Now you’ve been selling your products at the farmer’s market. At some point in time, you decided to try Etsy as a platform to be able to sell your products. Why did you choose Etsy?
[00:12:30] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:12:30] Etsy is a really low risk, way to get started online. It’s a great way to start learning about product photography, learning about SEO, because there’s such a very small investment for you. So you can experiment with all kinds of things. And it’s not. It’s not a huge risk. I think it’s, it’s only 20 cents to list.
[00:12:54]when we started, it was 20 cents a listing and they took 3% of your sales. So that’s a very low barrier to entry, to the, to an online space.
[00:13:04]Cliff Duvernois: [00:13:04] And when you put your first, well, he talked to us about the first product that you, that you chose to sell on Etsy.
[00:13:11]Talk to us about the first product that you chose to put on Etsy.
[00:13:16] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:13:16] I believe the first product that we chose to sell on Etsy was actually our lip balms, but the first product that really. Took off for us was our infused honey gift set. it was just kind of a fluke. We had been making these infused honeys, which is our raw honey, and we cook it over low temperatures with different herbs and spices.
[00:13:37] We don’t use any extracts. We use like whole lavender blood, lavender bud. We zest lemons, oranges. We use ginger root. And then we also use organic Madagascar vanilla beans. So we had these four flavors of infused honey, and I had been making gift boxes, and I just coincidentally, it was like, Oh look, the four honeys fit in this gift box just perfectly.
[00:14:02] So I took a picture of it and put it up on Etsy, and I think that was, maybe it was at Christmas of 2012. But w I just put it up there kind of on a fluke and it, it sold through so many times. We ended up having to order more jars twice that year than what we had thought we would have to have.
[00:14:21]Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:21] with this product taking off, was this the first time that you ever thought that maybe this could be a viable business for you?
[00:14:28] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:14:28] That that was definitely kind of an eyeopener for us, that, people really wanted our product, they appreciated the quality of our product and that it could be something that could make enough money to support our family. Before that, we had been more, this was something that I would do in my part time as a mom. We would do markets and that would just be kind of how we handle this and we didn’t really expect it to grow into.
[00:14:54] The business that it is today,
[00:14:56]Cliff Duvernois: [00:14:56] when you’re talking about getting orders coming in, was it just orders that are just locally here to Michigan, or was it something across the U S? Have you gotten any international orders?
[00:15:05] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:15:05] We’ve shipped internationally. pretty much all of our orders are in the U S we have sent packages to Canada, France, Germany, Australia. Guam. We send a few things to Guam every once in a while, so we do some international shipping, but most of our orders are in the United States. we do really well in California, Texas, New York.
[00:15:26]of course, Michigan. we have a lot of customers in Pennsylvania. We have shipped to all 50 States.
[00:15:31]Cliff Duvernois: [00:15:31] Oh, that’s excellent. Now I do know that as far as Etsy goes, people have the ability on that platform to be able to review you. And you talked a little bit before about customer service. You almost have 3,500, four and five star reviews for that many people. How do you keep the level of customer service so high to make it that many people so happy
[00:15:59] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:15:59] well, as I mentioned earlier, my parents owned their own business and I grew up with a work ethic. And, The, the idea that you needed to have a good reputation in business and we follow through, you know, we work really hard for our money and we expect that all of our customers have worked really hard for the money that they spent with us and we appreciate their business and we want to make sure that they are pleased with our products.
[00:16:24] So we do, we do everything that we can do to make sure that our products are really high quality and that our customers are happy with what they get.
[00:16:33]Cliff Duvernois: [00:16:33] And speaking of which, have you ever had a customer reach out, like perhaps send you an email or something and ask for some kind of a, a special request or something for you to fulfill.
[00:16:44] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:16:44] Oh, we get that all the time. And we love working with people, you know, and we do wedding favors and shower favors, and we like working with people for special events. We just got a message through Etsy a couple of days ago, a woman, . the woman lives in Hawaii and her mom is in Oregon and her mom was just diagnosed with cancer and obviously she can’t be there, but she wanted to send a care package and she didn’t know with all the treatments that our mom was going through, whether she would like scented products or unscented products.
