The Story of Mrs Bee's Emporium
Hello and welcome to the blog! I thought a good place to start would be to tell you the story behind Mrs Bee. Grab a cuppa, and I'll tell you everything.
Mrs Bee is more than a gift shop, it's a mission.
Things may seem smooth and easy for me now, but they weren't always this way.
In our past lives, Dom and I were secondary school teachers. Dom taught Music and I taught English. We had 20 years experience between us, and we had worked our way up to the Senior Team. We'd just had our third baby, Florence, and we saw no reason why our careers would change substantially in the coming years.
In the UK, schools are being taken over by private companies, called Academies. That is exactly what happened to our school. One day we heard that the Headteacher was leaving and, as Dom was Vice Principal, we expected he would need to step up for a while. The next?
BOTH OF US.
What happened next is the stuff of nightmares. We had, of course, made plans for what we might do if one of us lost our jobs. We didn't expect to both lose our jobs at the same time. And then? As a result of the pressure, Dom had a breakdown (he's fine with me telling you this, by the way). Sadly, mental health crises are not at all uncommon in teaching these days (I had a breakdown myself myself in 2009). OK then, we had to take stock. Double redundancy and Dom's medium term ill health - plus 3 kids (one starting uni, one in the last year of primary school, and one at nursery?) *I* would find a job and be the primary wage earner. Sorted.
I HAD KIDNEY FAILURE and needed major surgery (and a catheter for six months)
The problem with double redundancy, double long term health problems AND children who need full time care is a) the obvious absolute lack of income and b) that neither of us were able to work in a traditional job setting, 9-5. We could work, but for short periods and often outside of office hours - and definitely not at the same time.
Oh, and we weren't eligible for benefits either.
We were royally stuffed.
Inside, I was sure that we would never be able to survive this series of crises, and mentally had us living under a bridge eating from bins. Have you ever felt that way? The truth was it wasn't just our finances that had taken a hit, it was our self confidence and belief in the system. Hello despair.
BUT HERE COMES THE SOLUTION
One autumn afternoon, we took out a notebook and made a list of all the skills and interests we had, and all the dreams and things we might want to do. At the time, we were both marathon runners. We could do hard stuff. We just needed ideas. It was time to dream - because what else could we possibly do? We weren't going to give up, no way.
This photo is the finishing straight of the Yorkshire Marathon. I was exhausted having run for 6 hours, proud of myself, overwhelmed and hurt in places I didn't even know existed. It was not a dissimilar feeling from the moment Mrs Bee was born.
The thing about rock bottom is that there's only one way up.
We quickly realised that, if we had to become entrepreneurs (which was the only way we could manage the variable hours we could work), then we also had the power to create an organisation that made us happy. So, we started by creating a set of values. They were (and are):
- Be funny, but not unkind
- People first - treat everyone with kindness and empathy
- LAUGHTER is healing
- Bring sunshine to people's lives
- Continually delight our customers
- Do everything fairly
- Create fair jobs for a fair wage
- Build bridges, not walls
- Be inclusive
- Minimise our negative environmental impact as much as possible.
Now, I am not going to tell you it was all easy sailing from this point. It was not 🤣 We learned a lot of things along the way, including lots of ways not to make money...
But slowly, one foot in front of the other, we started to make progress. We bought an industrial embroidery machine that cost more than our car (that was a scary moment!) The first blank stock we bought from China was all absolutely terrible quality and we couldn't sell any of it. We started off hand sewing personalised teepees and wedding dresses. We did markets every week and experimented with our product range - we didn't always sell a lot, but we gained valuable feedback from seeing how people engaged with our products. We learned new skills. We reflected, improved, tried again - and, over time, we started to gain some traction.
Now Mrs Bee supports our family full time, and we employ other people. We are absolutely passionate about providing really good quality jobs where our staff are valued and invested in, and we pay a Living Wage (more info here)
We are in the top 1% of shops internationally on Etsy. We have sold gifts to over 60 different countries.
But our mission is still exactly the same as it ever was. And we invite you to join our family. When you interact with Mrs Bee, you should feel JOY, FUN, and LAUGH. It's a wee corner of the internet where the sun shines as much as possible. ☀️
AND SUNSHINE IS HEALING. IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE. It worked for us, and we'd like it to work for you too.
All right, that's enough for today. You can always respond to my messages and I'll get back to you!