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An Organic Approach to Business Growth

Article on Andrew Wingrove & Bee By The Sea from Arlene Dickinson’s YouInc. Website from April 2014

Money doesn’t grow on trees. But raw materials that can be converted into saleable goods do. The trick is being astute enough to connect the dots from branch, to production line, to storefront, and being entrepreneurial enough to make the whole thing fly. Andrew Wingrove is precisely that guy. The 52-year-old former energy consultant first learned about sea buckthorn (hippophae rhamnoides to keeners) through his business travels in Asia. The plant’s edible berries – which boast heaps of naturally occurring vitamin C, E, antioxidants and other goodies – are healing, moisturizing marvels when used on skin. Wingrove began growing the stuff at his Sundridge, Ontario farm, and adding it to honey-based creams. By 2008, Wingrove – burned out by his consulting gig and possessing an original new product – launched Bee by the Sea skin care line from his Barrie, Ontario home. Today, Wingrove’s soaps and creams are sold in 500 North American locations; revenue has doubled in the past two years (it’s expected to reach $700,000 by May’s fiscal year-end) and he’s scouting relocation properties. The beauty biz may be as cutthroat as the energy biz, but Wingrove allows that working in the latter armed him perfectly for his role as Canada’s pioneering sea buckthorn maven.

Starting the Business

“The beginning was kind of scary. I had a job that paid me six figures and I was travelling all over the place but I just didn’t like it anymore. I have three kids. Starting a business had always been a burning thing with me – and I was fascinated with sea buckthorn – so it kind of made sense for me to try and do something with it. ”

The Toughest Thing

“The toughest thing about launching was making a viable business from scratch without any credibility. The first store that carried my products was Nature’s Emporium in Newmarket. I remember walking in there with one jar of body cream – which is all I had – and I said, ‘Would you guys be interested in carrying my product?’ I knew nothing about wholesale or sales or anything. The Walmarts and Loblaws wouldn’t even look at me coming in the door with one product. You have to build your brand and build it slowly. That’s the hardest lesson, and that’s a lot of work to do.”

Choosing your Market

“Today, we are carried exclusively through small independent retailers. They would drop us like a rock if we popped up in big box stores. Those independents are looking for specialized products that consumers can’t find everywhere. So at some point you have to make your choice – small independent or big box. I don’t think you can have both. When the product is in an independently owned store you have people genuinely interested in selling it. At Shoppers Drug Mart, it’s going to just sit on a shelf. Of course, I didn’t know any of this when I started (laughs). It was definitely trial and error.”

Knowing what Works

“One thing you get working with a large company and consulting with other companies is a good level of confidence in your own abilities. I was used to going into companies I knew nothing about and making them more efficient and profitable. I was able to dissect what made them good or bad. And that learning enables you to start your own business and make it work. You’re not afraid because you know what works and what doesn’t. I mean, you don’t know everything but you figure it out. And we’ve been on a nice, steady growth curve from the beginning.”

Intangibles Count Too

“This skin care business is very competitive and it requires tremendously hard work, especially in the U.S., but we’ve had some lucky breaks. For instance, Dr. Oz is aware of sea buckthorn and has promoted it, which has had great trickle-down effect for us. And I have rock stars on my staff. I like this a lot more than what I was doing before. I get to control my own destiny. And we have a product that works.”

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