[00:17:16] So we went through and made up a special batch of some of her mom’s favorite products that are unscented and then sent the scented ones as well. so that depending on how her mom was feeling, she would have something that, might smell nice and, and uplift her a little bit, or maybe was unscented if she couldn’t tolerate the smell.
[00:17:34]we’re really blessed to be able to be a part of some of life’s big events with our business.
[00:17:42] Cliff Duvernois: [00:17:42] Sure. And on the topic of big events, cause I know that it, and prior to prior to me hitting the record button, you were fortunate enough early on in your business to make it into some fairly, I want to say prestigious craft shows. Within Michigan. And how has this really like impacted your business as far as getting out there and meeting customers and potential customers face to face.
[00:18:09] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:18:09] There really is no substitute for talking to someone face to face and being able to see and smell and touch products. like you said, we were really fortunate early on, to be juried into the saline craft show that’s down by Ann Arbor and the woman that runs this craft show is just amazing. She’s kind of a tough cookie, and she’s got her rules and everything runs like clockwork with her.
[00:18:33] But she is such a good promoter and she has such a faithful following of customers. And when you get in there and you start to meet these customers, it’s like you become friends with them. You know, we keep in touch with a lot of the people that we’ve met. Through. We’ve been to crafts shows all over the Midwest, and like I said, we just really feel blessed to be able to be a part of, of their life.
[00:18:58] You know, that they, that they would spend their money with us.
[00:19:00]Cliff Duvernois: [00:19:00] That’s excellent. And you also too scored are really lucky. Break. And I want to ask this question, but I want, I want to define. The first, the term first for anybody in the audience who, who might be listening. So I’m going to ask you about influencer marketing, and for those of my audience that do not know what influencer marketing is.
[00:19:21] Yeah. On these different channels, blogging, Instagram, Facebook, you’ll have people who have built up a huge following of, and if you can get their product well, if they can talk about your product on their show. Then that’s called influencer marketing. They let these people on Instagram who have, a million followers.
[00:19:39] If you can get your candy bar in front of that influencer marketer and they talk about it on Instagram or show a picture of it on Instagram, it can have a definite impact on your business. Jodie, with you, you lucked out in the fact that you actually. gotten in contact with a female blogger who had a huge following online.
[00:19:58] She also wrote for country living magazine. first off, how did you get the idea to, to reach out to her, to get her to talk about your products?
[00:20:05] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:20:06] I, I was actually just searching for people that I thought would be a good fit, whose audience would be similar to the audience that, we were looking to gain. At that point, we didn’t really have much of an audience. and I reached out to this blogger. She did a lot of home remodeling and there was always a lot of pictures of her kids and she was very family oriented and like to include her family, which Bee Lovely.
[00:20:31] Botanicals is a family business. It’s my husband and me and my three sons and we all work together. In the BR, right through production, you know, to the craft shows, to everything that we do online. My son is actually learning graphic design and photography and helping out with some of that now. So her, her audience, I thought would be a really good fit.
[00:20:52] And I just reached out and I was very honest. I didn’t sugar coat anything. I said, we’ve started this business and. We’re just starting our website. I kind of feel like I’m sending my little business off to kindergarten . and I’m kind of nervous about all of this and I wondered if you would be interested in working with us.
[00:21:10] And she was just really sweet and she helped us launch a giveaway, which, which put our website on the map. And we actually have customers from that giveaway that was in 2011 that are still ordering through our website today.
[00:21:23]Cliff Duvernois: [00:21:23] 2011 so you’ve, you’ve had repeat customers now for over eight years. Oh, that’s totally great. That’s totally awesome. Now, I know that, over the years, changed it is morphed it as grown. They, they have more ways to be able to generate money from their end. If you had to do it all over again, knowing what you know now, would you still use Etsy to either test a product or even launch a business.
