Crown Bees Fosters a Buzzing Industry in a Remote Economy with Zoho One

Retail and e-commerce business focused on increasing food production and bee health pivots to remote economy with onset of COVID-19 and, thanks to their strong technology plaform of Zoho One, sees increased sales, customer satisfaction, and company-wide productivity.

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The Company

Crown Bees is an online business and store with a comprehensive offering of supplies, equipment, and house kits for mason and leafcutter bees. They have been cultivating the solitary bee industry for more than 10 years and also provide educational resources to help their customers succeed because they know that for every successful bee house, food production is impacted on a larger scale. This was the dream behind the founding of Crown Bees, to help 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, in a time where people are now seeing the positive impact they can have on the environment from their own backyard, helping the neighborhood and more.

Crown Bees founder Dave Hunter created this industry and they are recognized as leaders in the space, especially in education. Each year they help gardeners raise hundreds of thousands of solitary bees to grow more food and increase their local pollinator habitat with the goal of improving bee health helping their customers succeed.

The Challenge

"Just over a year ago, our business practices were disorganized and chaotic," said Karl Alexander, marketing director for Crown Bees. They were using G-Suite and had everything in huge spreadsheets shared between teams, which meant their 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," Alexander said.

Bees need to be shipped to the right place at the right time and it was difficult for them to track things from initial order to fulfillment. Their shipping and fulfillment connections also weren't working very well, so Alexander decided they needed a unified business platform where everyone could find sales orders, inventory, support inquiries, and more. "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," Alexander said.

The Solution

"I focused on looking for tools that integrated and I honestly didn't think I'd find them all in one place until I looked into Zoho," Alexander said. Crown Bees had been using Zoho Projects for a couple years and knew they wanted to continue doing so, but when Alexander saw all the other tools included in Zoho One and how easy integration was, he was convinced. It only took a month Crown Bees to implement Zoho One completely and start seeing improvements. They use Magento for their online store, and integrated that with Zoho CRM so their customer service and sales teams could see everything—orders, support tickets, and more—without a major look-up. Now Zoho Campaigns, Marketing Automation, Desk, and CRM all work together to give staff visibility into customer accounts, helping Crown Bees take better care of their customers and keep an eye on customer trends as a whole.

Within Zoho One, Crown Bees is using Campaigns, CRM, Desk, Analytics, and Marketing Automation heavily to automate their marketing, increase sales, and enhance customer care. They're also using Projects, Cliq, WorkDrive, Forms, SalesIQ, Social, Vault, Sheet, Writer, Show, Books, and Invoice.

Restrategizing for Remote

While putting more advanced technology into place made a huge difference in streamlining Crown Bees as a company, COVID and remote work brought new challenges. Specifically, how they would communicate with their customers while most of their 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 and help us foster our community," Alexander said.

Crown Bees had to pivot their customer communication strategies completely, and quickly, so they decided to offer a live webinar. And since this was the first time Crown Bees had tried a webinar, they needed to figure out not only what they were going to say, but also their tone. By making a report of the tickets they had accumulated in Zoho Desk, their customer support solution, they were able to address the most common customer questions in the webinar. They also wanted to make sure their webinar provided helpful information about mason bees in general, instead of simply advertising their products, a choice that they made to ensure their material was informative and useful to the widest range of viewers. “We wanted to make it a fun community forum, like a bunch of gardeners getting around and just talking about plants and bees and growing things," said Alexander. By addressing both the community and the informational needs of their customers, Crown Bees was able to offer a truly unique experience. The next step was figuring out how to get people there.

Crown Bees put together an email campaign with Zoho Campaigns, targeting customers to make sure they only invited those for whom the webinar would be relevant. Using a mixture of Adobe Spark and Zoho Social, they created and monitored social media campaigns to promote the webinar, both through Facebook and Instagram. The first webinar had less than one week of lead time, so no one was sure what kind of response it would get. They also used Zoho Marketing Automation, a marketing automation solution, to create targeted pop-ups on their site. When customers visited specific pages, a pop-up would display for the webinar. Alexander said, “The response was overwhelming. The webinar filled up within the first 48 hours. We had no idea which channel was going to get the most people, and it turned out that the targeted pop-ups through Marketing Automation were really the major driver. We got so many people that we had to increase our maximum attendees for the webinar.”

Five minutes after starting their webinar on Zoho Meeting, they had 250 attendees. Both this webinar and the second one went overtime and maintained high levels of engagement throughout. By monitoring the analytics through Zoho Meeting, Crown Bees determined that 80-90% of their audience stayed for the entire webinar. The following day, Alexander saw “one of the most dramatic spikes in web traffic and sales that [Crown Bees] had seen since last year when [they] had a huge sale.”

To market the next webinar, Alexander took what he learned from the first one and refined the process further. He saw that the Zoho Marketing Automation pop-ups had worked, but also saw people talking about the event on Facebook. By monitoring the social media interaction with Zoho Social, Crown Bees was able to determine what exactly had been so successful about that first webinar. They figured out it came down to the live interaction with the Crown Bees staff and the time it was being held, so they were able to maintain and emphasize those elements the next time around.

