Karl Alexander

Marketing Director, Crown Bees

Supernova Award Category: 

Digital Marketing and Sales Effectiveness

The Organization: 

Crown Bees is an online business and store with a comprehensive offering of supplies, equipment & house kits for mason and leafcutter bees. We provide educational resources to help our customers succeed because we know that for every successful bee house, food production is impacted on a larger scale. This was our owner's dream for the founding of Crown Bees, to build a future where food production naturally kept up with need and population growth. This passion is compounded with the current honeybee collapse and a need to diversify pollination, plus people now see the positive impact they can have on the environment from their backyard, helping the neighborhood and more. Our founder created this industry & we are recognized as leaders in the space, especially in education.

The Problem: 

Just over a year ago, our business practices were disorganized—we used G-Suite and had everything in huge spreadsheets shared between teams, which meant our customer service and sales both struggled. With multiple versions of each spreadsheet, not only did we not know who was working on which spreadsheet, but we didn't know if the data had been updated or updated correctly.When dealing with live animals, accountability, timeliness, and accurate data are crucial.

Bees need to be shipped to the right place at the right time and it was difficult for us to track things from initial order to fulfillment. Our shipping and fulfillment connections also weren't working very well so we needed a unified business platform where everyone could find sales orders, inventory, etc.

While putting more advanced technology into place made a huge difference here, COVID and remote work brought new challenges. Specifically, how we would communicate with our customers while most of our team worked from home. We are a small business that is used to helping our customers in person while sharing our passion, so we needed an online replacement that would still be personal.

We recognized that we had really reached the ceiling of our small business model when we realized we had more than 30,000 customers and were still growing rapidly. We knew we needed to upscale to something that was really well integrated.

The Solution: 

I started looking for tools that integrated and didn't think I'd find them all in one place until I found integrations for Zoho Projects. When I saw all the other tools from Zoho and how easy integration was, I was sold and it only took a month to implement. We integrated Magento for our online store with Zoho CRM, letting our customer service see everything—orders, support tickets, and more—without a major look-up. Zoho Campaigns, MarketingHub, Desk, and CRM all work together to give staff visibility into customer accounts, helping us take better care of them and view customer trends as a whole. With COVID, we had to pivot our customer communication strategies completely. We decided to offer a live webinar. Zoho Desk reports showed our most common customer questions to tackle and we knew we wanted to provide helpful information about bees in general. We promoted the webinar with Zoho One and it filled up in 48 hours. 

The Results: 

With Zoho, we can communicate with different segments of our customers and quantify sales generated per email blast, typically seeing a 25% increase in traffic and 20% increase in sales. Our Zoho Analytics dashboards give us company score cards and budget reports, pulling data from across departments and producing time-saving insight. Our efficiency has drastically increased since everything is now automated and unified, creating an incredible difference and streamlined company processes. Our marketing team has saved 25% of our weekly work time by using our new programs and processes. Before January, we were always struggling to meet deadlines, now we are scheduling posts and campaigns weeks in advance. It used to take an hour to prepare reports or proposals for marketing campaigns and now because we have so much integrated and automated, it takes about 15 minutes to get what I need. Previously, we didn't have any organization in terms of roles or timing for a project. With Zoho Projects, the communication improved substantially since it's so easy to use. We can now quickly communicate with each other using Zoho Cliq while looking at Projects. Another big change we had to overcome is our communication with our customers. With Zoho Desk and CRM integrated, we're now able to respond back to our customers on time and personally, instead of having a pile of emails. This has changed the way people react to us and work with our company.


We can definitely quantify that our sales are way better than last year, with YOY growth of 22%,and we are reaching more people more effectively with Zoho Campaigns. Our profit margins started going up as soon as we started to fine tune our process, allowing us to focus on customer service which has in turn helped our sales. 
Revenue for this June is up 175% from last year, before we did our major technology overhaul. Number of bees shipped this June is up 175% from last year, which means that every day for the month of July, there are 17,940,000 more blooms being visited across the US by our leafcutter bees versus last year (based on 2,000 blooms/bee/day estimate). After each Zoho Meeting webinar, we had approximately 20% increase in sales over the four days following the event. We also typically see a 25% increase in traffic the day of and the day after our webinars. 3 million plus flowers visited per day making a tremendous impact on pollination and flowers, as well as food production.

Customer stats: Stony Creek Farm used our leafcutter bees and reported: Approximately 3x pollination rate . Increased sales by 35%. 

Giving Garden used solitary bees for pollination and reported: 2x production to 30,000 lb food

Distributed to over 20 food banks. Number of orders per day last year (high time of year) was around 300 and this year was around 1000 orders per day (during high time) - a 233% increase YOY.

The Technology: 

I started using Zoho Projects a couple years ago and we moved to Zoho One in July of 2019. Within Zoho One, we use 16 applications - we now use Campaigns, CRM (which we have integrated with Magento), Desk, Analytics, and MarketingHub heavily to automate our marketing, increase sales, and enhance customer care. We're also using Cliq, WorkDrive, Forms, SalesIQ, Social, Vault, Sheet, Writer, Show, Books, and Invoice.

Disruptive Factor: 

Dave Hunter, our founder, had a dream ten years ago to help grow more food, and we're doing that through our work, specifically with community gardens and working with the USDA on invasive species alerts. What is so amazing to me is that two years ago, no one had any idea what a mason bee was—and now, with the problems of honey bees, farming industries are looking to use our mason and leafcutter bees for the almond industry of California and the blueberry industry of Canada, and much more. This little dream that Dave had so long ago is now, because he's fostered and created this industry, growing and we have bee producers all over the country growing incredible amounts of food and could save entire crops from the honeybee collapse going on right now. 

We're also expanding the wholesale section of our website which has nearly doubled in sales. Now we're focusing on creating subscription models for our bees to where customers can rent bees for various geographic locations. This will be a major shift in the North American bee industry and will all go through Zoho apps. Though many people don't know it, Crown Bees has played a huge part in saving agriculture in North America. It also means we're helping local ecology with the pollination bees bring, and lifting the weight from the honeybee community so they can recover. 

Shining Moment: 

We learned about a local community rooftop garden in Seattle & decided to donate bees because they were having trouble with food production. After that donation, the garden saw production grow rapidly to the point where they had plenty for their community & they were able to donate 2K lbs of food to homeless shelters. This community garden also partnered with local schools to give kids a chance to learn how to garden +take food home to their families.

About Crown Bees

Crown Bees has been cultivating the solitary bee industry for more than 10 years. Through constant collaboration with scientists and industry leaders, we have set the standard for best management practices to raise solitary hole-nesting bees. Our goal is to improve bee health and we adjust our products and services with the most current data and research on a regular basis.