[00:21:53]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:21:53] Etsy is a really good platform for starting out and it’s, it’s definitely. A good platform. I mean, there are, there are customers on Etsy that you won’t reach anywhere else in business. It’s not smart to put all of your eggs in one basket ever. So I wouldn’t say, I wouldn’t say that it’s like a website versus Etsy type of thing.
[00:22:14] I would say have as many streams of revenue coming into your business as you can manage. Don’t ever just put all your eggs in one basket.
[00:22:21]Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:21] So you’re selling product through Etsy, but also through your website.
[00:22:27] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:22:27] correct
[00:22:28]Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:28] Now, how much of your business would you say is coming through your website versus through Etsy?
[00:22:33]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:22:33] I would say probably about 75% through the website and 25% through Etsy.
[00:22:41] Cliff Duvernois: [00:22:41] Okay. And that’s because you are, cause the customers you are getting through Etsy, are you trying to now drive them through your website and order through them
[00:22:50]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:22:50] no. Etsy, Etsy, customers like Etsy as a platform. we don’t, we don’t, generally, through our social media and our email marketing and our ads, we don’t usually funnel customers through Etsy just because. Etsy, you can buy ads through Etsy and they’ll show competitors listings right under yours. so it wouldn’t make sense financially to spend a lot of money to get a customer to Etsy, only to have them fall off at the very end of the cycle.
[00:23:23]Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:23] And if I heard correctly there, it’s one of the things that Etsy implemented where you’re actually your competitors, right. Can, can advertise if somebody is looking for your specific product. Is that right?
[00:23:36] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:23:36] Right? They show, when you look at a listing on Etsy, if you scroll to the bottom, it’ll say like other products you might like, and those are ads paid for by someone. And that’s the, the algorithm kind of knows what the person is looking for, so it’ll show your competitors right under your listing.
[00:23:53]Cliff Duvernois: [00:23:53] Interesting. Okay. Is there any other platforms that you use to sell your product.
[00:23:59] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:23:59] We do pretty much everything, either through Etsy, through our website or in person. We were approved for fulfilled by Amazon, but I didn’t, I didn’t feel like that was a good fit for us at the time.
[00:24:12]Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:12] Oh, interesting. Cause I know a lot of people that would gladly want to sell product through Amazon. Why did you think that was not a good fit?
[00:24:21] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:24:21] from my research, it, it’s a lot of, a lot of like bookkeeping, a lot of making sure that everything is adding up properly. from, from what I’ve heard with other people in my industry that are on fulfilled by Amazon, it can be really profitable. But you have to really watch what’s going on and the fees that are coming out.
[00:24:43]and by the time you pay for all of the fees and everything, it’s, I mean, the Amazon, the, the cost involved with that is a big chunk of the cost of the product. So I didn’t feel like, for us, it would be a good fit at the time.
[00:24:59]Cliff Duvernois: [00:24:59] I know that if you were to have the fulfilled by Amazon. And of course then that makes you eligible for Amazon prime. But at the same point in time, you have to really watch to make sure that they have enough inventory to be able to fulfill those orders. And if they don’t, if they run out of stock for a particular item or something, then they can actually, temporarily remove your listing from, the search results.
[00:25:23] Cause Amazon wants people to buy. And if they can’t buy your product, they’re going to send them someplace
[00:25:27] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:25:27] Right.
[00:25:28]Cliff Duvernois: [00:25:28] for anyone in our audience who might be interested in either, connecting with you, following your adventures online, or maybe they just like to come to your website and to check out what it is that you have to offer, what’s the best way for them to do that?
[00:25:41]Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:25:41] Our website is BeeLovelyBotanicals.com and it’s be like honeybee with two E’s. So it’s BEE Lovely Botanicals.com and my email is Jodie, J, O, D, I, E, at, Bee, lovely botanicals.com. And we’re on Facebook and Instagram. Bee Lovely Botanicals.
[00:26:01]Cliff Duvernois: [00:26:01] Excellent, and for our audience, we will have all of those links in the show notes down below. Jodi. Thank you so much for being on the show today. Really appreciate it.
[00:26:11] Jodie Kieliszewski: [00:26:11] Well, thank you for inviting us.