Because they had collected so much data and questions from the polls and Q&A, they were able to create and send out email campaigns with Zoho Campaigns to make sure any questions not answered in the webinar were still answered after the fact, and so they could tailor the next presentation to be even more helpful. "We had so many people reaching out after our webinar just to thank us for holding them and providing this information, it's been really impactful for the community to gather in this way," Alexander said.

With regards to their own internal transition to remote work since Crown Bees is based in Seattle, Washington, their staff went completely remote and Alexander found Zoho Projects, Cliq, and Desk to be integral in giving them a clear view of everything happening throughout the company without being in the office.

Key Benefits

With Zoho One, Crown Bees can now communicate with different segments of their customers and quantify sales generated per email blast, typically seeing a 25% increase in traffic and 20% increase in sales for each campaign. Their Zoho Analytics dashboards give them company score cards and budget reports, pulling data from across departments to produce time-saving insight. "Our efficiency has drastically increased since everything is now automated and unified, creating an incredible difference and streamlined company processes," Alexander said. Alexander also reported that their marketing team has saved 25% of their weekly work time by using new programs and processes as a part of Zoho One. "Before, we were always struggling to meet deadlines, now we are scheduling posts and campaigns weeks in advance," said Alexander. It used to take an hour or more for Crown Bees to prepare reports or proposals for marketing campaigns and now because they have so much integrated and automated, it takes about 15 minutes to get what they need.

Project management has also made a massive difference for Crown Bees. "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. By keeping the information all in one platform, we lost all the disinformation and miscommunication issues we faced before," Alexander said.

Another big change they had to overcome was communication with their customers. After using Zoho Campaigns and Marketing Automation, Alexander feels they have a much cleaner, more refined face to their brand. And with Zoho Desk and CRM integrated, they're now able to respond back to their customers on time and personally, instead of having a pile of emails and knowing they need to get to them eventually. "This has changed the way people react to us and work with our company," Alexander said.


Crown Bees has seen immense ROI since implementing Zoho One. "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," Alexander said.

Crown Bees also saw revenue for June of 2020 up 175% from 2019, prior to their technology overhaul. This was especially surprising to stakeholders considering business conditions surrounding COVID-19, but they credit their quick pivot to the digital market with significant portions of this growth. The number of bees that they shipped as a company in June 2020 is also 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 their leafcutter bees versus last year (based on 2,000 blooms/bee/day estimate).

In addition, after each Zoho Meeting webinar, Crown Bees saw an approximately 20% increase in sales over the four days following the event, as well as a 25% increase in traffic the day of and the day after their webinars. And compared with 2019, their number of orders per day in 2020 has increased 233%, from approximately 300 orders per day to over 1,000.

As a business generally, Crown Bees more than accomplishes their goals of helping with food production, with their customers reporting a 3x pollination rate producing food surplus' of up to 30,000 lbs, which their customers are typically donating to local food banks. And for Crown Bees, taking care of their community is key, which is why this year alone, they've donated approximately 10,000 Mason Bees to local gardeners to help increase food production. One community garden that Crown Bees has donated bees to saw their food production double. By the end of the 2020 season, Crown Bees plans to have donated nearly 100,000 leafcutter bees to gardens, farms and even sweet potato research with UNC Pembroke.

Looking Forward

Dave Hunter, founder of Crown Bees, had a dream ten years ago (when he created the company in his garage) to help grow more food, and they're actively doing just that through their work, specifically with community gardens as well as 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," Alexander said.

Moving forward, Crown Bees is focused on expanding the wholesale section of their website which has nearly doubled in sales. They're looking at creating subscription models for their 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. "We especially like working with Zoho because they're always innovating—it's almost like Zoho knows what our business needs before we do and it's changed how we do business completely," said Alexander.

Crown Bees is also planning a massive online harvest party for this fall, which for years they've held in person. These are events where backyard beekeepers come into a facility with all their mason bee cocoons in their various nesting materials. They set up stations where they teach customers how to remove the cocoons, wash, dry and count them. Most end up having way more cocoons than they need for next year, so Crown Bees also offers to buy them on the spot and increase our inventory of each region's bees. With COVID-19 preventing their regular meetups this year, they decided to take this idea and turn it into something bigger. Now, their plan is to have live streams where people from all over North America can join in, ask live questions, learn how to harvest, and even sell their cocoons to Crown Bees to make a profit. This increases bee health on a much larger scale than they've done before, and allows them to interact with customers all over North America and get an increased supply of regional bees.

They're also planning to create a curbside pickup delivery option, expanding their mason bee farming program into Nashville to meet increased demand, increase focus on providing pollinator habitats, and further developing their new self-service support center. But what Crown Bees most looks forward to is continued impact on the world around us. "Though many people don't know it, Crown Bees has played a huge part in saving agriculture in North America. It feels really good that we aren't just another company with great sales, we are truly affecting people all over North America in a positive way," Alexander said.

Check out Crown Bees website here to learn more.